It is thicker than water. It is the fluid of life. It bonds brothers and sisters, and cements certain oaths making them that much more meaningful. Vampires love it, zombies crave it (if only as a refreshing repast to accompany all the flesh chewing) and mad scientists work with it and without it frequently and frightfully. If you faint from the sight of it, your career as a doctor is doomed, yet if you worship the very concept of its congealing color or pray to its particular claret lucidity, you're viewed as weird, odd or in league with the Devil. It is the catalyst for crime solving, the wonderful wizard in gore and the pit of horror from which no man returns unscathed.
Yes indeed, blood is the basis for almost all moments of the macabre, from the puddle that pools under a maniac's victim to the throat-draining desire of Dr. Acula and his pals. No upstanding scary movie would be without it, and fans get frantic when organizations like the MPAA demand it be removed. Video games lather it on in pixel popping plenty and rock acts revel in its shock jock value. Yet blood can also be a bane, a concept that can effortlessly hobble as well as help your fright films. As stated before, not enough and aficionados cry foul. Too much, and you overwhelm the audience with a lack of arterial authenticity.
As part of their ongoing repacking of previously available titles, Troma has put together The Bloodspell Collection, a trio of tales all using the sanguine sorcery of heart fuel as the foundation for their fear. And in each case, the use of such vital vein vittles either aids (as in Bloodspell itself) or atrophies (as in the tired tenets of Drawing Blood) the plotline particulars. While it is true that stemma does make the world of wickedness go around, the Bloodspell Collection proves that it can also send your cinematic vision crashing down into the pits of paltriness.
Combined together without much thought as to matching content (just how do possessed killer teens, aliens, vampires and brain damaged retards link up???), the three films in the Bloodspell Collection are as mixed a bag as any found on the other four volumes of the Troma Triple-Bs. Looking at them individually, we can start to understand why, occasionally, three helpings of horror can suck six times as hard. Let's begin with:
Bloodspell (1988), a.k.a. The Boy from Hell
Hoping to hide him from his weirdo Dad, Daniel's mother places her son under the care of the St. Boniface troubled teen youth school hostel. Apparently, Pops need his offspring for some cruel human sacrifice, so naturally, a pit stop at a halfway house for juvenile jitter-boxes would be the appropriate sanctuary. Too bad, because father finds his son, does a little transmogrification of his soul into sonny boy, and before you know it, Daniel is causing fires and moving objects with just the power of his mind. Since Dan is so dreamy, no one really pays attention to all the evil he is exercising. Only the confused loser Charlie notices the possible portents of hate. But before he can convince everyone of the wickedness inside Danny's heart, bodies are piling up and people are getting petrified. Worse, Dan has his eye on Charlie's gal Debbie, needing someplace to lay his future fertile demon seed.
Bloodspell is the kind of movie that understands just how junky it is. Yet it also knows to keep on plugging away, hoping to win points, and audience hearts, by and for the effort. Though the result of all this exertion is more ridiculous than terrifying, there are still enough outlandish aspects of this movie to keep you thoroughly and totally entertained – even though you'll probably be embarrassed for admitting as much. Originally released as The Boy from Hell, Bloodspell takes the standard creepy kid coming of age ideal and mixes it with some of Carrie White's killer telekinesis to fashion a kind of hands-free slasher film. The first few minutes are rather dull, including the standard setup of Charlie as the crazy kid and Debbie as the equally loony light of his life. But once it's been established that Daniel is possessed by his demonic daddy, and that this new found father/son symbiosis has resulted in untold power to pick on his fellow houseguests, our teen dream lead lets loose with the psychic butt kicking. Suddenly, just like Frampton, Bloodspell comes alive.
