Friday, November 25, 2016

Past Misdeeds: Blood Massacre (1988? 1991? Yesterday?)

Through the transformation of the glorious WTF-Films into the even more glorious Exploder Button and the ensuing server changes, some of my old columns for the site have gone the way of all things internet. I’m going to repost them here in irregular intervals in addition to my usual ramblings.

Please keep in mind these are the old posts without any re-writes or improvements. Furthermore, many of these pieces were written years ago, so if you feel offended or need to violently disagree with me in the comments, you can be pretty sure I won’t know why I wrote what I wrote anymore anyhow.

Murderously deranged Vietnam vet Rizzo (improbably cast Don Dohler vet George Stover in what just might be the only time in his career in which he's basically playing Rambo) and three sort-of buddies rob that favourite victim of all such criminal efforts, the local video store. Who would have believed that the video store owner has a handgun and a female employee willing to use it? Welcome to Maryland. Fortunately for them, the gangsters survive the ensuing confrontation and only the needlessly heroic video store employee has to die, but that's no consolation for our protagonists, who are now being hunted for murder instead of armed robbery as they had expected. Hope the 720 Dollars are worth it.

The mandatorily moustached cop Micky McGuire (Herb Otter Jr.) is picking up their trail, connecting Rizzo with another murder the man committed at the beginning of the film while he's at it.

While Micky's investigating, the gangsters' flight is stunted by their car breaking down in the middle of the woods. They're in luck, though, for they manage to grab themselves another car and a useful hostage in the form of country girl Liz Parker (Robin London) in the space of only a few minutes. They force Liz to drive them to her, her sister's and her parents' home even deeper in the woods and plan on holing up there for a bit. The Parkers seem harmless enough, perhaps a little too harmless, but a nice warm dinner for everyone and blood-letting sex with Liz for Rizzo are nothing to sneeze at.

All is well until our protagonists take a look inside the trunk of Liz's car. There, they find a dead psychiatrist and papers that declare the charming young lady to be a murderous maniac. They will soon realize that Liz is not the only one of that sort in her family. In fact, these people are all cannibalistic murderers - as well as cooks of a very famous stew - always on the look-out for new food sources.

Now only Rizzo's Vietnam vet expertise in killing people can save the day. At least until the final ridiculous/awesome plot twist.

We're back in Baltimore, Maryland and in the arms of its greatest son, Don Dohler. Blood Massacre should become the last film Dohler directed in the 20th century, but it's a fantastic way to end the first part of a career.

What could be better than a creaky, yet strangely intense variation on backwoods horror crossed with (the more harmless) elements of movies whose titles begin with "Last House on" as an end to anything, really?

If you just thought to yourself "Nothing!", then Blood Massacre features a lot to recommend it to you, beginning with dialogue full of odd non-sequiturs and the type of bizarre tough guy talk one can usually only find in the English dubs of Italian movies. The ride to bliss this movie is continues with reaction shots consisting of people lit from below (often in Hong Kong blue or red), staring directly into the camera, their faces either unmoving and expressionless or grimacing as if they were in a silent movie. Though, perhaps surprisingly, the acting is much less wooden than in most of Dohler's earlier movies. It's not "good" in any conventional sense, mind you. Everyone's line delivery is way too off for that, but it's off in a lively amateur acting sort of way that fluctuates between being quite charming and being frightening like pictures of monkeys with guns.

The film's sound mix is just bizarre with sound effects that are sometimes insanely loud compared to the dialogue - possibly in the hope to sell the film on to the US military as a sound weapon - adding to the impression that something just isn't right with this movie.

Since Nightbeast, Dohler seems to have forgotten much of what he knew about conventional filmmaking technique, but instead of making Blood Massacre worse, everything that should look incompetent, Dohler's skewed editing, the wonky camera angles and even the messed up sound, lends the movie a quality of weirdness Dohler's earlier efforts didn't aim for. Everything seems less competent but is also much more lively. The editing might be rough and just feel a little wrong, yet it is also much more dynamic than anything Dohler did at the cutting table before. Instead of the rather glacial pace of the director's past, Blood Massacre possesses a hyperactive rhythm at odds with my expectations for Dohler's work.

Visually, the film is dominated by unpleasant close-ups and claustrophobic framing that push the mood even more in the direction of a low-budgeted dream. Consequently, the script's lapses in sanity and basic logic aren't weaknesses here, but are an essential part of Blood Massacre's nature; the normal would only hurt itself on a sharp and pointy object wielded by an over-acting maniac.

Speaking of pointy objects, Dohler also manages to surprise me with the nature of the film's violence. There's a rough and rather nasty feel to it that fits the tradition of the backwoods cannibal horror movie perfectly, and isn't like anything I've seen before from a director who always seemed a bit afraid of going to any extremes in his films. Typical gore hounds won't be too shocked by it - they, as well as I, have seen much worse - but anyone expecting Dohler's more typical reserve will be in for a surprise.

Even if you ignore the violence, there is something raw and uncontrolled about the movie I honestly wouldn't have thought Dohler had in him. Where films like Nightbeast or The Alien Factor were attempts at re-creating only very slightly updated classic monster movies and their tropes belonging to the 50s, and Fiend his late 60s suburban arty gothic film, Blood Massacre is Dohler's sudden arrival in 70s horror (if a decade too late). He shows himself to be quite at home there, turning from the loveably square budget-deprived competent director of his early work into one of those slightly mad savants who made all the best films of the 70s.

No comments: