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Bloody Pit of Horror

by Glenn Erickson Nov 25, 2021

Did these filmmakers have any idea how twisted a picture they were making?  It doesn’t matter because this Italo torture orgy has has remained a freakout favorite ever since. Mickey Hargitay likely asked, ‘do you really want me to act this nuts?’ and then fully complied with Massimo Pupillo’s request to burn, stab, choke and roast his mostly female victims in orgasmic glee. It’s all still more than a little disturbing — or screamingly funny depending on one’s orientation. Severin’s Blu-ray sources original printing elements, lending incredible video and audio quality to this artless yet stunning exercise in sex & death insanity. We also recall an interpretation given this gem by Brit film critics. Co-starring Walter Brandi & Luisa Barrato, plus eight willing special guest torture victims.

Bloody Pit of Horror
Severin Films
1965 / Color / 1:85 widescreen / 87 min. / Street Date November 26, 2021 / Il boia scarlatto, The Crimson Executioner / Available from Severin Films /
Starring: Mickey Hargitay, Walter Brandi, Luisa Baratto, Ralph Zucker, Rita Klein, Alfredo Rizzo, Barbara Nelli, Moa Tahi, Femi Benussi, Nando Angelini, Albert Gordon, Gino Turini, Roberto Messina.
Cinematography: Luciano Trasatti
Art Director: Franco Fontana
Film Editor: Mariano Arditi
Special Effects Makeup: Carlo Rambaldi
Original Music: Gino Peguri
Written by Romano Migliori, Roberto Natale
Produced by Francesco Merli, Felix C. Ziffer, Ralph Zucker
Directed by
Massimo Pupillo (Max Hunter)

Talk about a horror item for which a lot of misinformation abounded. The lauded Hardy Encyclopedia of Horror was first published in 1985, before the Internet. It gets the release date right for Il boia scarlatto but confuses the director with an actor and identifies the movie as filmed in ‘scope. Hardy or his contributors increase the film’s interest level for genre aficionados by naming it a key title in their theory of ‘repressed sexuality’ in horror, in this case repressed homosexuality. The show changes a number of its Italian actors’ names to sound more Anglophone. Leading player Mickey Hargitay, 1955’s Mr. Universe, was associated with Sword ‘n’ Sandal peplum pictures despite only costarring in one with his wife Jayne Mansfield. Hargitay’s eccentric (to put it mildly) performance brings forth the homoerotic associations, no theories required.

If you get bored, just sing this film’s title to the tune from the movie musical Little Shop of Horrors:
“Bloody Pit! Bloody Pit of Horror!”


Il boia scarlatto, better known under the not-so-subtle title Bloody Pit of Horror, bills itself as inspired by the Marquis De Sade. The ad tagline “My Vengeance Demands Blood!” is a non-quote that doesn’t really fit with that depraved provocateur of history. In general terms Bloody Pit is Italo horror that pushes the peek-a-boo girly angle first mined by directors Renato Polselli and Piero Regnoli in two B&W films made five years before. La amante del vampiro aka The Vampire and the Ballerina is about dancers that retreat to a castle to rehearse, only to fall prey to vampires in a neighboring castle. The main appeal is cheesecake, with the girls frequently wandering about in their nighties.

If what they say about some Italian producers is true, productions like this enabled them to ‘aid and abet’  the careers of promising young starlets. Made almost at the same time, L’ultima preda del vampiro aka The Playgirls and the Vampire sees more showgirls seeking shelter in a creepy castle, cueing yet another string of bloody murders. Both movies likely screened at theaters that specialized in adult fare, sometimes getting away with racier content. Playgirls actually has glimpses of nudity, shots that were likely censored in Italy. An added connection with Bloody Pit is that all three films share the same leading actor, Walter Brandi.

