This obituary is part of a series about people who have died in the coronavirus pandemic. Read about others here.
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 of the novel coronavirus on April 14 in a hospital in Queens, his brother Elliott Reed said. He was 86 and had lived in Manhattan.
“Blood Sucking Freaks,” the most disturbing of them all, became a cult hit.
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.” The movie tells the story, such as it is, of Master Sardu, who runs a theater in which the performers are subjected to realistic-seeming scenes of torture. What the theatergoers are not aware of, however, is that the actors are actually kidnapping victims, and that 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 get it an R rating, and changed the name to “Blood Sucking Freaks.” (It’s 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 the movie “was, on a certain level, hilarious, in the context of Grand Guignol.” But “it’s very misogynistic,” he added. “Today, we would not have anything to do with it.”
The film was picketed by the group “Women Against Pornography,” according to the book “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.”
Joel Melvin Reed was born on Dec. 29, 1933, in Brooklyn to Albert and Gertrude (Harris) Reed. His father was a record salesman. In addition to his brother Elliott, Mr. Reed’s survivors include another brother, Michael.
Mr. Reed graduated from high school and served in the Army in Korea. After his military service he worked in public relations, but found himself drawn to filmmaking. His early work included soft-core pornography and a movie called “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.