Director Deryn Warren obviously takes her cues from the early 80s school of slaughter, as she (along with writer Gery Daly) find more and more clever ways of offing the scrappy school kids. A big fat bully gets glass to the face, a strangulating slice of pie, and an unseen beating before finally flambéing to death in a case of human fire starting. His accomplice, a jive talking black boy, gets "accidentally" tossed in a wood chipper (with satisfactorily chunky results). A doctor is tossed down the stairs by "invisible hands" and our damsel-in-way-too-much-distress Debbie, is compelled by Daniel's extrasensory pillow talk to hang herself with a bed sheet. Such a subversive element, the knowledge that anyone can and will die at any given moment in this movie, makes Bloodspell that much more of a gratuitous goof. Although the end pay off is rather pathetic (just a standard right vs. might fight), getting there is almost all the fun. Score: 3 out of 5
Alien Blood (1999):
A mother and daughter are on the run, scrounging food and shelter where and when they can. In hot pursuit are a band of men in white masks, bent on killing them both. Hoping to find some hospice in a manor in the middle of nowhere, our pair fall into the lair of Dracula, and his sensuality obsessed minions. Nevertheless, the surprise is on the vampires, as we learn that our concerned parent is really an alien, vowing to protect her "child" until midnight of the millennium. The interstellar mothership will return for them both at that time. So it's up to the neckbiters to take up arms and help the determined ET defend her offspring in a full out war with the soldiers bent on shedding their alien blood.
Its first 20 minutes are amazing: moody, atmospheric and telling an ambiguous tale of individuals on the run in near silent splendor. The shot selection is astounding, the music is incredibly rich and the overall tone is something both epic and individual, like the preparations for something truly extraordinary to come. But the minute director Jon Sorensen introduces us to the household of horny vampires, all bets are off in Alien Blood. No matter how magnificent the finale is, returning to the kind of visual splendor and spectacle he specialized in at first, Sorensen's desire to out Anne Ms. Rice in the goofy Gothic ideal makes for one awkward sidetrack from what could have been a real winner of a yarn spinner. Even with the less than effective CGI shots of screaming extraterrestrials (obvious by today's strict standards) and the substandard pyrotechnics (things don't blow up so much as go "pop") our daring director was onto something when he kept the action outdoors and drenched in the beauty of his beloved United Kingdom.
But it's the very element that Troma is trading on here – the claret loving clan of oversexed blood (and other bodily fluid) suckers – that more or less derails the narrative. Such a shift makes the script (written by Sorensen as well) seem pieced together from other genre offerings. Indeed, you can see a combination of Neil Jordan's Interview with a Vampire with the entire ET/Xtro/ Mac and Me school of misplaced space travelers avoiding the human pursuit concept. Sorensen should have jettisoned the sex (no one here is attractive enough to be seen knocking boots) and the entire undead angle, and simply focused on a Man Who Fell to Earth type of alienated mother alien and child movie. Had it stayed within this framework (and contained more of the amazing sound and vision Sorensen was working with), Alien Blood would have been wonderful. As it stands, it's too schizophrenic to be completely successful. Score: 2.5 out of 5
Drawing Blood (1999), a.k.a. Serio Lapel's Drawing Blood
Poor old Edmund has a pretty big problem. All he wanted to do was be an painter, to use his imagination and his hands to create art. Unfortunately, he ran into fellow canvas crafter Diana and things just haven't been the same. See, Diana requires a special "medium" in which to create her masterpieces, and she wants Edmund to get it for her. The unique ink? The particular paint? Blood. That's right, claret...the sanguine source of Diana's muse. It also helps out with her health, since Ms. D is a...wait for it...vampire. Mandating that Edmund bring her hitchhikers, homeless girls and prostitutes, Diana demands her internal "inspiration", threatening Edmund at every turn. But when our reluctant assistant in murder falls for a helpless hooker, he wants out of this terrifying life. Edmund must try to break the grip Diana has on his life, or face an eternity playing body bagger for the macabre Miss.
