Written by: Tim Boggs
Directed by: Doug Barry
Starring: Doug Barry, Angela Darter, and Travis Krasser
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman (@brettgallman)
"Good luck, baby."
The end credits of Blood Lake boast a credit for Act of God, which does not denote the participation of some local Christian rock band that got talked into providing a soundtrack for Tim Boggís vacation footage/SOV slasher opus. Rather, it indicates the presence of something genuinely divine, for only the existence of a benevolent God can explain how Blood Lake can even be. A miracle of backyard, no-budget filmmaking, this is a slasher movie like no other, even if it sounds like every slasher movie youíve ever encountered. You may have even seen plenty of homespun slashers that felt every bit the product of a group of friends basically daring each other to make a movie. But youíve never quite seen it pulled off with the southern-fried, brain-melting charm of Blood Lake, a movie where mullets and rat-tails arenít fashion statements so much as theyíre a way of life.
Weíve definitely seen this setup before: a group of friends are ready to party their asses off. Booze is plentiful, and I swear nobody on the face of the earth has ever enjoyed water-skiing as much as this set. Life is good, until a shaggy maniac begins to stalk the grounds, picking off the carefree kids one by one until some of the survivors force a harrowing confrontation revealing the apparent vagrantís motives. Itís simultaneously one of the most banal and amazing slasher movie motivations Iíve ever seen. Itís also the climax of Blood Lakeís brisk but indelible 80 minutes, meaning Iíve summarized pretty much the entire movie with three sentences.
But believe me when I say I havenít captured even a quarter of Blood Lakeís essence with this bare bones synopsis. Itís kind of like that party or that vacation everyone talks about--you just have to have been there to get it. Luckily, Tim Boggs and company filmed these exploits, preserving them for past, present, and future generations to partake in the madness. According to the American Genre Film Archive, Blood Lake is the product of ďreal-life friends on a real-life vacation,Ē an incredible origin story if there ever was one. Weíve heard stories of friends staging horror movies during their downtime, stringing together weekends with whatever resources they could to put together a movie. But at some point, these guys decided to warp their vacation into a slasher movie just because, apparently.
The result is a slasher movie that drags you so thoroughly through the looking glass that it leaves the shards embedded in your face. Usually, a slasher with minimal slashing for the first 60% of its runtime would feel like folly. Blood Lake is nothing if not full of unrepentant folly in its bold attempt at achieving cinema verite by capturing this vacation virtually in real time. An entire afternoon skiing on the lake unfolds, complete with wipeouts and shit-talking. The guys sit around, commenting on all the hot girls between sips of beer. A game of quarters goes on forever but remains alluring because itís a cinematic time capsule of this particular moment in Oklahoma during the summer of 1987. Conversations feel completely genuine, all the way down to the southern drawl that lets you know these are all good old boys and gals having the time of their lives. It just so happens that a camera is meticulously trained on everything they do, creating a weird uncanny valley effect because itís clear some thought went into staging and camera placement. This is an amateur production, but it doesnít have to look like a home movie.
In fact, Blood Lake often shows some remarkable production values. The soundtrack is full of bangers courtesy of Voyager, a hair metal outfit whose sunny tunes only compound the 1987 of it all. When Boggs decides this is supposed to be a slasher movie and not just some incredible vacation footage, the moody lighting is genuinely evocative. Nevermind that our maniac looks like he was plucked directly from a seedy little bait shop near the titular lake, and definitely nevermind the fact that our man doesnít do much for most of the movie. Hell, thereís a spooky clown decoration thatís more terrifying than he is. The kids are so blissfully unaware of his presence that the only sign that anything is amiss is the presence of a mysterious mayonnaise jar in the fridge. It couldnít be their mayonnaise jar, one of the girls insists, because itís still fresh even though they havenít been to the house since Memorial Day. Mayonnaise is usually only this ominous when someone actually puts it on a sandwich.
Usually, this might be the part where Iíd assure you that the eventual slashing makes it all worthwhile, but I canít in good faith say that. Donít get me wrong--itís certainly functional and the whole final showdown is a hoot. Itís just that Iím not sure Blood Lake even needs to be ďrescuedĒ by its promised bloodletting. A joyous purity permeates the whole experience, and it practically radiates in the form of the filmís real star, Lilí Tony (Travis Krasser), a precocious little shit-talker whoís way too young to be running with these big dogs, yet there he is, insisting that they let him drink unless they all want to be buttholes about it. When heís not shooting the breeze with the boys, heís macking on Susan (Christie Willoughby), the only girl there who seems to be his age. Lilí Tony has the infectious energy of the rascal that always shows up in summer camp movies, the impish tween who tries to act like heís in his twenties as he finds contentment in the only things he needs: ďhis beer and his sex partner.Ē Spoken like a true Oklahoma zen master.
In another reality, Blood Lake probably is just a wholesome, homemade teen movie romp. However, in our reality, nobody was paying anybody to stock that kind of movie on video store shelves. If you wanted your backyard masterpieces to gain any traction, you almost had to break out the butcher knives and karo syrup. Blood Lake obliges as a matter of formality. It does not want you to feel cheated because nobody was renting a movie titled Blood Lake with the expectation that its characters wouldnít be butchered. But just know that its heart isnít really in the bloodshed; instead, itís an ode the specific sun-soaked delirium you experience during those blissful, carefree days during your youth, when youíre so dumb and cocksure that youíll water-ski and play quarters like no one is watching, least of all a vengeful house-squatter who gets really pissed if you fuck with his mayo.
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