BLOOD CULT wasn’t the first straight-to-video film ever released – a number of horror films, including the memorable SLEDGEHAMMER, were released earlier – but it was the first to make a significant mark on popular culture (aka it made a lot of money), which affords it a rather unique place in movie history. Not surprisingly, it’s also a cheapo slasher film, and – critically – is shot on professional grade betacam video, giving it that unique early 80s porno look. Utilizing a nine day shooting schedule, director Christopher Lewis tells a by-the-number stalk and slash tale with requisite nods to HALLOWEEN and PSYCHO, but with some gore thrown in for good measure. I’ve actually seen another of Lewis’ shot-on-video epics, RIPPER (1985) (which features a small appearance by Tom Savini), and he’s a bland if capable director who gets some reasonable mileage out of his slasher scenes, but pads out his running time interminably with scenes of characters sitting around and talking.
“Have you ever had an Egyptian feast?” Oh, sorry. Wrong movie. Anyway, a giallo-esque trenchcoat-clad killer is slashing his way through a group of sorority girls, baffling local Sheriff Ron Wilbois (Charles Ellis) who seems rather overwhelmed by a serial killer terrifying his small town. Oddly, the killer also leaves a medallion featuring the image of a dog’s head at the scene of his crimes, and takes pieces of his victim’s bodies for use in an ancient ritual. How do we know this? Well, thankfully the Sheriff’s daughter works at the college library, and manages to track down an occult book which explains that the killings might have to do with a coven of witches from the 1700s. Under pressure from the Dean of the college, Wilbois tracks down a complaint from a local farmer regarding apparent poachers making a lot of noise and lighting fires in the nearby woods – which just might be caused by the titular blood cult. While checking out the nighttime ritual – joined by his daughter’s boyfriend for reasons I can’t begin to comprehend – the sheriff sees something TERRIFYING. Or, alternatively, it might be exactly what you would expect. There’s a big(?), ridiculous twist at the end, but I prefer the whole plot was concocted in the mind of our possibly senile, dungeons and dragons-hating hero.
The film opens with a well-staged ten minute murder scene ripped wholesale from HALLOWEEN, but at least proves that Lewis can be a capable director when inspired. Even better is the immediately following murder scene where the killer sits in a rocking chair, having decapitated a sorority girl before beating her room-mate unconscious with her severed head. These early scenes are actually quite stylish, making great use of colored filters and some nifty steadycam work. Unfortunately things go rapidly downhill from here, slowing to a crawl as we get a voice-over from the aged Sheriff, along with endless encounters with his daughter and deputy. Lewis tries to spice these scenes up with a few interesting angles, but a nine day shoot doesn’t allow for much inventiveness and most scenes are just extended padding to try and get this mess to 90 minutes.
Acting is about what you would expect, though at least the cast seem to know their lines fairly well and only a few flubs are left in the final film. Charles Ellis as Ron Wilbois does a serviceable job, and it’s sort of nice to have a protagonist that’s a bit older, but he looks as baffled by the plot as anyone else. The less said about James Vance’s odd looking Joel Hogan (the daughter’s boyfriend) the better, and while Juli Andelman does a good job as Ron’s daughter, it’s odd to see a character obviously in her mid-30s still under the thumb of her 60+ year old father.
Gore is strictly of the sliced limbs and fake blood variety, though there’s a slow gag at the school cafeteria featuring some severed fingers if you’re into that sort of thing. You’ll never actually care about anyone who is in danger in these scenes, but that’s sort of par for the course with these nothing slasher films. It does have a better than average soundtrack by Rod Slane, which at least occasionally makes the proceedings feel like an actual movie, but it really only stands out because of the averageness that surrounds it.
While featuring a smattering of interesting moments, BLOOD CULT remains more notable for its impact on film distribution than for its actual quality – though it’s still much more polished than many of the shot-on-video efforts that were to follow. For better or for worse, we may never have gotten many of the no-budget wonders regularly featured in this column if it wasn’t for this unique marketing strategy, and I still remember BLOOD CULT popping up regularly in video stores when I was a kid. That a filmcould bypass theatrical release entirely and still make a significant profit changed the rules of the game, and opened the door for micro-budget directors to dominate genre film-making for the rest of the decade.
Four Nightmares out of Five – NOT MUCH FUN
One Nightmare – No-Budget Perfection, Two Nightmares – Shocking Success, Three Nightmares – Shows Potential, Four Nightmares – Not Much Fun, Five Nightmares – Please Kill Me
Join Daily Grindhouse contributor Moe Porne and I for this week’s NO-BUDGET NIGHTMARES PODCAST on BLOOD CULT
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