Sunday, November 12, 2017

Blood Woods – review

Director: John Reign

Release date: 2017

Contains spoilers

Simply appearing on Amazon Prime on the run up to Halloween, this was one that frustrated me by nearly getting things right and really not. I liked the idea that it became almost a portmanteau – though there is one main feature length film with a portmanteau-like surround. It had some nearly good photography, and yet managed to undermine itself in that regards, and the very strange compositional shots for said photography also undermined it. In fact, I think it tried to be unusual but in being so actually made some really poor compositional choices.

a Bela still
The first mistake it made was having a still of Bela Lugosi at the head of the film with the three legends “Vampires”… “Real Ones”… “Don’t Sparkle”. If I could get (most) filmmakers and authors to do one thing, it is stop the blatant Twilight attacks. At first  quickly shifting from mildly amusing to just kind of sad, like shooting fish in a barrel, now its gone past that. The films were poorly executed but the books were fine for their target audiences and this constant jabbing feels like nothing but jealousy as, after all, no-one owns or defines the vampire genre. But also, whilst once in a while you get something like I Had a Bloody Good Time at House Harker, where the spoofing is actually clever and amusing, mostly it isn’t.

boy-bandish vampire
Worse. This wasn’t even spoofing but a positioning all the more sad because, despite being bald and having rat-like ears (ala Orlock), when we see the vampire (Larry Overfield) and his open shirt and medallion he actually looked like a so-called “romance vampire”, strangely boy-bandish even though that wasn’t the goal. Perhaps it was the declaration at the head of the film that caused this correlation? Who knows… anyway, rant over. So, we start with a trailer and a man (face never seen) enters and there are a couple of tied up girls who he tells to shut up (they whimper) and (after chopping some meat) tries to feed some gore-like slop to. A couple of things I noticed. The photography seemed crisp but the shot choices were poor, like the primary actor blocking shots. Also, ok the girls refused the slop but they’d hardly have eaten it with their gags still in.

advert for Birkett Butcher
Anyway the man leaves the trailer and sits in front of a small TV. There is an advert for Birkett Butchers – the good old Birkett boys crossing over into the main feature as cameo characters. The TV then goes to New Castle After Dark, where the hosts introduce the feature they are presenting: Blood Woods. So the film becomes a film within a film. I did kind of like that as a concept. Blood Woods starts with establishing shots of nature and I’m guessing they were stock footage as they were very crisp and professionally shot. When we then see the photography within the feature that seems crisp, but not as crisp, blurring on motion and these establishing shots undermined it.

the hunter
A truck pulls into the woods and the camera looks at the truck but the driver is hidden within the reflection of trees in the windshield. We get odd angles and compositional shots. The camera lingering on hitching pants, him obscured as we watch him pee, a desire not to show the face and then, showing it anyway. I know there was a point to the composition but I couldn’t gel with it. The man is a hunter. He kills a deer and is then got by the vampire, who hunts at high speed. The vampire drags him off (and it is suddenly night) and then proceeds to tell him that he came to the wrong part of the woods with a really gravelly (OTT) voice before killing him. There is then a slo-mo vampire run to Moonlight Sonata.

We get to a shot of a town and we are already 20 minutes in. The film moves into a bank and in walk three robbers. They have masks on but they are Wolf (Dave Campbell, Fist of the Vampire), Dozer (Tony DeJulia) and Cash (Allyson R Hood). Also in on the caper is security guard Fargo (Jason Howell), who happens to be Cash’s brother. Cops show up at the bank’s drive through and a teller manages to tip them off by mentioning a sister he doesn’t have (though it takes them a while to get it). This leads the robbers to start a shootout as they leave the bank, re-enter, leave through the uncovered back entrance, car jack an escape vehicle (taking the driver hostage) and drive past the cops shooting. In all this they drop the money (!) and Fargo is shot.

Cash and Wolf
There is a pointless scene with the cops in a bar. Honestly, it added nothing and the cops were not important enough as characters to warrant it. All it did was slow the narrative down. Back to the robbers (now unmasked, so the kidnapped car driver can see their faces) and they have broken down. A couple of sisters are walking up the road and one goes to see if they need help, gun in face and a walk to their campsite reveals someone has ransacked their stuff and their car keys have gone. They get back to the car, one says for Wolf to put his monkey on a leash, about African American Cash, which made me wince. Then they spot the smoke coming from a lodge no one had seen before.

he's behind you
In the lodge are mother (Delores Anne Bruce), father (Paul Worley) and daughter (Casey Burke) – daughter seems somewhat disconnected with the real world and her dialogue, or delivery or both, strikes as odd. She has made cookies – special ones for mother as they have her medication in them. The robbers take over the lodge but the vampire has taken an interest in them and he is hunting them down, after warning them to leave…

biting the head
So, lore we get is that sunlight is later hinted to be a problem but the vampire got the hunter at the head of the film in daylight (though the woods could have shaded him). A bite turns but the vampires can be shot and killed (there was a suggestion that they hadn’t fully turned). One of these is a head shot. There is some (almost too subtle for its own good) playing with the invitation rules and crosses will ward off if the person has “complete faith”. So, what did I think…

Honestly I was frustrated. There were some good ideas that were almost lost in bad ideas that they thought were good – such as some shot composition or expanded narratives that added nothing to the film. Those expanded narratives may have worked in a more experienced filmmakers’ hands but didn’t in this. There was some necessary suspension of belief location wise. The acting varied but the best performance, for me, was given by Allyson R Hood. On to the score, and it was so frustrating... 3.5 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

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