Il boia scarlatto begins with a prologue in the 1600s, in which the mass murderer ‘The Crimson Executioner’ is condemned to death in one of his own torture devices. We then skip ahead several centuries to a trio of cars zipping through the Italian hill country to an eccentric, lounge vibe music score by Gina Peguri. The troupe is looking for a castle to stage a horror-themed fashion photo shoot. Producer Daniel Parks (Alfredo Rizzo) allows his male model Perry (Nando Angelini) to break into a likely castle. When challenged by a pair of servants (Gino Turini, Roberto Messina) Parks claims they thought the castle was abandoned, even though it’s lavishly furnished and spotlessly clean. The imperious, reclusive owner Travis Anderson (Mickey Hargitay) demands that Parks and his writer associate Rick (Walter Brandi) pack up and leave . . . but then relents, allowing the group to stay the night and take their pictures. It seems that Parks’ production assistant Edith (Luisa Baratto) was once Anderson’s girlfriend!


The uninvited guests don’t realize that ex- movie star Travis is stark raving mad. Their presence triggers his obsession with The Crimson Executioner, who is interred a few steps below in the dungeon. No sooner have the photo shoots commenced than horrible murders begin. When he finally shows himself Travis has transformed into a wild-eyed maniac in full executioner’s costume, blathering on about needing to slaughter people because they offend his perfect, beautiful body. It’s Narcissim-icide… Narcicide?

Bloody Pit is a calculated commercial product for ‘undiscriminating’ audiences that still attended films regularly because TV access was still sparse in rural and southern Italy. Massimo Pupillo’s direction for Bloody Pit is decent, if somewhat slowly paced in editorial. We’re also told that many Italian exhibitors wanted shows that were at least 90 minutes in duration so that they could hold their impromptu mid-film breaks to sell refreshments.


The relaxed pace, the pro forma storytelling and lazy logic create a ‘racy movie nowhere land’ where beautiful women and their handsome male associates to do vaguely absurd things, like ‘innocently’ break into what is obviously a private residence. They make themselves at home, roaming about as if they own the place. Nobody seems concerned that the owner maintains 300 year-old torture devices, all ready for action. Helping themselves to the wine cellar, two of the troupe inadvertently break the seal on The Crimson Executioner’s torture-coffin. Yet no supernatural revival occurs. Travis has already fully prepared himself to step into The Executioner’s crimson tights, to mercilessly torture the physically inferior intruders.

The servants lock the doors and kill the first guest that tries to escape. At least three are dead before anybody bats an eye. It is bizarre to see the photo shoot folk stand around staring at a dead male model, sliced up Pit-and-the-Pendulum style on a torture device that ‘malfunctioned.’ They say they’re shocked but they don’t act like it. One half-dressed model is so upset, she runs off to the cellar with a randy fellow for some impromptu sex. Thinking of her lost love, Edith seeks out their host. But Travis is no longer interested in romance, just murder.


The mechanical aspect of the sadism is convincing, although we’re never shown how Travis or his henchmen strap the victims into the torture contraptions. We see the torture setups when they’re ready for action. In one ‘felicitous room’ an ‘exotic’ model (Moa Tahi) is spreadeagled on an oversized rope spider’s web. A hokey mechanical spider with poisoned legs (presumably engineered by Carlo Rambaldi) draws nearer. Rick can’t reach her because the entire room is festooned with trip-wires that trigger crossbow bolts built into the walls.  Hm . . . Indiana Jones.

The Executioner has everything he needs for hours of amusement. His main killing pavilion contains a row of evil-looking 17th century devices: a simple roasting pit, a regulation rack, and a rotating slab with blades positioned to cut its victims’ breasts. All are Spanish imports bearing the trusted Torquemada™ seal of quality. Those intruders not killed trying to escape are dispatched here, screaming. Travis reserves something special for his ex- girlfriend Edith: she’s strapped half-naked atop a (metallic?) table that fires up like an oven, to be literally pan-fried in her own perspiration.


Mickey Hargitay’s Executioner character enters in costume at about the mid-point. He denies having any feeling for Edith, proclaims his hatred for ‘inferior’ people and then spends the last 25 minutes excitedly dishing out pain and torment, jumping and dancing with glee. The models stop being individuals and become bodies to be punished; Travis is so obsessed by his own ‘bodily perfection’ that not even their beauty impresses him. Sampling the English-language audio dub, I noted major changes in content. The Executioner’s ravings in the American dub track include a lot of puritan lecturing. He claims that he’s killing them as a moral punishment for sin, because the men are lecherous and the women indecent. In the original Italian dialogue he talks almost exclusively about his perfect physique, and the need to destroy inferior bodies.

