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I'm aware that Mardi Gras is the party part of Fat Tuesday, basically the last day to eat whatever you want before Ash Wednesday and the fasting that comes with Lent. Likewise, I know it holds much in common with ancient Pagan celebrations for spring, and I assume that it is for the same reason Christmas, Easter, etc. have older non-ChristIan counterparts. It's celebrated all over the world, but famously New Orleans spends fourteen days getting drunk and crazy as a part of their tradition. I have never observed Mardi Gras myself, but it's a well known, often referenced event, steeped in history and culture. There are countless movies involving the gathering in some way, and I have formed a pretty solid idea about how it looks according to the media. However, whenever I hear the words, Mardi Gras I think of two things. One is the mail-order commercial for Girls Gone Mardi Gras that played a shit-ton in the late 90/early 00s. I know now that those movies are almost unwatchable, but the internet was still growing at the time, and I was young. The second is the poster for Mardi Gras Massacre, which looks like an adventure-novel cover with some light bondage and proto-shredder holding a straight razor.  Laying around the bottom of the illustration is some confetti and one of those masks on a stick.   Even outside of that tacked-on detail, it successfully captures a retro New Orleans feel. There is an essence to the entire style, colors, and font that nails it for me. Actually (now that I think about it), the whole thing might just remind me of a Mardi Gras themed casino. Either way, that's the closest I have ever been. Plus, it has more topical flavor than the actual movie itself.
A well-dressed man (William Metzo) walks into a scummy New Orleans club and asks the bartender about paying for a date. When he is pointed to the house escort service, he tells the woman that he needs someone "special". In particular, he says he wants the most "evil" woman available. As if this makes some kind of measurable sense, the waitress instantly knows the perfect gal, and points him to Shirley (Laura Misch Owens), with an assurance that she will fit the bill. With his requirements met, the man, John, takes Shirley back to his place, where he straps her to a table and eventually sacrifices her to an Aztec god. The next day, after her remains have been found on the train tracks and taken to the morgue, we meet detective Frank Abraham (Curt Dawson), who is on the case. Unfortunately, John is just getting started, and more "evil" lives will need to be cut short to appease his deity. It will be up to crusty-ass Frank to stop this reign of terror, but first, he will have to deal with his misogyny and alcoholism. Also, there is a ten minute (plus) dance routine turned brawl at a disco in there somewhere.
Mardi Gras Massacre (1978) is a dark-universe version of Cheers, set after a recession, with additional grimy layers of disgruntled, corny 70s sleaze, stiff schlocky cop drama, and slimy gut removal.  Outside of laughing at it, there is no identifiable comedy involved in the script. In the place of jokes, the film wiggles its way through grumpy characters who speak like lines are being passed to them on a napkin. It's always very goofy, but the brand of cheese is dry. The plot is easygoing and uncomplicated, to the point that it mostly consists of grumbling filler. This is especially true for the worthless conflict involving the main character, his creepy relationship skills, and the accompanying romantic montage. He also has his typical movie-cop troubles, which here boils down to the fact that he is a piece of shit vice detective who used to be less shitty…I guess. Mostly, the film follows as the mysteriously underwhelming bad-guy does his thing, asking chicks if they are evil and sometimes carving them up.  John needs "evil" women for his "Aztec" sacrifice, which makes me wonder why he decided to go for prostitutes. Wouldn't there be better places to find wicked folks? If it were me, I would probably just chill in front of a grocery store and wait for the people that don’t put carts back. We learn a bulk of the killer's motivations from his overlong exposition that he gives his victims. For a dude who uses cultural operation to murder naked ladies, he is a bizarrely mundane stiff. The hooker-killing zealot spends a good amount of the film just being an old rich guy in a bar that looks down on people just like an old rich guy. His religious outfit is neat though, it reminds me of a beer box throne I once made. By the lack of humor, simmering speed, and pessimistic character bios, it seems to take itself seriously. Time is taken for odd characters, bloody religious murder, and nudity, but those elements are never pushed to any worthwhile extreme. The tone is kept at a Nick at Nite style rumble, completely reliant on demented silly shit happening while doing its best to portray a gritty 70s underworld at the same time. It feels a lot like a roughie, only instead of weird sex, there is ritualistic disembowelment. If it sounds like I'm mostly talking shit, I am. However, this can all be thoroughly enjoyed with the right mindset. There isn't nearly as much gore as one would hope, but everything surrounding murder is entertainingly inept, goofy, and laced with straight-faced camp. There is something endearing in how the world has been put together as, all at once, it is utilitarian and over elaborated. The negative emotions on display are so haphazardly concocted it's hard not to find it humorous, and since the whole thing doesn't seem to have its tongue in cheek, it's a lot of fun to mock. Plus, it has a terrific, sleazy trash meets 70s TV detective in his third season vibe. 
