Written and Directed by: Fabrice A. Zaphiratos
Starring: Helen Benton, Terry Brown and Dana Day
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman
ďCathy, we could be dead!"
Even if I told you that Blood Beat is a Christmas slasher featuring the spirit of a homicidal samurai warrior, Iím not sure itíd adequately prepare you. Maybe if I added that it randomly synchronizes its murders to a girl's orgasms, it might give you a little bit more a clue, but, I donít know--this oneís pretty out there. Another regional 80s slasher, Blood Beat hails from the backwoods of Wisconsin, where it was no doubt conceived by burly dudes nuzzling a case of beer (and maybe some other controlled substances too).
Thereís no place like home for the holidays, especially when your momís a couple of steps away from the loony bin. Technically, Cathy (Helen Benton) is just shacking up with Gary (Terry Brown), her beefy, bearded beau who spends his days hunting (the film immediately outs itself as thoroughly Midwestern the minute he appears). Her kids, Dolly (Dana Day) and Ted (James Fitzgibbons), are home for Christmas break, but Cathy is oddly concerned that Ted has brought his girlfriend Sarah (Claudia Peyton) along. For no apparent reason, sheís got bad vibes about this girl, especially when Sarah claims to find a samurai sword in her room, a discovery that apparently awakens an undead spirit that proceeds the nearby frozen tundra.
Blood Beat feels like Fabrice A. Zaphiratos set out to make a lo-fi remake of The House Where Evil Dwells and cross-breed it with the slashers that were quickly piling up on video store shelves. Along the way, he must have scoped out The Evil Dead because he tosses in an interlude where the familyís house revolts against them (okay, the windows open and shut and the Christmas tree sort of gyrates while the shelves fling their contents). This is another one of those homemade kitchen sink horrors thatís full of ideas and enthusiasm but bereft of competence or coherence. A lot of things happen in Blood Beat after the sluggish setup, but Iíll be damned if I can really explain most of them. Apparently, Christmas in Wisconsin gets pretty wild.
The film itself doesnít bother to explain anything, of course, but this isnít played as a joke. Instead, a ghost samurai is stalking Wisconsin for precisely the same reason Sarah and Cathy share an unexplained telepathic link: because it fucking can. Blood Beat rightfully plays it straight, though; if this were made twenty years later at the height of faux-grindhouse irony, its scatterbrained badness would be turned into a winking, over-the-top joke, but Zaphiratos is pretty serious about this killer samurai movie. All weirdness aside, Blood Beat actually functions as a pretty decent slasher; the samurai is initially unseen and is instead represented by some Michael Myers-esque heavy breathing. The murky photography obscures the kills as they happen, but the grisly aftermath is often impressive enough to satisfy the gore quotient.
Of course, gore and terrible movies are pretty abundant, so Blood Beat separates itself with its unhinged approach; it sort of reminds me of Things, Canadaís homespun fever dream opus of incompetence, only this oneís a little bit more coherent. If Things were cooked up in a meth lab, then Blood Beat is more like a stoner trip, and a pretty good one at that. Whereas Thingsís non-sequiturs were true head-scratchers, the diversions here mostly involve the various victims the samurai hacks up. One of them is a prick who orders his old lady around the house to fetch him tea or orange juice, while a random hunter becomes the hunted during an ill-fated outing in the woods. In any other slasher, this would certainly be the meat of whatever passes as the story, but not so here since these are relatively normal compared to the orgasmic nightmares, the kitchen-in-revolt, and Cathyís unexplained mystical powers that can be used to sometimes repel the samurai menace.
All of the weirdness eventually outruns the general incompetence, but barely. There are some grating sequences, especially early on when the entire family (sans Cathy) decides to go hunting during a monotonous scene thatís only broken up by Sarahís unexplained freak-out (are you noticing a pattern here?). The movie is often padded with dull, go-nowhere scenes that still manage to remain oddly fascinating because the whole movie has a lurching, detached quality that results in a skuzzy film that looks and feels like it was formed from some warm beer sitting at the bottom of a can. Zaphiratos tosses in stylistic tics, such as crude special effects and primitive photography filters, to further amp the bizarre atmosphere. Itís oddly alluring like so many of these homespun films are, and Blood Beat particularly opens a window into some half-forgotten Christmas dream, where the sugar plums are replaced with disemboweled bodies and samurai ghosts (I donít think this is what Dickens had in mind).
If thereís a criticism to be made against Blood Beat (well, besides the obvious ones involving the acting, scripting, etc.), itís that the Christmas setting is pretty much window dressing. It almost feels like another calculated non-sequitur, there just to make things even stranger. The wintry atmosphere is certainly welcome, and its chilly sense of dread and desolation offsets the more laughable qualities. Blood Beat is one of those concoctions that really shouldnít work, and Iíd say it should be the next breakout ďbad movieĒ thatís set to be enjoyed in ironic, derisive fashion, but this oneís a legitimate blast that deserves to break through the obscuro-ranks. Iíd take a memorable offering like Blood Beat over the hordes of forgettable slashers released around the same time because Iím pretty sure Iím not going to forget any movie that features a girl getting off as a samurai butchers someone to death. Long relegated to VHS, the film was finally released on DVD by Apprehensive Films, but itís basically a glorified rip of the tape source. While some scenes are too murky and the sound quality is wildly inconsistent (sometimes, Blood Beat feels like a forbearer of mumblegore), it still beats having to track down the VHS itself. Limited to only 500 copies, it wonít do much to change the filmís obscure status, but at least somebody realized the world needs to see a movie where an idyllic Wisconsin Christmas is wrecked by an undead Japanese warrior. Buy it!
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