Gino Peguri’s quirky lounge music carpets the tortures like Muzak — the light notes make a weird contrast with the victim’s horrible situation. The tortures become the whole show, without additional suspense mechanisms. No rescuers are en route. The gore is actually restrained, although we become tense wondering how transgressive things will become. The bit of nudity we see is mostly teased. This isn’t liberated filmmaking, but ‘fun in the abbatoir’ naughty-boy thrills, without excuses.



Does the viewer that pays money to see a movie called Bloody Pit of Horror deserve what it gets?

The two previous vampire pictures with Walter Brandi were generic horror items first and girlie shows second. Bloody Pit’s basic recipe is ‘bambole plus kinky sadism.” The elements of exploitation are present: one photogenic castle, several provocatively dressed actresses, and the torture games for the photo shoot. The Executioner then upsets the balance with his blatant homoerotic appeal. We ’60s kids loved our muscleman movies without realizing that they were also date bait for older males with other agendas. But nobody can mistake the appeal of Bloody Pit’s evil, deranged villain. In his black mask and belt, and red hood and tights, Travis Anderson is a cartoon parody, a gay spectacle. Mickey Hargitay’s bloodlust fervor is 100% rechanneled sex arousal. Severin’s disc copy describes it as Wild abandon, a WTF? performance not to be believed.

Beware: ‘radical’ film theory.

That’s where the critics of the Hardy Encyclopedia arrive to theorize about the film’s sex politics. I said above that no theories were required, but the argument isn’t solely academic. The needs of competitive commercial filmmaking don’t fully explain everything that’s going on here. Hardy’s writer(s) say that Bloody Pit is “. . . a classic example of repressed homosexuality transformed into sadistic aggression toward women.” After seeing a few giallos, we tend to agree — women are victimized for being sexually attractive, by male filmmakers trying too hard to assert their masculinity. This second quote spells out the workings of the psycho-sex mechanism: “… the viewer is invited to derive pleasure from contemplating the male body (Hargitay’s) but the trouble such homoerotic pleasures provoke for the supposedly macho viewer is diverted towards sadistic aggression against women who thus come to function as detour and safety valve within a circuit of homosexual narcissism established between the male viewer and Mr. Universe.”


It’s the old story: Boy Meets Girl, Boy Falls in Love with Self, Boy Kills Girl. Or, in playing out their warped fantasies with helpless females in torture dungeons, perhaps the filmmakers do self-analyze, revealing undercurrents of psychosexual ‘malleability.’  Or maybe they’re just playing with genre finger paints, coming up with titillating variations that push the censors as far as the market will allow. In truth, this is a violent fantasy puppet show. The actors have fairly good dialogue (in Italian) but there seems to be little interest in making them flesh and blood human beings. Only Luisa Barrato’s Edith shows a smidgen of depth, but her torture is different from the others because she’s the ‘special girl’ that doesn’t trade directly on her body. Edith therefore qualifies to survive, should the male filmmakers feel generous.

I remember seeing Bloody Pit of Horror advertised only on drive-in double and triple bills, with Goke Bodysnatcher from Hell. Pacemaker first released it here in 1967, reportedly removing 13 minutes. That 74-minute version is what Something Weird Video released in 2000. It must have lost several earlier scenes, and it doesn’t have the one bit of fleeting nudity I noticed in the torture scene.


I know if I don’t write it, someone will ‘correct’ me: producer Ralph Zucker also plays the photographer. Ralph Zucker and director Massimo Pupillo are not the same person, a confusion that had to be cleared up after Massimo asked Zucker to take directing credit on the concurrently-filmed Cinque tombe per un medium aka Terror Creatures from the Grave. Pupillo apparently wanted to dodge credit for this movie as well, as the stack of mostly fake main title actor credits ends with ‘Max Hunter.’

What makes Bloody Pit of Horror interesting?  I flat-out confess curiosity for the academic ideas about horror film psychology. I like to think that my taste runs to the beautiful, poetic aspects of film horror, qualities that this show converts into girlie photography.  But up to a point I’m as morbidly curious as anyone, and Bloody Pit’s crazy/repressed fantasies provide plenty of food for thought. Don’t worry, none of my thoughts were impure. I’m not so sure about those crazoids at Severin Films, though.