Drawing Blood is a pretty mediocre movie, the kind of 'thinks its cool' film that really doesn't understand the first thing about being inventive or coherent. Tossing its ideas at the lens in hopes that something semi-sentient will stick, but lacking even the arm strength to make sure such lobs are logically or logistically sound, the results of this random scene psychosis is neither fun or fresh. Director "Sergio Lapel" (actually, filmmaker Onur Tukel, which may explain the pseudonym) seems to be running through every trick he learned in his community college class on Fragmented Film Farting 101. This cavalcade of confusion uses such tired treatises as double exposure, frame dropping, slow and/or fast motion, and a strangulating soft focus that renders everything like its covered in Vaseline, to realize his vile vision. As he piles on the stunt shooting, as he makes his fight scenes stink with a retread Evil Dead ideal, he begs, borrows and steals from dozens of films that weren't that great to begin with. As with most pretenders to the horror throne, Lapel's rip-off referencing launches this Drawing into the underworld of unwatchable films.
Indeed, it is almost impossible to sit through Drawing Blood without reaching for the remote and getting your brain into an unracked mode. Lapel fails to properly set up his scenes, so we don't know who people are, what their connection is to each other, or why we should care what is happening. Kirk Wilson, as the hapless Edmund, seems stuck in five different films all at once, and doesn't quite know how to act in any of them. He shifts from dour to dumb, heroic to hokey all in the span of a single dialogue sequence, making his motivations as unsure as his humanness (it would have been nice to know if he too was a vampire at some point before the last 30 minutes of the movie, Serg). Diana, as played by Dawn Spinella, is one dimensional, arching between angry and aggressive, barely suggesting the seductive sexuality that got Edmund hooked in the first place.
The rest of the players are nameless victims or ancillary subplot devices, performers used to simply pad out the cinematic parameters of the narrative. It's sad when the best thing about a supposed horror/comedy is the casting of some feeble old coot (Larry Palatta is actually fairly funny as Edmund's eccentric Dad), but this describes Drawing Blood to a "T". It's a movie so stupid, so vastly non-entertaining that you have to mine your amusement in whatever miniscule doses you can uncover. Naturally, the pickings are pretty slim. Score: 1 out of 5.
What the three films that make up this fifth installment of the Troma Triple-B Header collection all have in common is a desire to twist the standard constraints of the particular horror formula they are messing with, in hopes of creating something new or novel. Bloodspell is taking the old slasher concept and injecting it with a Damien/Omen aspect to try and give an otherworldly presence to the precariousness. Alien Blood is mixing its heady horror cocktail with even more divergent dimensions, placing gratuitous Goth neckbiters along side homesick extraterrestrials to make a kind of crazy creature feature concoction. Even Drawing Blood is playing with the vampire genre, messing up the traditions, injecting a lot of useless humor and reaching way back into the exploitation archives for the old 'vein juice as artists medium' aspects of such classics as Bucket of Blood and Color Me Blood Red to form its folly.
But another common thread that each of these experiments carries is the idea of filmic failure. Alien Blood has such lofty ambitions, such stellar visual appeal, that you're sad when the narrative switches over into oversexed French farce tactics mode. Bloodspell keeps pushing the envelope, finding new ways to make gore both nasty and fun, so that when it abandons the blood letting toward the end for a standard 'good vs. evil' showdown, you wonder why the chainsaw sitting in the background isn't being incorporated into the battle. Drawing Blood does the worst job of retrofitting its facets into an understandable statement. As with any other film in this crazed collection, during Lapel's lunatic lament, you wonder why somebody would want to reinvent a genre they themselves have yet to perfect. Standard scares are indeed hard to come by. Horror films fail more often than they work. Getting to the heart of why the macabre mutates into tedium should be the first lesson for any student of the scary.
Instead, each director here thinks they've got the cornerstones of creepy down pat, and this may be why each movie they've made is uneven and underdeveloped. Very few of our genius fright forefathers can manage a double-edged sword of fear with other factors. When they do, it's usually wonderful. Sam Raimi has discovered how to make corpse carving funny, while George Romero has given the zombie a social conscious. Wes Craven can tie the basics of the macabre into almost any psychological or interpersonal problem area, and John Carpenter can tweak the terror and tension in almost any everyday circumstance or situation. What Deryn Warren, Jon Sorensen and Sergio Lapel need to learn is that there are reasons and rationales why people appreciate and pine for scary cinema. There are elements of release, escapism and personality wrapped up inside the desire to be frightened. Until you can discover how to do the "Boo" absolutely and utterly, you should avoid slathering on the silliness or the surrealism. While not a total compendium of crap, the Bloodspell Collection is a lot of decent ideas amateurishly developed and poorly portrayed.
