Video Nasties: Mardi Gras Massacre (1978)

Video Nasties: Mardi Gras Massacre (1978)

Mardi Gras is an evocative term. For some, it will conjure images of partiers on festooned floats throwing chintzy beads to any revelers brazen enough to bare their naughty bits. For others it might indicate the last day before the start of Lent, a day meant for confession prior to forty days of fasting. That is the dichotomy of the celebration which appears all across the Catholic world but is inexorably tied to the city of New Orleans. The most debauched party of the year is directly related to a festival of deeply religious origins. The religious connotations are of a decidedly Christian nature and not, as today’s Video Nasty, 1978’s Mardi Gras Massacre, might lead you to believe, related to the rituals of a lone Aztec. As a frequent visitor to New Orleans and a purveyor of Big Easy related cinema, I am very pleased to get to talk a bit about this film, and seeing as it is Mardi Gras, I suppose it’s high time I take the sage though clichéd Cajun advice and “laissez les bons temps rouler!”

The perpetrator that put Mardi Gras Massacre on the Video Nasties list is an insidious force indeed. He is a man whose name is to be feared and only spoken in hushed tones. He is John the Aztec Priest (William Metzo), and he’s looking for a few evil prostitutes to kill. With a backdrop of the carnival season, John haunts dives and strip clubs, brings girls back to his bachelor pad, strips them, oils them up, and cuts out their hearts. More accurately, the camera cuts to a vaguely peachy colored piece of plastic that is slit open, exposing entrails that would look more “at home” in a New Orleans butcher shop. So between the gut pulling and the full frontal nudity from John’s “evil” victims, Mardi Gras Massacre wallowed in more than enough sleaze to pique the interest of conservative crusader Mary Whitehouse and her ilk as well as the British Board of Film Classification.

As icing on the cake, the film’s hero, Curt Dawson’s mustachioed NOPD cop Sgt. Mike Abraham, seems to be primarily concerned with his own love affair with the presumably “un-evil” prostitute Sherry (Gwen Arment). This is a New Orleans film after all. Filmed in NOLA by residents, starring residents, how can anyone expect the New Orleans PD in the late ‘70’s to be anything better than a grey hatted hero. After starting his career as a distributor for nudie and low budget films, director Jack Weis made the leap to filmmaker in 1972 when he directed his first pair of features, the Slave-spoitation film Quadroon, and the prostitution drama Storyville (1974). Though neither film fared that well on the southern grind house and drive-in circuit, it was enough to bring Weis to the attention of Donn Davidson. Along with Davidson, who was described by one source as, “Duncan yo-yo champion. Spook show magician. Exploitation filmmaker. Brilliant promoter. Blink-or-you’ll-miss-him cameo actor. Adult theater manager. Successful producer. Pseudo-documentary huckster.”, and the two paired to turn a PG rated Voodoo tinged film that Weis had shot into something more marketable. The result was the swampy Voodoo/snake lady Crypt of Dark Secrets.

Again Weis scored only a very meager success with Crypt and, with drive-in culture already beginning to wane, surely there was no choice left than to make his next film a real shocker. Weis, who wrote the script as well as directed Mardi Gras Massacre, hailed from New Orleans, and I would presume he knew better than to think the city was rife with Aztec priests preying on the city’s hookers. Though it is a welcome change from the normal Voodoo menaces that usually populate New Orleans horror, the wildly strange beliefs of William Metzo’s rampaging ritualist allow for maximum nudity and gore without offending a hometown crowd. (In a side note of further factual accuracy, Aztec rituals normally targeted male enemies and almost never women.) The problem is, while the scenes of nudity and sacrifice are graphic (more-so the full-frontal than the gut pulling) , the movie tends to repeat itself every twenty minutes or so until the film ends. John goes out to find a girl. The police are looking for a killer. John goes through his lengthy ritual where he has to cut the hand and the foot before taking the heart out of his pre-oiled “evil” supplicant. The police get a step closer. This goes on over and over, only to be punctuated with film of a Mardi Gras celebration and some location footage in which the keen-eyed visitor to the Crescent City will recognize many landmarks.

No matter how repetitive the film becomes, or how short the BBFC baiting gore sequences come up, Mardi Gras Massacre still contains a fair amount of decent entertainment value. In fact, I can definitively say it’s nowhere near close to being the worst horror offering to make it out of New Orleans (that dubious honor goes to Zombies vs. Mardi Gras). Just listening to Metzo going into bars and asking around for the girl that is most “evil” is worth a laugh every time. When the girls come back with quotes like, “Listen, honey. I could probably take first prize in ANY evil contest.” then you’ve got gold. The factual absurdity of John the Aztec and the ineptitude of the police are laughable, and to top off the amusement is a soundtrack that is questionably suitable at best. Compiled of tracks from Detroit’s Westbound Records, Mardi Gras Massacre is full of some juxtaposed funk tunes. (Those who are interested can find a mixtape of most of the tunes at the Spasmo Mixtape Blog.

Released on video in 1983 by VCII Incorporated and banned in the Video Recordings Act of 1984, Mardi Gras Massacre nowremains out of print in the United States due to licensing issues and still banned outright in Britain. In the intervening thirty-three years since its initial release, it has remained an obscurity only rarely cropping up from grey market sources. Mardi Gras Massacre would also be the last film for director Jack Weis. After its production and release, he didn’t so much fade into obscurity as much as disappear completely. Even with renewed interest in his films over the years (some of which have been released by Something Weird video), the fate of Mardi Gras Massacre’s director is as big a mystery as how an Aztec priest set up shop in New Orleans. Though its tame violence and nudity doesn’t seem as shocking by today’s standards (though even today one would be hard pressed to find that much full frontal nudity in softcore porn), there is plenty of reason to see how it would have ended up among the company of the Video Nasties. Mardi Gras is a day of excess, a day where debauchery, drunkenness, and bad behavior are de rigor. So what better day than to crack open an Abita, pop in Mardi Gras Massacre, and experience a wild, wonderful Video Nasty.

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Zachary Kelley is a life long cult fim fanatic who first brought his love for unappreciated gems when he founded The Lightning Bug's Lair over two years ago. Since then he's operated on one simple notion. No film is too gory, trashy, silly, or forgotten to deserve a watch.

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