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Sometimes you have to mix some junk food and trash in with the fine wines of horror. And here’s one of the junkiest and trashiest examples possible. “Mardi Gras Massacre” is a 1978 American horror film written and directed by Jack Weis, who was the notorious B-movie specialist behind “Quadroon” (1971, a “Mandingo” rip-off) and “Crypt of Dark Secrets” (1976, a Bayou Witch/Vietnam zombie grindhouse film). “Massacre” is probably his most widely distributed and notorious film … if you’re American that is. We Brits have never officially had it released in the country at all. It was immediately rushed onto the infamous “Video Nasty” banned movie list in the 1980’s when a release was attempted. It has never been re-submitted to the BBFC for a home-media release and rating since then. There’s a very good reason for this… but we’ll come to that later. In the meantime, I took the “31 Days” challenge as an excuse to wallow in plenty of 70’s unnecessariness in NOLA for a crappy reprint of this exploitation “classic”.

After title-card “credits”, we get an incredible sleazy opening that sets the quality level for the rest of the proceedings. An oily looking dude in an immaculate 3-piece suit wanders into a disreputable bar in New Orleans looking for a woman. Not just any kind of woman though; “Out of all the ladies in the bar, which one do you think is the most… *very long pause*… evil?” {NB: Please note that any quotes and inflections I use in this article are genuinely in the movie… and frequently hilarious!} The guy’s called “John” (played by William Metz) and is directed towards the unfortunate Shirley, where this conversation actually happens. John: “Good Evening. I understand that you are evil.” Shirley: “Listen, Honey. I could take the first prize in an evil contest”. Well, John wants $200 worth of evil, so they end up back at his apartment, which apparently has had a Peruvian torture dungeon installed at no extra cost. Shirley somewhat ill-advisedly doffs her clobber and ends up on his “bed”, which looks uncannily like a sacrificial altar. John then reappears wearing a rug around his shoulders and a cheap-looking mask. Pours on some oil, whips out a knife, stabby-stabby, heart offered to ancient Peruvian God… or something.

Meanwhile, we’re introduced to Sergeant Frank Hebert (Curt Dawson). He’s a cop’s cop and no mistake, and he’s got the moustache to prove it. Frank’s also not afraid to take dirty money and whisk away prostitutes for a fun evening of bottles of Blue Nun (google it if you didn’t live it) and staring at his bedroom ceiling. His latest squeeze is Sherry (Gwen Arment), a hooker who had a close run-in with John at the beginning of the film, but can’t remember what he looks like. The pair unexpectedly falls in love and has a romantic montage, ending with a fashion-catalogue pose in front of a paddle-steamer, whilst easy-listening music plays loudly. But John is still escorting hookers back to his unfeasibly large apartment and slicing out their hearts… although he also buys them a Chinese takeaway beforehand if they ask nicely. So Frank must get his moustache together and catch John before he targets Sherry and ruins Mardi Gras for everyone…

MGM is an unrelentingly awful piece of exploitation celluloid without any redeeming features whatsoever… apart from the fact that it is unintentionally hilarious throughout. It’s like the “Naked Gun” of 70’s horror, although it’s supposed to be a serious genre movie. Instead it’s just crammed full of explicit gratuitous nudity, terrible gore effects, horribly politically-incorrect attitudes and dialogue/delivery that will just floor you with its sheer ineptitude. There’s no real reason for the film not to be given special treatment and a re-release in the UK, as it would easily pass certification here now (despite the high level of sleaze). It’s only really “banned” in the UK due to the fact that it’s so bad and no distributor wants to pick it up and resubmit it! It meant that for a while, copies went for stupid prices over here, and it got far more attention than it should have. Counter-productive censorship at its best, you guys.

The only way to possibly watch this is ironically, and unless you get offended by its sheer seventies-ness and collective bad taste, you may well have a blast and create your own “Mystery Science Theater 3000” internal dialogue… but I assure you, you will crack up at points. Bear in mind though, this is the sort of film where the intentional “humour” runs to a bartender saying; “There’s some weirdo making meatballs out of hookers”, which results in a massive surge of laughter from his customers. Ew.

You might have surmised that this is a rough semi-remake of the (almost as awful) exploitation classic “Blood Feast” from the legendary gore-meister Herschell Gordon Lewis. But this makes even that particular film look accomplished. The gore here is limited to several sacrificial rituals; all performed exactly the same way which ends with one of the shoddiest moments of bloody carnage that you will ever see. John “cuts” the hands and feet of his victims with one of those trick knives that smear blood on the skin. Then he cuts – well he clumsily rips – into the patently fake rubber torso of his sacrifice.

Rubbery skin penetrated, he pulls out an animal heart – that’s far too big to be human and has obviously just been procured from the Butcher’s next door – from the chest and offers it to his god. Those are presumably the sequences that got it originally banned, with the clothes-free nature of the ladies probably adding to the inappropriateness. But the gore wouldn’t fool a short-sighted mole or a bat that had lost its contact lenses. It’s rubbish and that’s as near as the film gets to portraying a “massacre”. Leatherface needn’t worry himself…

The villain is a delightful “Dr Evil”-type sleazebag though. Obviously a mentally deranged nutter from the start, his weird sideways glances and odd pauses in speech are brilliantly over-played. He can’t even phone a restaurant without making it sound menacing! “I would like to order… *long pause*… a fortune cookie”. It’s easy to keep on picking out chunks of over-ripe laughter-inducing dialogue. After two horrible murders, a bartender muses; “He should be caught and put away… besides he’s bad for business”. A rookie cop describes a local professor; “He deals with antiquities, you know, the old stuff that happens in the past”. And the guffaw-creating summary from an expert after seeing photos of the corpses; “This is evidence of a serious sickness”. No shit, Doc!

This is all mixed in with endless padding sequences in fake-looking sets of strip-clubs and bars, along with boring scenes of the cops trudging along the streets in the French Quarter, and mindless chit-chats between the characters. Mardi Gras itself only features briefly at the end, and it’s ruined by extras mugging gamely at the camera. There’s also some horrendous over-dubbed dialogue and a great scene where a stripper gets massive round of audible applause although there’s only five guys slow-clapping in the joint! The soundtrack consists of disco (there IS a “Saturday Night Fever” inspired scene), easy-listening, and psychedelia (when there’s spooky trouble afoot). And then there’s “Catfish”, a punchable pimp that speaks only in rhyming scat (*face-palm*). And not forgetting some occasional casual racism, a Chinese takeaway menu is titled “Takee-Outee”, although to be fair that was probably the genuine name used without a second thought back then.

It all culminates in one of the most sedate police pursuits committed to film, and the most anti-climactic and useless escape attempt that you’ll ever see. I could go on. It’s a box of dubious “delights”. I admit I was frequently in a ROFL state, but for all the wrong reasons. Fans of trash cinema will know where they stand with this. And if you’re one of those UK (or US fans) that haven’t seen it but heard of its reputation, you really shouldn’t waste your time… unless you know exactly what you’re going to get… and you want to get it. Horrible trash, but man, I’m glad I’ve finally seen it and my stomach hurts from laughing…

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