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Bloody Knuckles

Artsploitation Films // Unrated // October 27, 2015
List Price: $22.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Adam Tyner | posted October 23, 2015 | E-mail the Author
Okay, maybe Travis (Adam Boys) took a little artistic license there at the end.

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The rest really isn't that far off. See, Chinese crime lord Leonard Fong (Kasey Ryne Mazak) has been raking in a little money under the table by forcing local businesses to buy his overpriced and FDA-verboten import rat poison. A bottle of the stuff winds up in the hands of a mentally disabled kid who thinks he's guzzling some Wild Beary Punch, and then...well:

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Fong's too well-connected for the authorities or even the mainstream media to turn against him, but Travis' underground comic Vulgarian Invasions isn't beholden to anyone or anything: twenty-two pages and the truth. The good news...? Fong can take a joke. The bad news...? His bottom line can't, and he gets his sense of justice from the same place he gets his rat killer.

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That was Travis' good hand too. His art, his dreams, his future, his everything just got hacked off and tossed in a sewer, and if he squeals to the cops, the rest of him probably won't be far behind. There's not a damned thing he can do about it, so the guy locks himself in his bedroom, drowning his sorrows in 40 after 40 of malt liquor. Travis is no longer on speaking terms with his brother-slash-roommate Ralphie (Ken Tsui), and he can't be bothered to return all those phone calls from Amy (Gabrielle Giraud), the reporter who was writing up a profile on him just before the, uh, incident. I guess it's all a matter of perspective, though. Yeah, Travis is down one hand, but that also means his hand is down one Travis, unshackled to do its own thing.

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It takes a while, sure, but that dismembered hand finally talks some sense into Travis, joining forces with Homo Dynamous (Dwayne Bryshun) to purge this once-proud city of Fong and his Golden Dragons once and for all.

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If I didn't have you at "Chinese kingpin cuts off the hand of an underground cartoonist who drew him raping a mentally retarded kid's half-melted corpse, then the cartoonist, his now-sentient severed hand, and an S&M superhero join forces to fight crime", then I don't really know what to tell you. The highest compliment I can think to make here is that Bloody Knuckles is every bit as incredible as that sounds. Writer/director Matt O'Mahoney -- but you can call him Matt O. -- heaps on all the gross-out gore, jaw-droppingly offensive comic art, and batshit insane action a premise like that demands. Trying to tally up these drive-in totals would give Joe Bob Briggs an aneurysm, and if Bloody Knuckles had coasted on its gonzo storyline, graphic imagery, and nods to everything from Buio Omega to Street Trash to Treevenge, I'd still probably be writing a rave review right about now. The truly extraordinary thing is that there's so much more to the movie than that.

Before I start talking about themes and sounding like a first year film theory student who's trying way too hard, I'll tackle some other ground...say, how Bloody Knuckles sure as hell doesn't look like the work of a first-time feature filmmaker. There's not a single wasted moment throughout its 82 minute runtime. Its sense of humor is incisive and really, really hysterical, not settling for shock value, although, yeah, there's that too. Writer/director Matt O. has assembled a remarkably talented cast and crew. Bloody Knuckles was shot for all of $80,000 -- and, if that's in Canadian dollars, you're talking closer to $60K USD -- but looks like it easily could've cost twenty times that amount. Aside from the razor sharp script, confident direction, and striking cinematography, there's also plenty of consistently impressive effects work. Bloody Knuckles keeps it practical whenever possible, but when the movie wheels out its digital effects, it's top-shelf. I can't even wrap my head around how convincingly Bloody Knuckles is able to bring to life an animated, severed hand on a budget like this.

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Bloody Knuckles has a powerful message to deliver too: if you believe in yourself, then anything is possible. No, fuck that. The real message has to do with the importance of offensive speech, one that connects that much more intensely in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo massacre. You certainly don't have to like what someone else says or how they choose to say it. If restrictions are placed on art or on speech, then freedom of expression -- one of the fundamental tenets of the country in which I'm writing this review -- can't truly exist. Free speech is, in fact, expressly intended to protect opinions that may repulse or offend the population at large. Sometimes the delivery of that message in Bloody Knuckles is more heavy-handed than it really needs to be, particularly the quadruple-underlined final shot before the end credits. I can even imagine some people completely misinterpreting what it's trying to say. By and large, though, it's handled well.

It just feels like Bloody Knuckles was so tailor-made for me in particular that I halfway expected to see "here you go, Adam!" in the opening credits. It aligns so perfectly with my sense of humor and the types of movies I gorged on growing up that I could never review Bloody Knuckles from some cold, objective, overly analytical perspective. It's smart, it's shocking, it's funny, it's a blood-spattered Valentine to underground comics and '80s cult cinema, and by God, a movie where a severed, sentient hand finally gets to play hero deserves special praise. Highly Recommended.

Particularly when Bloody Knuckles has plenty of light to play with, this Blu-ray disc is kind of a knockout: really sharp, very nicely detailed, literally eye-poppingly colorful at times, and showcasing some impressively slick lighting. Contrast flattens out somewhat in more dimly-lit shots, and there is some minor posterization and banding, but all that is pretty easily shrugged off. I'm basically paid per complaint, and I still can't find anything worth bitching or moaning about here. Very nicely done.

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Bloody Knuckles seizes hold of nearly every last byte on this BD-25 disc, not letting any of that space go to waste. The movie's presented at its native aspect ratio of 1.78:1.