The overall look visually simulates the experience of drinking off a concussion in a smoke-filled room. At its best, the cinematography is a low-energy Doris Wishman peer, without her fun shots of random objects and flare. Each location in the film has less than a handful of angles to work with for editing, and a haze highlights everything on the screen like an 80s sitcom dream sequence. Possibly, my favorite aspects of this movie are the color schemes and lighting. Against the almost sepia pallet, reds stand out like they are trying to tell you something, while everything else is heavily contrasted or a dim brown. A lot of the run time is spent on the drinking establishment, which seems to exist in a black void, due to its heavy, dark vignette.  It comes off as an unusually harsh, low-rent play, set in the most depressing gentleman's club ever. I imagine if Captain Picard asked the Holodeck for groovy, old-timey hookers, they would step into this movie. Sacrificing time takes the film to a brightly lit but still unfocused, bare room with a perfectly matched curtain, wallpaper, and lady-killing table combo. The theater effect carries over, with the killer coming from backstage every time you see the room. When he comes out the first time and starts announcing shit to the strapped up naked lady, I get bad strip-club magic-act flashbacks. There is an excellent, gross feeling to the intestine removal scenes, that can only come from lovingly crafted practical effects. It's not hyper-realistic gore, just gooey B-movie fun, however, it's more sparse than I expected. Each of these scenes is set up precisely the same with just a single extended cut of semi-realistic guts being pulled from the woman's chest that suddenly looks waxy and hollow (and…sweaty?). A good part of the dialog has to battle it out with the score to be heard. It isn't so much of an issue as the conversations are repetitive, and the accompanying music has a few masterful baselines I got into, no matter how ill-fitting. The tunes ring out somewhere between 70s porn and a blaxploitation film. It's some good shit, even if the jams never made sense in the scenes. 
Mardi Gras Massacre was written and directed by Jack Weis as a part of his strange, small (and partially lost) filmography. It follows the Vietnam vet vs. voodoo drug trip Crypt of Dark Secrets, released in 1976. Before that, he had three projects released in some capacity, two of which are considered lost and one I have never seen, starring the legendary Tim Kincaid. Kincaid wouldn't direct his own sleaze for a few years (it also wasn't porn. I think anyway). Massacre stands as the filmmaker's final full feature. According to IMDB, he directed a special for Melissa Etheridge in 2008 which, as far as I can tell, came as a bonus in a live album. 
Most of the involved actors have filmographies that are made up of one or two roles, with the other being a Weis project as well. Some exceptions to that include a cameo by Donn Davison, whose B-movie cred runs thick having been a part of several cult features in some capacity, including doing effects in Beyond the Door (1974). Shirley is portrayed by Playboy Playmate of the Month in 1975 Laura Misch Owens who also held an uncredited role in the director's previous project. This is Owen's first named character and second to last all together before moving on to become an author. Curt Dawson, who plays the wooden Detective Sergeant Frank Abraham, previously made an uncredited appearance in Weis' Crypt of Dark Secrets. Around the same time, he appeared as John Hancock in mini-series The Adams Chronicles, and in 1975, showed up in Joel M. Reed's Blood Bath. He also has had recurring roles in Guiding Light and Another World from 79 to 81, but I can't tell you anything about those. I do remember Guiding Light advertised when I was a kid with a commercial so violently plain that it brought my still growing brain pain.
Next to its inclusion on the UK's Video Nasties list, the movie's most popular trivia notes the similarity to Herschell Gordon Lewis' Blood Feast. Often called an unofficial remake or spiritual sequel, a bulk of the plot was lifted from the influential 60s benchmark. The borrowed points are undeniable, but Jack Weis strips it into its own brand of cheap exploitation. Personally, living in the future and having seen a bunch of movies about naked ladies getting sacrificed for some reason, I could have lumped the tributes with every other film that used this trope since HGL's classic, had I not been told. If anything, this film just got a running start on ripping the film off. The often mentioned link to Blood Feast makes it hard not to compare the two with unfortunate results for the movie in question.  If Blood Feast was a daiquiri with fruit and shit sticking out of it, Mardi Gras Massacre is just the vodka in a dirty cup. It's not going to compete with the colorful camp and carnage of its source; luckily (and maybe by accident), it started playing a different game altogether. The biggest thing it all has against it is it's inherent need to measure up to one of the greats when it's just a fucked up exploitation film. Without this relationship, the movie serves well enough as a goofy watchable pre-slasher if not a forgettable one. The bad guy doesn't even cook. Its got blood, but there is no feast.
Mardi Gras Massacre is a mumble of ritualistic slaughter with dramatically awkward relationships and silly deaths. It's not a super exciting movie, but it is gross, grimy, and strange. Unfortunately, it is forever cursed to be compared to Blood Feast, because on it's own it would be solid sleazy trash. That's worth something, and there are nights where that's exactly what I want.
The only thing that really bugged me was the slim connection to Mardi gras. The noteworthy festival gets little more than a few mentions and it has minimal affect on the plot. Since it came out the same year as Halloween, I guess it has dibs on names. I just think a fitting slasher would have taken the Mardi Gras Massacre title sooner or later if this awkward specimen had not. Although I have never experienced the event myself, so I guess it’s possible that this movie is more authentic than I know. If so, I'll probably skip it as I can get that kind of fun at any divorcee bar.
1h 37min | 1978
Director: Jack Weis
Writer: Jack Weis


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