Roger Corman has a history of getting films made and released no matter what.
From filming Little Shop of Horrors (1960) in just two days using sets left over from A Bucket of Blood (1959) and making The Terror (1963) over a long weekend because bad weather apparently prevented him from playing tennis.
Well it turns out he has an even more absurd tale to be told involving a Yugoslavian film he invested in that he deemed unsuitable for release.
Prior to filming beginning he sent over William Campbell, Patrick Magee, and uncredited story editor Francis Ford Coppola all fresh from Dementia 13 (1963) to make a film that would be in English and US friendly.
Unhappy with the results he had the film edited into something more in tun with Drive-In taste in America and released it as Portrait in Terror.
Handed over again to two directors this time the film was changed into a vampire flick called Blood Bath but as it was too short for TV (it ran at just over an hour) more scenes were shot giving us Track of the Vampire.
Now we have all four films in one release with a host of extras explaining how and why all this happened but the question is did the original require all this effort and 3 re-cuts in the first place?
Operation Titian (1963)
So the first film stars William Campbell and Patrick Magee and set in the Croatian coastal town of Dubrovnik.
An old man is killed for a piece of art he owns and the investigation leads the Inspector to a strange man dressed in white that arrived with an American diving team.
This is an enjoyable film. It doesn’t do anything different or has anything to make it stand out other than its setting which is beautiful. Classic old crime thriller that would have done ok in Europe so I’m not sure why Roger Corman decided not to release it here.
Portrait in Terror (1965)
Largely a re-edit of Operation Titian that lowers its runtime by just over 10 minutes and uses some newly filmed footage, something that will happen at least three times again over the course of these films, Portrait in Terror tells the same story but with most of the character building and set-ups taken out.
The film moves along at what seems a faster pace and whilst enjoyable, if you’ve seen Operation Titian you will miss some of the scenes that were cut leading you to thinking this seems rushed story-wise.
There isn’t much new footage but the underwater scene that is probably necessary and nicely filmed does go on for a bit too long. Time that could’ve been used adding a minute or two to building up characters. The murder that goes along with the underwater scene also drags on for far too long and can give away an important plot point if you haven’t seen Operation Titian.
That’s not to say this new version doesn’t benefit in anyway from these edits.
It gets rid of some of the background plot like the US divers which made the original film drag a bit and replaces the 60’s jazz like score with one that fits the film so much better.
Still a very good oldie but I like my old crime thrillers to take a bit of time with characters and plot.
The good thing about this collection is I have both films to watch regardless.
Blood Bath (1966)
Here we have a completely different film.
It centres around artist Max and returning for a third time William Campbell as Antonio Sordi and plays very similar to Roger Cormans 1959 film A Bucket of Blood.
But with Vampires.
A striking departure from the crime noir of the previous two films but as I am a big fan of A Bucket of Blood and vampires, a departure I like.
The similarities are more than obvious but deliberate as I’m lead to believe that newly appointed director Jack Hill included the beatniks as well as what the killer does to the bodies after a scene from Operation Titian gave him inspiration. Sid Haig appears looking much younger than how we are used to seeing him these days (he has hair) as one of the fellow artist that frequents the same cafe as Max.
I liked this one a lot. Completely different film but still manages to re-use footage from Operation Titian and despite the new footage being filmed in America a lot of effort went to making it look like it was still in Dubrovnik. Yet this did have me asking why is everyone who lives there seems to be American?
In a film with lots of oddities though that is something you simply accept and go along with.
Track of the Vampire
Like with Portrait in Terror being basically a re-cut of Operation Titian, Track of the Vampire is a re-cut of Blood Bath but made for TV with extended or new scenes added to expand the just over 60 minute runtime of Blood Bath to a more TV friendly 80 minutes.
While one of the additions, bringing back Patrick McGee using scenes from Operation Titian, does help and even fits quite nicely the rest are more miss than hit.
Especially the 8 minute chase and murder scene where the actors are seen at one point running back to where they had already been.
With new shots and actors not coming back for them we have obvious stand-ins and voice actors that make parts look like a foreign dub or sound very little as the original star.
It isn’t a bad film but a bit of a miss and definitely the weakest of the collection.
Conclusion and Extras
As with all Arrow releases the set is packed with nice extras made especially for this release including a short interview with Sid Haig and a documentary into the making of these four films that runs longer than some of the films yet gives a fascinating insight into how and why they were made.
Here we find a lot of information from Fancis Ford Coppola’s haphazard involvement to a breakdown of which shots were added and changes made between the films.
For anyone who has an interest in cinema history or is a Roger Corman fan this documentary and how one man will do anything to get a film released even going as far as to making four versions of it is a must.
On their own they would be four enjoyable to average films but together in this package we have something that shows us just how insane the film business can be so did Operation Titian warrant all this effort?
No of course not. I’m not sure what Roger Corman didn’t like about the original but Portrait in Terror is probably where it should’ve ended.
To then go on and change into a vampire film confuses me even if Blood Bath is a film I like.
But we did end up with Blood Bath so I’m not complaining.
LIMITED EDITION CONTENTS
• Limited Edition collection of the complete Blood Bath
• High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation of four versions of the film: Operation Titian, Portrait in Terror, Blood Bath and Track of the Vampire
• Brand new 2K restorations of Portrait in Terror, Blood Bath and Track of the Vampire from original film materials
• Brand new reconstruction of Operation Titian using original film materials and standard definition inserts • Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing on all four versions
• The Trouble with Titian Revisited – a brand new visual essay in which Tim Lucas returns to (and updates) his three-part Video Watchdog feature to examine the convoluted production history of Blood Bath and its multiple versions
• Bathing in Blood with Sid Haig – a new interview with the actor, recorded exclusively for this release
• Archive interview with producer-director Jack Hill
• Stills gallery
• Double-sided fold-out poster featuring original and newly commissioned artworks
• Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Dan Mumford
• Limited edition booklet containing new writing on the film and its cast by Anthony Nield, Vic Pratt, Cullen Gallagher and Peter Beckman