Severin Films’ Blu-ray of Bloody Pit of Horror is quite a revelation. It is said to be newly remastered from the original negative recently rediscovered in a bloody pit of horror Roman film lab. This is another case of a marginally interesting picture that becomes a must-see by virtue of suddenly looking better than we ever dreamed it would.

The storage must have been ideal because the picture quality is sensational. The images are always pretty and colorful, even if only intermittently artful. But the colors pop, especially Hargitay’s scarlet costume. We devoutly wish that all of our favorite genre pictures lost to the vagaries of Public Domain or missing elements, could suddenly re-emerge in condition as perfect as this.

I enjoyed the audio commentary from David Del Valle assisted by director David DeCoteau. They understand the film’s complete immersion in exploitative weirdness, the way it pushes the edge of the envelope for what Italian censors would accept, with the understanding that its international distributors would have to customize individual cuts for individual markets. Del Valle leads the discussion amiably enough, and doesn’t run amuck interpreting everything we see as evidence of sublimated homoeroticism — even I can tell that the beefcake appeal in this show is right on the surface. When rating his favorite movie musclemen Del Valle mixes up Reg Park with Reg Lewis. That threw me a minute until I thought of some of my own mistakes in commentaries. With a picture like this I’d also need IMDB printouts in front of me to keep things straight.


We also get extra title sequences for two alternate versions, Bloody Pit of Horror and A Tale of Torture. Perhaps these great remastering jobs reveal my own hypocrisy: a trashy movie in wretched condition is low-class horror-smut, but if restored to crystal color and clarity, it suddenly becomes attractive: Horrors of Spider Island, Monstrosity.

I knew nothing about muscleman beefcake fandom back at MGM when John Kirk asked me to help edit some video clips of Italo peplum musclemen for a convention of sword ‘n’ sandal fantasy fans. It was great fun seeing all the oiled body builders trying to wax Steve Reeves-ian. For an opening montage that made fun of the homoerotic appeal I suggested a shot from Losey’s The Prowler, of Van Heflin’s corrupt cop reading a ‘body beautiful’ magazine with an odd look on his face. The shot got a big laugh.

Kirk also took a home video camera to interview L.A.- based retired musclemen Gordon Mitchell and Mickey Hargitay. I volunteered to help on these little shoots. I remembered liking Gordon Mitchell as a kid at matinees; Mitchell’s hard-sculpted face belonged in the movies. We found him doing laundry chores at a gym in Venice. At age 75 he was still a powerful-looking guy with a friendly smile. I thought he was an attendant but later learned he was a part-owner of the gym. A good thing that I kept my mouth shut.

 Our interview with Mickey Hargitay (March 5, 1998) was completely different. He lived in a showcase house above the Sunset Strip. I foolishly expected to meet the dimwit character he played in Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?, and found out that Mickey was an outgoing business man with a big smile, who had made a fortune in real estate and contracting. Avoiding the subject of Jayne Mansfield, we heard about his beginnings in a circus. When our interview was over I asked about Il Boia Scarlatto. He hadn’t much to say except that he’d made no other movies like it — he enjoyed his Italo westerns the most — and that it was the movie that fans asked about the most.

John praised Mickey’s daughter Mariska, who was already a TV star of note. He was so proud of her he said he felt like crying. That’s when I asked to take a photo. If he was really six foot two he must have been slouching, standing next to me. It was a pleasant experience.

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

Bloody Pit of Horror
Blu-ray rates:
Movie: You Tell Me
Video: Excellent
Sound: Excellent
Original Italian language and English dub
Supplements: Commentary with David Del Valle and David DeCouteau, alternate title sequences, trailer.
Deaf and Hearing-impaired Friendly?
; Subtitles: English (feature only)
Packaging: One Blu-ray in Keep case
November 23, 2021

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About Glenn Erickson

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Glenn Erickson left a small town for UCLA film school, where his spooky student movie about a haunted window landed him a job on the CLOSE ENCOUNTERS effects crew. He’s a writer and a film editor experienced in features, TV commercials, Cannon movie trailers, special montages and disc docus. But he’s most proud of finding the lost ending for a famous film noir, that few people knew was missing. Glenn is grateful for Trailers From Hell’s generous offer of a guest reviewing haven for CineSavant.