An archive review from The Gingold Files.

By Michael Gingold · January 12, 2019, 12:55 AM EST
Bloodsucking Pharaohs

Editor's Note: This was originally published for FANGORIA on January 11, 2002, and we're proud to share it as part of The Gingold Files.

DVD supplements can allow directors to celebrate and analyze their work, and occasionally to wax regretful or settle old scores. Or they can prove that time does heal all wounds, as exemplified by Bloodsucking Pharaohs in Pittsburgh, the latest in Program Power’s eccentric lineup of horror titles. The film was shot as Picking Up the Pieces and helmed by set designer-turned-director Dean Tschetter, but after severe recutting, it wound up on VHS from Paramount a decade ago, bearing the Pharaohs title and an “Alan Smithee” director’s credit on the video box.

Tschetter (who has always retained his name on the movie itself) was so turned off by the final edit that he turned the movie off after 15 minutes when he finally watched it, and that’s understandable. The film is something of a mess, an uneven assemblage of occasionally effective black humor and material that’s just over-the-top and silly. Program Power’s fullscreen transfer, while still bearing a Paramount logo at its head, appears quite a bit sharper than the VHS edition, even in the numerous scenes set in smoky apartments. There’s some film grain and well-replicated (sometimes intentionally squalid) colors, while the unidentified sound is clean but bears audio hiss and hum at various points.

The sound level also isn’t lowered quite enough behind the audio commentary, to the point that the onscreen dialogue occasionally drowns out the filmmakers’ discussion. On the talk track, Tschetter joins Beverly Penberthy, who produced the film and also plays the chain-smoking Erna—but the director jokes early on that Penberthy should be called “butcher” for her part in bowdlerizing his movie, even as he has clearly made peace with the alterations and comments even-handedly about how the release version differs from his original cut. (He does thank the producer for leaving the final third pretty much intact.) The duo also discuss the film’s ratings troubles, which led to the trimming of some of Tom Savini’s gore FX, the cast and their adventures shooting the movie on the Pittsburgh locations.

Tschetter and Penberthy also appear in lengthy on-camera interview segments that manage to cover a number of subjects not related on the commentary. Tschetter, unfamiliar with the slasher genre at the project’s outset, recalls giving himself a crash course in these films and his aim to go “further than any low-budget film” had at the time (admitting now that the movie has certain sexist and racist overtones), and sheds more light on the production and the subsequent editing. Recalling the days when blood was actually necessary to sell a picture, Penberthy reveals that this project emerged from the ashes of George Romero’s scuttled Apartment Living and, in a producer’s pragmatic manner, goes over the problems and hurdles that Pharaohs had to overcome.

The disc also includes several photo galleries (a few of which serve as previews for more extensive collections viewable only as DVD-ROM supplements), with a behind-the-scenes section revealing the movie to have been a more expensive production than its low-rent veneer would suggest. A collection of deleted scenes ranges from comic character business to MPAA-mandated cuts, but Savini fans shouldn’t expect a lot of juicy prosthetic shots—surprisingly, a number of the omissions consist solely of blood splattering on people and walls from the offscreen mayhem.