The Chronicles of Horror Movie Night: Mardi Gras Massacre (1978)

Damon Swindall

by: Damon Swindall
March 16th, 2011

After starting in Washington D.C. nine years ago Horror Movie Night has expanded to include chapters in Austin, Dallas and Chicago. GATW’s own Brian Kelley is the originator and programmer of this illustrious weekly Wednesday night tradition which features a “classic” horror film. Each week I will be reviewing/commenting on the past week’s selection so do your best to find the film, most of which have not made it past VHS, and follow along. Better yet, start your own chapter!


Near the end of last year’s schedule Brian was nice enough to ask a few of us in the non-Austin chapters of HMN to suggest some titles for 2011. I gave a couple and one that got picked was something I had never seen but thought would be great thematically. What better way to celebrate Ash Wednesday, the day after Mardi Gras’ notorious Fat Tuesday, than with Jack Weis’ late 70s flick MARDI GRAS MASSACRE? I knew very little about this flick except that it was on the infamous Video Nasty list in the UK and remained there until the bitter end. Good enough for me. Unfortunately the outcome was not as wonderful as we all hoped.

A strange man with a big ring, John (William Metzo, though I think he’s only named in the credits and that’s probably due to all his hookers), is on the hunt for a very special girl. He searches the seedy bars and strip joints in The Big Easy to find the most evil girl around, and he’s willing to pay top dollar. Once he gets a girl they head back to his apartment where he promptly ties them to an odd altar-esque table before changing into a very fancy costume of thin gold and using his ceremonial dagger to make offering to Quetzalcoatl. New Orleans’ finest, Sgt. Mike Abraham (Curt Dawson), is assigned to find out why so many hookers and dancers are turning up with their hearts removed. With the help of his fellow officer, who looks a little like Horatio Sanz, and a prostitute who catches his eye named Sherry they do their best to track down this madman and save some working girls’ lives.

John: “Hello, I understand that you’re the most evil woman here.”
Hooker: “Listen honey, I could probably take first prize in any evil contest.”

Judging by the first ten minutes of the film this is going to be a great ride. The dialog and acting are already off to a great start (as you can see from the above excerpt), the “evil hooker” strips down to her full birthday suit and there is some pretty gnarly gore with close-ups of her heart being cut from her chest. I believe I even expressed an audible “yes!” when I saw this. You get everything you’re looking for in a slasher film right off the bat. Guess Weis had a checklist and was just getting everything out of the way, because little did I know it was going to be mostly downhill for the next 80 minutes.

John's Ceremonial Dress

For a movie called MARDI GRAS MASSACRE, there’s not a lot of Mardi Gras or even much of a massacre. There are only four deaths in the film, and of those only three are committed as part of the “massacre”. The other casualty is a pimp who is accidentally stabbed by his girl while they attempt mugging John. Along with the lack of a massacre, any actual Mardi Gras footage doesn’t show up until 71 minutes in and it’s a very small part of the film. Guess Jack couldn’t get the rights to shoot a lot of stuff during the festivities.

This film features some of the worst stripper dancing ever put to film. I can’t say it’s the worst ever because surely there’s some dive topless club somewhere that reeks of desperation, sorrow and regret and the girls don’t so much dance as shudder nude. Still, some of that might be more interesting that what we get here. One of the dancers even looks like frames are missing from her scene. She’s not doing the robot or any fancy pop-and-locking, she’s just... twitching. This is not the first movie I’ve seen where there are inexplicably long takes at strip clubs that serve no purpose, other than padding out the running time and adding a little T&A, but it’s surely the least titillating.

John looking at Catfish in disgust

But the dancing is not the worst of it all. Nothing in the film is worse than Catfish. This is a pimp John encounters who is a hippieish white guy with long hair, glasses and the most annoying trait ever. He constantly rhymes like a second rate Dolomite, but when not talking he plays air piano and jazz scats. He’s only onscreen for a few minutes but it feels much longer and you will hope John rips his vocal chords from this throat. Unfortunately he does not.

The majority of the movie is quite boring. Seriously, does a movie of this caliber really need three montages? But there are still a few redeeming qualities. Even though three of the four deaths are exactly the same the FX team went above and beyond. I would expect them to use the same female dummy torso for the heart extractions, or even the same footage, but they made three different pieces. It’s a bit shocking that this is where they decided to spend their money and time. The film’s music is also a highpoint. Actually, it’s probably the best thing about the flick, even if it seems a little out of place most of the time. It’s all late 70s funk/disco craziness and it’s wonderful! Oddly enough, none of this great music appears over the end credits. It’s just a couple minutes of silence. Guess Weis wanted to you let everything you’ve seen to really sink in.

A Mardi Gras Band on the street

Bartender: “Ah, some weirdo is making meatballs out of hookers.”

Most of scenes go on far too long to even be funny. Of course, you can’t help but smile at some of the cheese. Many of the non-principle cast have to be local non-actors who are either friends of the production crew, local investors or they own the establishments in which they shot. The subpar acting aside, most of the laughs come from the ridiculous dialog. When you’re a hooker with a guy who says he’s into something very different and he ties to you what a looks like an altar, pleading with him to not be so rough might not make much sense. The best, by far, is the ritual sacrifice expert visited by the cops. This is a smart man who knows everything about the habits of tribes and cults, yet the actor can’t even remember what to say during his brief scene. The entire time he talks to them his gaze repeatedly gravitates down to the papers on his desk, obviously reading his lines. Oh how I love it when you see that in movies.

Just when you’re about bored out of your skull by MARDI GRAS MASSACRE the last act happens. Nothing you have witnessed so far could ever prepare you for the random, weird “finale” to this movie. The cops find out the location of the killer but, as I’m sure real detectives do, decide to stop for a drink before heading over to capture him. When they finally put the alcohol down and find John we are treated to the most uninteresting car chase ever seen. The lukewarm pursuit ends, a car goes in the Gulf of Mexico, and the movie... just... kind of ends. There’s a bit of a cliffhanger but by now you don’t really care. You’re left a little dumbstruck wondering why the UK ever made such a big deal out of this film.

It’s really a shame when bad things happen to movies with great poster/box art.

Nice UK cover art branding this an "American Splatter Movie"

OK. So I know this was my pick, but don’t blame me. I didn’t know what the flick was actually like, just that it had a pretty badass reputation. Can you really fault me? As a consolation, there is a fairly similar film with strippers/hookers and a killer that I watched recently called AMERICAN NIGHTMARE (1983) that is a wee bit better. It’s still not a great movie, but overall a triumph compared to MARDI GRAS MASSACRE. Hopefully next week’s film, the shot-on-video VIDEO VIOLENCE, will be as much fun as I’ve heard.

Until next week, book your acting lesson with MARDI GRAS MASSACRE’s killer at and get ready for more gore!

Body Count: 4
First Blood: 9 mins 45 sec
First Nudity: 5 mins 49 sec (priorities)
Number of Different Nude Women: 7 (Guess this is to make up for the lack of massacre)
Number of Montages: 3
Time Spent on Mardi Gras B-Roll: 3.5 minutes
Number of Rhymes by Catfish in Less Than 2.5 Minutes: 14

Coming soon to Horror Movie Night (Chronicles are posted one week after screening):
-3/16/11: VIDEO VIOLENCE (1987) (My Unofficial Bye Week Pick)
-3/23/11: THE VIDEO DEAD (1987)
-3/30/11: THE PIT (1981)
-4/6/11: ONE DARK NIGHT (1983)

End title card from MARDI GRAS MASSACRE

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