Genre television is having a moment. No longer are sci-fi, horror, and fantasy series cult hits relegated to late-night syndication or cancelled after one year (hopefully to be brought back with a letter writing campaign). As far as genre shows that lean heavily into horror, Hannibal is arguably the gold standard while The Walking Dead gradually becomes even more monotonous and dour year by year. Ash Vs. Evil Dead is basically a comedy series chock full of boorish “humor” barely resembling the original ultimate experience in grueling terror and American Horror Story impresses boring people with its artificially created camp. Blood Drive, premiering tonight on SyFy is a sleazy, gory, gloriously bonkers, delightfully dumb homage to grindhouse cinema and VHS trash. At it’s best, its terrific Cormansploitation (the exploiter has now become the exploited) and at its worse, lower-rent Rob Zombie “mall horror.” Blood Drive doesn’t always hit its mark, but throughout the show’s premiere, it is perpetually swinging for the fences. While audiences will more than likely never be treated to full length versions of DON’T!, THANKSGIVING, or a sequel to PLANET TERROR, Blood Drive is the closest thing to Grindhouse: The Series that we are likely to get.
The premise is set up in an opening narration that recalls a thousand Italian ROAD WARRIOR rip-offs as well as Roger Corman’s DEATH RACE 2000; it’s 1999 there’s no food, no oil, and the only way out is to win a deadly race in which all the cars run on human blood. Before the opening credits roll, Blood Drive pays homage to rape/revenge flicks, carsploitation, and the over the top gore of H.G. Lewis while introducing Christina Ochoa (Animal Kingdom, Matador) as Grace, a scrappy road racer who makes fuel out of a would be assailant and his friend. The cars engine basically chomps down on its victims like a Cenobite wood chipper.
From there good guy coppers Arther Bailey and Christopher Carson (Alan Ritchson and Thomas Dominique, respectively) are introduced in a sweaty, smoke filled police station right out of ever ‘80s buddy cop flick. So much of Blood Drive is based on homage and being derivative, it’s almost impossible to call it original. As a genre fan it is fun to pick out the references to past films of which there are plenty.
The big bad of the series, Julian Slink (Colin Cunningham) looks like a steampunk ringmaster at your neighborhood bar’s goth night. Cunningham hams it up in his top hat and feathers in what could be interpreted as an over the top parody of THE HUNGER GAMES villains. Slink is the master of ceremonies at the titular “Blood Drive,” and the scene resembles what a Rob Zombie hosted musical festival might look like. The aesthetic of the sequence already seems horribly dated and is a misstep in an otherwise enjoyable show.
The camera partakes in plenty of leering, but it is equal opportunity ogling in Blood Drive. Puritans beware, this show celebrates sleaze. There is enough time divided between Ochoa’s Daisy Dukes as there is to Ritchson’s snug, almost fetish wear police uniform; everyone is objectified. In addition to the surprising amounts of gooey, gory, effects (some of which even appears to be practical) for basic cable there are also long shots of Thomas Dominque’s bare ass. . Binge watching fans of the new era of prestige television may thumb their noses at this kind of wonderfully in your face, sleazy sexuality simply because Blood Drive never attempts to disguise it’s more exploitative elements as high art the way Game Of Thrones does. The way Blood Drive revels in its less politically correct (some television viewers don’t think its cool to want to look at naked people) elements is more similar to Fox’s Empire which proudly wears it’s exaggerated soapiness on it’s sleeve. Both shows are quite honest about what they are and what they aim to be.
Alan Ritchson as the virtuous Arther Bailey is a nice change of pace in the era of the anti-hero who is unwittingly paired with Grace as partners in the death race (which is not a death race, as the lawyers would be sure to reiterate.) All biceps and teeth, Ritchson has an undeniable handsomeness that pairs nicely with his naive, do-gooder attitude; this is not the boorish, unlikable, betrayal of the Ash Williams character portrayed throughout the past two seasons of Ash Vs. Evil Dead.
Ritchson’s character stands out in this wild world of weirdos that show creator James Roland has pieced together through an obvious knowledge of exploitation cinema. Roland a long way from the prestige TV of Mad Men where he worked as an assistant, but trashy television like this is refreshing. Roland and his team cram so much bonkers goodness in the first episode, and we haven’t even touched on the dominatrix-influenced cyborgs yet. (Note: I really dug the dominatrix-influenced cyborgs).
There’s a lot of Troma in Blood Drive’s DNA, particularly in the way the costume designers clothe these characters with memorable outfits that use broad strokes to let you know who these characters are. The comic book styling adds to the absurd nature of the show, bringing an almost comic book vibe to the proceedings from a bloodied up group of cheerleaders to the English dandy stylings of Andrew Hall’s “The Gentleman.” The direction and cinematography are quite stylish (perhaps over stylized at times) and refreshingly colorful, ditching the dour Walking Dead style browns and Zak Snyder grays for a more colorful palate. Blood Drive recalls Cinemax’s underrated After Dark anthology series, Femme Fatales with its high style, excessive, trash. As stated earlier, show is constantly smashing sub-genres together that Blood Drive at times resembles a Cannon film, albeit with a bigger budget.
The final act of the premiere involves a laughable deus ex machina, but this is a show that never begs to be taken seriously. It’ll be interesting to see if Blood Drive can keep up with the kinetic pace of the premiere. Judging by the titles (and typefaces used on the press materials) of the upcoming episodes (“Faces Of Blood Drive,” “The Chopsocky Special,” and “In The Crimson Halls Of Kane Hill”) Roland and his team have an encyclopedic knowledge of genre and exploitation cinema, and hopefully will explore the tropes of these movies and keep turning the clichés on their heads. Blood Drive, like Twin Peaks, is meant for a very specific audience, and it’s doubtful that outsiders are going to get it. In an era of pseudo-high brow, prestige television, Blood Drive is a refreshing bit of sleazy, silly, outrageous, junk food that’s sure to keep trash aficionados satisfied week after week. There really is nothing else like it on television right now.