Aping HALLOWEEN, FRIDAY THE 13TH , and THE PROWLER with some occult excitement thrown in for seasoning, BLOOD CULT attempts to steal from various sources but fails to evoke the tension or dread of these cruel classics. This miserably acted, virtually plot-less shot-on-video lackluster nightmare offers little production values and less storytelling power, failing to achieve (or strive for) a shadow of the suspense, atmosphere, enthusiastic violence, or arousal that even the most rudimentary example of the Slasher film embodies.
The filmmakers don’t quite know if they’re remaking a serial killer flick or a ‘Murder She Wrote’ episode, and this indecision of what to focus on, how, or where ruins an already needless screenplay. The story itself evokes little emotion or interest, and invites even less empathy in the plight of its characters -- people we never get to know, nor wish to as the cheaply shot picture fills the shaky frames with one filler scene after another. This tepid tale of vengeance and devil worship promises little and delivers less. BLOOD CULT is, in fact, everything you hate to see in a horror film, particularly if it’s a Slasher, that often maligned and just as often beloved member of the exploitation family.
Violent psychological horror films have long been victimized by special interest groups, political mouthpieces, and women’s groups. As often reviled as revered for its stylistic excesses, love affair with creative killings, and perverted sexuality, the Slasher often substitutes effect for motivation and excessive spectacle for subtlety, and while I might argue the defects in storytelling such approaches inspire, a filmmaker with enthusiasm, inspiration, and a true love/understanding of the sensationalistic power and aesthetic subtext of his material can often make much out of little. Similar to its more intelligent, certainly more stylish ancestor, the Italian Giallo, the primary power of the Slasher/psycho thriller is its unapologetic, primal ability to shock, terrify, and titillate; that the ’Slasher’ often does the former two while exploiting the later has long invited the disjointed fury of politicians who, unable to feed the hungry or protect its citizenship, instead seek to invent a Boogeyman for the paranoid public to direct their energies on.
Movies such as BLOOD CULT, while no more deserving of this censorious nonsense than any other movie, does add fuel to the fire by adding to the stereotypical image of horror as a genre lacking in intelligence, beauty, or relevance. It does this -- as do several other films more interested in churning out a buck than in crafting an honest-to-god story -- by offering up blasé violence with nonsensical reasoning, deriving its motivation from a screenplay more fluff than fright. Worse yet, it dilutes the very primal essence of such exploitative emotions as fear, wonder, and shock by staging violence and pseudo-occult activities in a manner no more convincing (or threatening) than an after-school children’s drama, many of which have proved more disturbing.
Starring Julie Andelman, Charles Ellis, Josef Hardt, and Bennie Lee McGowan, this lusterless body-count screener focuses on the murders taking place across the sleepy confines of a mid-western college campus, wherein the killer leaves behind a golden amulet with curiously mutilated corpses. The inept sheriff is unable to fathom neither the motivations of the killing spree nor the identity of the butchers. As political and social pressures mount, enticing him to dig deeper into the mystery, the deadly dullard is aided by his unbelievably depicted daughter who just happens to find written in a book lying around the occult significance that the golden amulet has. Soon, we’re immersed into the plot of a cult to form from body parts a hellish demonic force.
Of course a movie, book, or story of any sort has no political ambitions to fulfill, no morals it must preach, views it must advocate, or lines of philosophy that it must reflect; a product of art or entertainment does, on the other hand, need to entertain in at least a basic, simplistic level, providing escape if not reflection, exploitation if not catharsis. And this is wherein BLOOD CULT truly fails, committing the deadliest sin that a movie can -- quite simply, its reoccurring stock footage, banal filming technique, pedestrian logic, and very approach bores invite nothing but boredom and predictability. It simply offers little of interest. Its themes are as simplistic and commonplace -- and, yes, as banal -- as its transparent surface themes, and if it doesn’t commit any greater sins against expectation, logic, or sense than other Slasher films, it fails to support such faulty structure and illogic with the visual flair and nightmarish intensity required to make us care.
Featuring exactly the kind of visual quality you would expect, the footage is improved by this transfer, although nothing can disguise its made-for-video origins. Audio is serviceable if muffled, perhaps the result of misplaced (or absent) mikes?
Certainly, in no way comparable in terms of quality, approach, or even sheer exploitative nerve to the films it attempts to mimic, BLOOD CULT fails to even attain the notoriety of a minor miss-fire. This said, and with warnings firmly in place, this putrid piece of panic does manage to achieve some degree of success as a schlock-shock z-grade spectacle, more notable for how and why it stumbles -- and for unintentional humor -- than for any ability to effectively achieve fear. Fans of trash cinema slumming could do worse than rent this miss-fire of mayhem, while devotees of the Slasher or psychological horror cinema in general will be glad they left it on the shelf.
William P. Simmons
Directed by Christopher Lewis
USA / 1985 / 89 Minutes
DVD / Original aspect ratio of 1.33:1 / Stereo / NSTC Region 1