Each film is offered in a 1.33:1 full screen transfer that, no matter what Troma founder Lloyd Kaufman says about being "lovingly remastered and digitally recreated", looks pretty damn dire on this disc. Drawing Blood is the absolute worst, as it is filled with pixelation, horrible contrasts (the murky haze of the 16mm image renders everything vague and without detail) and a near total lack of correct color (even the blood looks more brown than red). Bloodspell is better in the clarity count, but also has compression issues. There is some grain and a slight video flaring (even though it is a filmed presentation – go figure) to be found. Only Alien Blood stands out as the best image of the bunch, but it still has a few of the problems (overly dark, inconsistent contrasts) that the other films contain.
Over the course of the DVD, the sound goes from good, to acceptable, to completely crappy as each film unfolds. Alien Blood has an amazing ethereal soundtrack, a nuanced new age score that really helps sell the movie's more enigmatic moments. The dialogue is always clear and the balance properly maintained. Bloodspell is a little odd, since it contains several obviously added in postproduction musical cues that tend to drown out the conversations. Naturally, Drawing Blood has the worst sonic issues on the DVD, but it is for artistic, not technical reasons. Director Lapel decides to create aural "soundscapes" for his scenes, adding such divergent noises as screeching animals, the grinding of metal on metal, the off-key strangulations of a poorly played violin and random cries and whispers to create what he hopes is an unsettling, spooky ambiance. All we feel is ill while having to struggle to hear hackneyed dialogue in between babies burping, monkeys farting and dogs dying. As imaginatively inert as the film is, Lapel finds a way to supplement Drawing Blood with an equally irritating aural aspect.
Here's a memo to Troma titan Lloyd Kaufman and his accomplice in stupidity, scream queen extraordinaire Debbie Rochon. The first time we saw the generic, fill in the blank introduction you created (a glorious goof with the duo finding ways to cover their mouths so that the particulars of the film being "discussed" could be overdubbed in later) it was funny. The second time is was cute. The 4th and 5th times, it was acceptable. But just like any idea beaten to death and left out to dry, its inclusion here is more annoying than entertaining. Find something new NOW!
Troma also tosses us a bone, giving us some leftover extras from the first DVD versions of Drawing Blood (just a few minutes of bloopers and deleted scenes) and Alien Blood (a trailer and a preview video reel). Sadly, nothing additional from Bloodspell is represented here, which is no real loss. The overall added content has minimal impact, acting like sloppy seconds scraped from the bottom of the basic bonus barrel. As for the promised Lunachicks video (for the song "Say What You Mean") advertised on the box, it is nowhere to be found on the disc. In keeping with the spirit of these uneven movies, the extras here are also slapdash and intermittently amusing.
Because Drawing Blood is so bad, so completely clueless as both a comedy and a scarefest, it drags the entire Bloodspell Collection out of the recommended realm and smack dab into the 'rent it' region. Both Bloodspell and Alien Blood have reasons to sit through them at least once, since they proffer more manageable macabre than other homemade horror films. Indeed, in the right package and setting, with some more substantial contextual elements, Alien Blood would be an interesting title to own. But it is that stupid artist slaughter shtick that dooms this DVD.
It is interesting to note that Lapel, under his real name Onur Tukel, went on to make the far funnier and more inventive romantic romp Ding-a-ling-LESS, an independent lark about one man and his search for a schlong. Too bad Tukel didn't do his own probing and find some evidence of effectiveness when crafting his crappy vampire caper. While Deryn Warren gores up Bloodspell very nicely, and Jon Sorensen gets the visual flair necessary to add mood and tone to his film just right, Lapel/Tukel is lost. As a result, he condemns this DVD to the lend lease division of diversion. Troma is known for its Toxic treats, but this trio of titles is almost lethal.
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