Tuesday, March 16

Some quick thoughts on Blood Massacre (1991?/1988?/1987?)

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After a brazen video store robbery and shooting, a group of four criminals run out of gas out in the sticks while fleeing. They eventually flag down a passing car and demand the woman driving at gunpoint to take them to her place. The strangely defiant girl (a having-a-fun-time Robin London) takes the crew to her parent's country homestead where the family is held hostage for the night. Internal tension between the thugs, bloody sexual perversion (involving Dohler vet George Stover), and the discovery that one of the fam is a cold blooded murderer leads to the old adage of the hunters becoming hunted as their captives escape to the surrounding woods...then things get really weird.

The late Maryland-native Don Dohler homebrews a rather generic mix of cheapjack slasher aesthetics with an even more generic video shop eye catcher title in a feature that differs from his usual cumbersome sci-fi monster freakouts. With a title like "Blood Massacre", this feature will most likely disappoint gorehounds and alienate those not acclimatized to the quirks of Super8/shot-on-video marvels. This isn't a steamy entrail evacuation the likes of Ozone: Attack of the Redneck Mutants nor does it rise above the norms of zero budget schlock. There's pervasive poorly lit darkness, downpours of print damage, terrible sound, and lighting that often varies wildly from shot-to-shot. It's pure '80s SOV that wears cliff-noted influences of Last House on the Left, The Hills Have Eyes, and a direct homage to The Evil Dead on its stained shelve like a badge of honor.

Yet Blood Massacre's strongest asset is Dohler's sharp editing. It's funny, the director's Wikipedia entry states after a long hiatus Dohler returned in 2001 with Joe Ripple at the helm while he concentrated on the editing and cinematography end of the partnership. That's very clearly Dohler's strong suit, and doesn't make Blood Massacre look more expensive, but more importantly makes things much more watchable. Anyone who's a veteran viewer of these basement productions knows what really kills the enjoyment is the potential for scenes to drag endlessly. Dohler avoids this by crafting a brisk 72 minute feature with good coverage in every sequence. An example is when a detective ends up knocking on the family's door with the motley crew inside having a tense dinner. Instead of a simple wide shot of everyone's reaction, there's quick cuts to each character's freaked face upon the sound of the knock. Dohler also delivers a solid opening stunner with George Stover's Rizzo, a murderous Vietnam vet, brutally dispatching two argumentative patrons at a bar after hours. The man certainly knew how to cut tension on shoestring funds.

Otherwise, Blood Massacre isn't particularly memorable besides the final twist (Dohler couldn't avoid doing a nifty creature feature surprise), but it gets better overall with each viewing. The one time actors and Dohler regulars do a commendable job with no one giving off a "just pulled off the street" vibe. It's also cool to see Stover enter a video store and immediately pick up the Paragon VHS release of Dohler's masterpiece, Nightbeast. It's good stuff with a modest amount of grue that stands out amongst a sea of insomnia cures.

Blood Massacre is only available on a rare domestic VHS from "Star III" (pictured above) and a six-flick DVD set entitled "Serial Psychos" from Pendulum Pictures/Mill Creek. I watched the DVD for this review and all told the rough picture and sound quality probably isn't going to get much better. The film has a 2005 copyright notice by Don himself, so it's nice to know at least this release seems authorized. Also for version freaks, this DVD presentation has different, "updated" intro/outro credit sequences and title graphic than the VHS.
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