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Joel M. Reed loved gore and sex, and his fans loved him for it.
Mr. Reed, the director of one of the most notorious exploitation films, “Blood Sucking Freaks” (1976), died in a hospital in Queens, N.Y., on April 14 of the novel coronavirus, his brother Elliott Reed said. He was 86 and had lived in Manhattan.
The film came out under that title in 1976 but had previously been released as “Sardu: Master of the Screaming Virgins” and “The Incredible Torture Show.” In the story, such as it is, “Master Sardu” runs a theater in which the performers are subjected to realistic scenes of torture. What the theatergoers are not aware of, however, is that the actors are actually kidnapping victims, and their torments are real.
The film, which has been referred to as a horror comedy, shows nudity, sexual mutilation and more: A skull is crushed in a vise. There are amputations. Brains are sucked through a straw.
The low-budget horror movie studio and distributor Troma Entertainment bought the film, re-edited it to restore footage that Mr. Reed had cut to gain an R rating, and changed the name to “Blood Sucking Freaks.” (It is sometimes referred to as “Bloodsucking Freaks.”)
Troma’s co-founder, Lloyd Kaufman, would later say “I may have possibly secured my place in hell by just watching it.”
In an interview, Mr. Kaufman said, “It was, on a certain level, hilarious, in the context of Grand Guignol,” but added, “It’s very misogynistic. Today, we would not have anything to do with it.”
The film was picketed by the group “Women Against Pornography,” according to “A Companion to the Horror Film,” edited by Harry M. Benshoff. A reviewer on the website Efilmcritic.com wrote, “There is absolutely nothing that is remotely defensible about Bloodsucking Freaks.” However, the reviewer added, “There is something oddly intoxicating about a film that is so dedicated to being as offensive as possible to as wide a demographic as possible.”
The film did not receive a review in The New York Times.
Joel Melvin Reed was born on Dec. 29, 1933, in Brooklyn, to Albert and Gertrude (Harris) Reed. His father was a record salesman. Mr. Reed’s survivors include another brother, Michael, along with Elliott.
Mr. Reed graduated from high school and served in the Army in Korea. Back in the United States after his military service, he worked in public relations, but found himself drawn to filmmaking. His early work included soft-core pornography, including such films as “Career Bed” (1968) and “Sex by Advertisement” (1969). Other films include “Blood Bath,” which Mr. Reed described as “a contemporary, episodic occult‐horror adventure.” He also acted in a number of films, including “Dead Eye” (2011).
His brother Elliott recalled that at the time “Blood Sucking Freaks” came out, their mother had already died, but he recalled that their father “got a kick out of this, of his being successful in this avant-garde way.”
Alain Delaquérière contributed research.