Friday, March 31, 2006

Blood Ties - review

Release date: 1990

Director: Jim McBride

Contains spoilers

Another movie watched on the Horror Channel (UK), but one that was much more worthwhile than some of the channel's titles. “Blood Ties” is a most interesting movie.

It begins as a group of hunters attack a farm. They stake the husband and wife in bed. The noise wakes their teenage son, Cody Pucket (Jason London). As he walks into their room, the marital bed is set ablaze. He is shot in the side by a crossbow. He escapes the inferno and the hunters let him go, believing he will lead them to “the others”.

We flip to Long Beach, California and Butch (Salvator Xuereb), member of the bike gang the Shrikes, is on trial for the normal juvenile delinquent stuff. He is being prosecuted by Amy Lorne (Kim Johnston-Ulrich) and the case is being covered by reporter Harry Martin (Harley Venton). Harry is related to Butch distantly and realises that Butch’s uncle Eli Chelarin (Patrick Bauchau) has bought off the jury.

Harry visits Eli after the trial and tells him about the farmhouse attack. Around this time Cody arrives in Long Beach – he later reveals his parents told him not to go to the sheriff if something happens but to find Eli – and is met by the Shrikes. They take him to see Eli – during Eli’s birthday party - and our attention is drawn to the pendant of Lilith he wears.

This is where the movie becomes interesting. Given the nature of the blog it must be clear that the family are vampires, but the film redefines the rules. These vampires are a different race – tracing their lineage back to Lilith it seems. They do not fear the cross, are not effected by the sun. Whilst a stake will kill them, so will a car accident. They do heal more quickly than humans, they are up to 30% stronger, can climb precarious walls and we discover their previous generations used to live in caves, drop on travellers from trees, gorge on their blood and then lie where they fed, like bloated ticks. They are not immortal, living to approximately 130. These are far from supernatural creatures, and they do not use nor like the name vampire, preferring instead the ethnic label of Carpathians. It is also made clear that vampires and humans can interbreed, and hints that perhaps some or all of the hunters are half breeds.

Obviously the hunters are after them, and when Eli’s sister Celia (Michelle Johnson) is captured, and nearly burned at the stake, a showdown ensues.

The film is about religious fanaticism and racism. It is about ethnic identity and integration. In amongst the film is an underused sub-plot about a (potential) love triangle between Harry, who seeks integration with humanity, Celia and the human Amy.

If there is anything wrong with this film it is that it feels a little cheap and at times empty. The love triangle is not explored fully and the story itself is very simple. That is a shame because the premise is unique and the messages strong, and I believe that the film deserves much more substance than the script allows it. For example Harry explains to Cody that his parents had left California, to settle in the anonimity of the Texas countryside because they wanted him to have a normal integrated life. They went as far as to not reveal his true nature to him. This could have been expanded upon greatly.

In some respects it feels very much like a pilot for a TV series, with hints of stories left for expansion in the full show. I know it was a TV movie, so perhaps that had always been the plan?

Celia is underused, however there is a stand out moment where she is chained to a chair and gagged. She squirms, at first it looks like she is trying to break her bonds, but instead she is trying to get her blouse buttons to pop. Cleavage revealed she manages to lure her guard towards her and then leaps, still chained to the chair, and bites his neck through her gag. It is a rare example of escape (though her attempt fails ultimately) through blouse button manipulation – without the use of hands.

I must also mention the Shrikes. This movie was early 90s but the gang look more like some bad Miami Vice extras in their very 80s outfits. Certainly they are not as cool as the Lost Boys (1987).

That said this deserves a robust score, if for nothing else, for its distinctiveness. I’ll give this one 7 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.


Margaret said...

This was intended as a pilot, yes, by Spelling. However, since Kindred came out only shortly after this, my guess is it was the revamp of this concept.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Margaret, thanks for comfirming that. The feel certainly indicated as much.