Bloody Knuckles' 24-bit, six-channel DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack doesn't leave a whole lotta room for complaint either. Its dialogue is clean, clear, and couldn't be more perfectly balanced in the mix. The lower frequencies pack more and more of a wallop as Bloody Knuckles screams along, and I especially love the bassy roar to every single word out of Homo Dynamis' mouth. I also can't say enough good things about the Carpenter-esque synth-heavy score by Oscar Vargas and Eugenio Battaglia or the garage-centric numbers that round out the rest of the music. Bloody Knuckles really takes advantage of the whole 5.1 thing, piling on some very immersive and extremely effective usage of the surround channels. Yet again, nothin' but nice things to say here.

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Also along for the ride are two Dolby Digital tracks: one in stereo and the other in 5.1. Subtitles are dished out in English and Spanish.

  • Deleted Scenes (3 min.; HD): Three scenes yanked for pacing are featured here, leading with Travis printing that issue of Vulgarian Invasions. Ralphie also confronts his brother about what a soulless shell he's devolved into post-de-handing, and there's also a moment with Amy taking a different tack to get Travis to open up. Matt O. mentions a couple other deleted scenes in his feature-length commentary -- a proper introduction to Amy's roommate, the payoff to a runner about a hooker who's constantly getting ripped off -- but those didn't make it onto the disc.

  • Interviews (26 min.; HD): One of my favorite things about Bloody Knuckles' collection of interviews is that, for the most part, writer/director Matt O. is interviewing rather than being interviewed. Bloody Knuckles comes up in some of the conversations, of course, but it really isn't the dominant focus. The closest things get to that is the seven minute "A Hate Letter to Censorship", in which Matt discusses the importance of protecting offensive speech. Bloody Knuckles' sense of humor and both of the shorts elsewhere on this disc are also touched upon here.

    Cinema Sewer's Robin Bougie was originally tapped to field the artwork for Vulgarian Invasions before some scheduling conflicts got in the way. He and Matt speak about how misunderstood and unjustly reviled underground comics have been over the years, in particular the irrational obscenity convictions of Mike Diana that just...doesn't even seem like something that could happen in this country.

    Matt also drops by Diabolik DVD's headquarters, which gets a "holy shit!" from him the instant he gets a look at their basement/warehouse, and I gotta admit to having that same exact reaction watching this tour too. Oh, and bonus points for the shout-outs to Ator, the Fighting Eagle and Trick or Treat.

    Finally, Matt chats up Lunchmeat's Josh Schafer about their shared love for VHS and even gets some handy tips on scrubbing the mold off old cassettes.
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  • Audio Commentary: Matt O. also chimes in with a phenomenal commentary track. There are entirely too many highlights to rattle off, but if I had to pick a few: Matt points out just how much Bloody Knuckles was able to pull off with its microscopic budget, taking advantage of some blood splattered against a wall that...err, they didn't put there, overcoming hurdles like nearly getting kicked out of their very first location and losing a critical actor at the last possible minute, having a SWAT team called on 'em after one particularly convincing bloodcurdling scream, and everything you wanted to know about illegal rat poisons and that swastika dildo but were afraid to ask. Aside from a few lulls here and there, this Gatling gun of a commentary blasts off one brilliant story after another. It does an outstanding job painting a picture of being part of an ambitious genre flick like this, there are some really insightful comments about the effects work, I'm completely humbled by his encyclopediac knowledge of cinema (when was the last time you heard 80 Blocks from Tiffany's namechecked?), and the thought, care, consideration, and craftsmanship that went into making Bloody Knuckles beam brightly.

  • Short Films (23 min.; HD): Okay, so this very unassuming, hopelessly shy guy gets his dick chomped off in a blowjob gone horribly wrong, but we can rebuild him. We have the technology. We can make him better than he was, and...wait, where did we get this thing from again? The eighteen minute Electric Fence took home the Best Horror Short Award from Fantastic Fest a while back, and it's about a poor bastard who gets more than he bargained for with an experimental wiener transplant. Brace yourself, 'cause the makeup effects work here is extremely graphic and a little too convincing.

    Adjust Tracking started off as a submission for The ABCs of Death, and though it ultimately didn't make it into the movie, this short still took on a life of its own on the festival circuit. A horror-hating dad chucks out his son's Meat Grinder VHS cassette, plops in some porn, fiddles with the knob (the tracking knob, I mean, not the one he'd rather be touching), and...well, to say any more would be telling.

  • Trailer (2 min.; HD): Last up to the plate is a high-def trailer.

Bloody Knuckles comes packaged in a transparent, standard width Blu-ray case, and the highlights from the latest issue of Vulgarian Invasions are waiting for you when you crack it open.

The Final Word
Honestly, movies like Bloody Knuckles are why I write reviews: that hope of discovering something unique and amazing that probably would've slunk in under my radar otherwise, and, yeah, the platform to hopefully turn plenty of other people onto it too. There's not a better distributor on the planet to get this movie out there than Artsploitation Films; I mean, it's really all right there in their name. Bloody Knuckles is an unapologetically sleazy exploitation flick -- more Troma than Troma -- but there's a helluva lot more to it than that, with some real love and craftsmanship behind it, a genuinely terrific cast, and, at the end of the day, something important to say too. Outstanding movie. Outstanding Blu-ray release. Highly Recommended.
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Highly Recommended

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