Sunday, May 8, 2011

Bloody Nightmares #33: Slasher (aka Blood Cult) (1985)

Blood Cult (renamed Slasher for this collection, despite its general notoriety and the existence of a sequel) was the very first straight-to-video film ever released, which affords it a rather unique place in movie history. Not surprisingly, it's also a cheapo slasher film, and - critically - is also shot on video, giving it that unique early 80s porno look. Utilizing a nine day shooting schedule, director Christopher Lewis tells a by-the-number stalk and slash tale with requisite nods to Halloween and Psycho, but with some gore thrown in for good measure. I've actually seen another of Lewis' shot-on-video epics, Ripper (1985) (which features a small appearance by Tom Savini), and he's a bland if capable director who gets some reasonable mileage out of his slasher scenes, but pads out his running time interminably with scenes of characters sitting around and talking.

But here's the good news for me. I can't give this film a proper review, as the fine folks at Pendulum Pictures managed to botch the transfer of Blood Cult quite spectacularly for its appearance in the Bloody Nightmares collection. What starts out dark and glitchy becomes totally unwatchable, as the final 30 minutes of the movie are totally without sound! Indeed, at a critical moment in the film the soundtrack goes completely mute and it doesn't return for the entirety of the rest of the movie. That said, here are a few thoughts on the plot, since I'd hate to not give the film its due.

"Have you ever had an Egyptian feast?" Oh, sorry. Wrong movie. Anyway, a masked killer is slashing his way through a group of sorority girls, baffling local Sheriff Ron Wilbois (Charles Ellis) who seems rather overwhelmed by a serial killer terrifying his small town. Oddly, the killer also leaves a medallion featuring the image of a dog's head the scene of his crimes, and takes pieces of his victim's bodies for an apparent ritual. How do we know this? Well, thankfully the Sheriff's daughter works at the college library, and manages to track down an occult book which explains that the killings might have to do with some sort of ancient ceremony. Under pressure from the Dean, Wilbois tracks down a complaint from a local farmer regarding apparent poachers making a lot of noise and lighting fires in the nearby woods - which just might be caused by the titular blood cult. While checking out the nighttime ritual - along with his daughters boyfriend for reasons I can't begin to comprehend - the.. whole movie goes totally silent. I did scan ahead to find out who the killer was - spoiler: it's ridiculous - but the exact details of how and why the whole thing pans out isn't something I'm prepared to guess at.

The film opens with a well-staged ten minute murder scene ripped wholesale from Halloween, but at least proves that Lewis can be a capable director when inspired. Even better is the immediately following murder scene where the killer sits in a rocking chair, having decapitated a sorority girl before beating her room-mate unconscious with her severed head. Unfortunately things go rapidly downhill from here, slowing to a crawl as we get a voice-over from the aged Sheriff and his encounters with his daughter and deputy. Lewis tries to spice these scenes up with a few interesting angles, but a nine day shoot doesn't allow for much inventiveness and most scenes are just extended padding to try and get this mess to 90 minutes.

Acting is about what you would expect, though at least the cast seem to know their lines fairly well and only a few flubs are left in the final film. Charles Ellis as Ron Wilbois does a serviceable job, and it's sort of nice to have a protagonist thats a bit older, but he looks as baffled by the plot as anyone else. The less said about James Vance's odd looking Joel Hogan the better, and I'm guessing the biggest acting test for Juli Andelman (as Wilbois' daughter) came after the film went silent. Oh well.

Gore is strictly of the sliced limbs and fake blood variety, though there's a slow gag at the school cafeteria featuring some severed fingers if you're into that sort of thing. You'll never actually care about anyone who is in danger in these scenes, but that's sort of par for the course with these nothing slasher films. It does have a better than average soundtrack by Rod Slane, which at least occasionally makes the proceedings feel like an actual movie, but it really only stands out because of the averageness that surrounds it.

Blood Cult is presented in a murky, dark presentation likely sourced from a VHS tape - this re-edit of the film occurred in 1997, so it's a little hard to say, but there are digital glitches regularly throughout. Lots of digital artifacting, particularly in the darker scenes, but aside from some shaky moments during the second murder scene it's fairly standard VHS quality. Lots of noise on the soundtrack forced me to crank the volume to be able to make out some of the dialogue, and even then it was a little messy, but that could have as much to do with the transfer as with the original recording.

It's hardly worth mentioning that, this being a Bloody Nightmares release, we don't get any special features or even chapter stops. However, allowing me to get away with not watching the final 30 minutes is like a bonus feature in an of itself. Thanks, Pendulum Pictures!

I don't feel comfortable giving a solid opinion on a film that I missed thirty minutes of, but I can safely say that while there are a smattering of interesting moments in the initial hour, this is generally an uninspired slasher that does nothing to rise above the hundred others that were pouring out in the mid-1980s. It's certainly more polished that most of the efforts in this collection - featuring a fine musical score and competent direction - but it's more memorable for its place in the history of straight-to-video productions than for anything original it brings to the table. Followed by Revenge: Blood Cult 2 in 1986.

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