Why is it that homemade horror filmmakers always take on the standard stereotypical scary stuff? You know - zombies, vampires, the psychotic serial killers and the single minded Voorhees in training slashers. It seems like, whenever a novice director wants to get his fear freak on, he reverts to long dead (or undead) genre formulas. Of course, it's only fair to acknowledge the limitations inherent in camcorder creativity. You have to deal with amateur actors, found locations, crappy F/X, and that most meddlesome of moviemaking issues - cash. Monetary concerns can make the already paltry pickings slimmer indeed, but imagination and invention have a funny way of flummoxing even the most restrictive fiscal policy. Yet too few dread reckonings use novelty as part of their production. Kudos then to self-ascribed "homme fatale" Alan Rowe Kelly. In an eclectic career that's seen the drag diva master fashion, literature and the technical side of television, his sensational schlock masterwork The Blood Shed stands apart. As a homage to insane inbred families with a craving for cannibal cuisine, it's a brilliant bumpkin satire. Even better, it illustrates how abject creativity can overcome even the most limited cinematic situations.
For the residents of this secluded Northern New Jersey suburb, the local Bullion Family is quite notorious. Led by the overbearing patriarch Papa Elvis, and featuring stunted brothers Butternut and Hubcap, snotty cousin Sno Cakes, and brutish big sister Beefteena, this craven clan lives a scandal filled existence filled with rumors of murder and inferences of incest. Of course, the addled adult children don't mind. They're too busy brutalizing each other and playing unnatural sex games to care. But local law enforcement does worry, and they believe the brood is responsible for the disappearance of several citizens over the years. When Sheriff Brogan investigates, he learns the awful truth - as does anyone who gets in the Bullions' way. Mess with this merry band of maniacs and it's a knife to the throat, a hatchet to the head, and a trip the The Blood Shed - and no one has ever lived to tell about what happens there.
Imagine if David Lynch and Rob Zombie had a baby, gave said malformed infant to John Waters to wet nurse, and on weekends, all three allowed Kenneth Anger and the Kuchar Brothers to come over and babysit. With Tobe Hooper and Jack Hill as the godparents and Edith Massey as thrift store style consultant, the results would begin to resemble something similar to the wonderfully weird brain damaged b-movie The Blood Shed. The conceptual offspring of couture auteur Alan Rowe Kelly, this tasty take on the entire Texas Chainmail Massacre trip is one of the year's best unknown independent movies. Striking an intriguing balance between scares, surrealism, and satire, this eager exploitation experiment is a joy to behold. It takes all the archetypal elements of a Deliverance level hillbilly hoedown, macerates it in a cinematic concoction of kitsch, creeps, and dollar store perfume and paints a perverted patina over every last piece of lunatic fringe. The result is a delirious, dangerous example of old school schlock infused with a post-modern knowledge of the genre's long term effectiveness. It's the cinematic equivalent of swallowing a few tabs of Jean Nate soaked acid and tripping the blight fantastic.
At the center of this freak show firestorm is writer/director/actor/muse Kelly. Braving ridicule and his/her typical model-esque appearance, the star gained 50 lbs to play the oppressive Beefteena, and the transformation is frightening. Like the Bad Seed blown up with an air hose, or Evil Ethel regressed to an arrested adolescence, this elephantine entity with the mentality of a peanut is one deranged dame. Playing with her pet road kill and taunting the neighbors with a combination of courtesy and cruelty, she makes an intriguing center to this story. She's the least cartoonish of the characters, and offers the most lingering bang for your slice and dice buck. While the other actors do an excellent job with the material - including Terry West as Papa, Susan Adriensen as Sno Cakes, Mike Lane as Hubcap, and Joshua Nelson as Butternut - this is a true tour de force for Kelly. He balances the gore and the goofiness with expertise, and there's never a time when we feel overpowered by an obvious camp conceit. Still, it's not an entirely flawless ideal. Kelly does rely a little too much on the Coen Brothers School of Screaming to end his movie. The casts' nonstop screeching during the last ten minutes is enough to give hearing impaired and aurally sensitive viewers auditory nightmares for weeks. It remains, however, a minor complaint in what is, otherwise, an intriguing off the wall effort.
Even better, The Blood Shed avoids the standard clichés we've come to expect from the entire wicked family formula. Sure, it may steal just a skoosh from 1988's American Gothic (which also contained a heifer sized character guiding its batsh*t brood storyline) and frequently gives itself over to glamour fits of outrageous pointlessness, this is still one helluva horror comedy ride. It's riotously inventive, strangely satisfying, and completely out of its gourd. It's also a flawless illustration of how using one's brains - instead of buckets of blood - can lead to true cinematic greatness. This won't be everyone's style or sensibility, especially since Kelly never once lets on that there may be a man underneath all those baby doll dresses and grue-spattered crinoline. And anyone wanting more gore for their good time will probably wonder where the funk's at. Such criticisms really don't matter, however. The Blood Shed is a heaping helping of quirk-filled fabulousness, a movie with a surprise around every corner, and a corpse in every closet. From the oddball chase between the sheriff and the two Bullion boys (each one dressed in a different animal costume), to the hilarious photo shoot where Beefteena dreams of being America's Next Top Model, this is memorable, manic stuff. It doesn't deserve to be scoffed it. Indeed, this is the kind of film that needs to be celebrated - and savored.
From a technical standpoint, The Blood Shed looks very professional. The non-anamorphic letterboxed image - around a 1.78:1 OAR - is colorful and loaded with detail. Of course, you can tell that this is one of those camcorder creations that then gets a slightly fuzzy film look during DVD post-production. Still, the less than flawless transfer does provide the film with an added edge. We feel like we're watching someone's sordid home movies, and that impression matches the film's intentions perfectly.
Nothing to really write home about when it comes to sound. The Dolby Digital Stereo is clear and distortion free. The lack of a true multichannel remix is no big concern, especially since the dialogue is easily discernible.
As for added content, Heretic Films fails to fully deliver on The Blood Shed's creative worth. We get a collection of trailers, and some Actor's Bios, but that's about it. The only really valuable bonus feature is the full length audio commentary featuring Kelly, actors Jerry Murdock (Sheriff), Katherine O'Sullivan (Leslie) and crew members Tom Burns (composer) and Bart Mastronardi (Director of Photography). It's a genial and giddy conversation, with our director pleased as punch about his results and his cohorts mimicking his insights. We do learn of the logistical problems during the production, as well as the film's more modest origins (it was originally going to be a short). In-depth without being overbearing, this is an excellent title overview. Sadly, the cover art-promised Behind the Scenes montage was nowhere to be found.
One of the pleasures in this otherwise oppressive practice of film criticism is finding something that strives to differentiate itself from the rest of the pack. Whether it's the psychedelic spaghetti western wackiness of The Legend of God's Gun to the mock doc slasher stylings of Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon, a single undiscovered gem can make slogging through hundreds of amateur efforts all the more rewarding. Had Heretic Films fleshed out their DVD package with slightly more significant supplements, this would be one of 2007's best film/bonus features combo. As it stands, the digital presentation is merely average. The movie it manages is above reproach. Easily earning a Highly Recommended rating, The Blood Shed is the kind of labor of love that reinvigorates your faith in underground creativity. Hats (and heads) off to Alan Rowe Kelly for defying expectations to produce something that's legitimately unique and massively entertaining. This is one family outing that retains its delightful dysfunction all the way through.
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