Shock schlocker Ryan Nicholson (Hanger, Gutterballs) heads into troubled waters with his latest effort, and it seems that trouble starts in square one, with the title. Bleading Lady simply looks and reads weirdly. It took me a few weeks of background thinking to finally understand the punning misspelling. (OK, I'm probably stupid.) Nicholson's original title, Star Vehicle has a lot more class, but also doesn't sell the movie. I guess it all makes sense though - as this effort from the man who made 'offensive' into a calling card skirts almost all of his trademark nastiness to focus on fairly straight-ahead psychological horror. For the most part, Nicholson succeeds, and therein lies the rub.
For all intents and purposes, Nicholson has raised his game. Bleading Lady touts higher production values, tighter scripting, better acting, and everything else to which filmmakers aspire. It's even got a storyline most fans wouldn't be afraid to relate to their mothers. Don Cardini (Dan Ellis in a standout performance) is a live wire driver for a low budget horror movie. (I'm not in the industry, but this is the one plot hole that bothers me - since when do low budget horror movies have money for hired drivers?) At any rate, Cardini seems to have a real thing for the film's scream queen star, the improbably named Riversa Red (Sindy Faraguna). You might say he's obsessed. Is he obsessed enough to slaughter everyone in order to get close to his object of affection? It's a valid question, with a complicated answer.
Right off the bat fans of the director's earlier works will ask themselves, "What's to be offended about?" Other than a few deliciously splashy kills, not much. Nicholson even tones down his ubiquitous gay jokes to one little jab that works out in the 'mo's favor. Of course on the plus side we get deliberate, even relaxed pacing that leaves most of the true horror until the final half-hour. Nicholson seems more assured of how to move things along like a pro, allowing his plot to develop naturally and skillfully. And though there are still a few performances that clearly come off as line readings, (neither the director of the movie-within-the movie, nor Red's original driver come off very well) Ellis and Faraguna particularly do themselves justice with turns that are nuanced and unforced, for crazy, low budget horror, that is.
Since we're missing Nicholson's usual trademarks of morally, sexually offensive sleaze and brutal torture and murder, we have to enjoy the remainder; professionalism and what is certainly a sadly (and quite amusingly) realistic look at low budget filmmaking. Those things are all well and good, but they plant this film firmly in the middle ground of its realm, whereas Nicholson has in the past excelled at jaw-dropping inappropriateness. As previously mentioned, we get a handful of nasty murders, murders that provide intermittent but not unexpected pleasure - based on what we expect - and an offensive, possibly CGI-enhanced ending that confounds. We get a movie that can hold its head high with pride in the crowd of DVD offerings clamoring from the shelves. But do we get what we've come to expect from director Ryan Nicholson? We might need to see what he comes up with next, if we're still looking for boundaries to be crossed.