Ah, the sweet Eighties.
A truly magical time when there wasn’t an impoverished situation that couldn’t be rectified with a vial of white and a 16mm camera. Once the Slasher Cycle kick-started into gear in 1980 with the unexpected low-budget hit, Friday the 13th*, everyone from the major studios to the uncle in your family no one talks about anymore, seized upon the opportunity to replicate the Friday formula into a quick buck. Paramount Pictures had discovered a way to literally print money (having bought the distribution rights to Sean S. Cunningham’s film for pennies), so the other studios followed suit, buying up anything that had tits, blood, and a psycho killer. This would also coincide with the birth of the VHS market that made it even easier for indie film producers to bypass the studio system altogether, being that they could just sell their product straight to the video rental stores.
*Yeah, I know Friday the 13th was just a cash grab attempt based on the success of Halloween (1978). But the terrible, war-like metaphor I always ascribe to it is if Halloween was the grenade of the Slasher Cycle, Friday the 13th is what pulled the pin. Slasher purists will even go as far back as Black Christmas or Psycho (and I would argue that Carpenter was really heavily influenced by the giallo cycle in Italy, most specifically, the music), but the economy that drove the Slasher Cycle did not begin in earnest until after the release of Friday the 13th.
So, as you can imagine, every yahoo with a camera and enough money from their dentist investor to pay women to take off their shirts, was running and gunning on micro budgets all over the country in hopes of selling their “film” to the studio machine, which was determined to milk this fad to every last inch of its life. And out of this confluence of factors, we got the regional slasher film: insanely low-budget, privately financed films that were most notable for their amateur directors and actors, who mostly hailed from the locale the film was shot/takes place in. Films such as The Mutilator (North Carolina), Blood Rage (Florida), The Initiation (Texas), Just Before Dawn (Oregon), and The Town That Dreaded Sundown (Arkansas—or is it Texas?—fuck, I can never remember), all of which were very cheap and specific to where they were filmed, found their way into rental stores all across the U.S., usually packaged in clever, sleek ways to disguise their modest origins.
This, of course, has been the long-winded, 450-word roundabout way of saying that even in this bizarre historical context, Blood Beat (1983) is an odd one. To be perfectly up front with you, I had never even heard of Blood Beat until Vinegar Syndrome put out the blu ray late last year. Always the sucker for an undiscovered 80’s slasher, I began reading up on it, and this is what people were saying:
“Blood Beat is one of the strangest movies that I’ve ever witnessed in my entire life and I’ve watched a lot of movies in my day.”
--David Harlow, Alien Bee
“Blood Beat is one of the most unusual, sophomoric films I have seen in years.”
--Gary Tooze, DVD Beaver
“Blood Beat is something else. What exactly that is? I don’t know.”
--Ian Jane, Rock Shock Pop
“In all honesty – and pardon my French – I actually have no f**king clue what is going on with at least 70% of Blood Beat.”
-- Mondo Squallido, Nerdly
You get the idea. So what’s the deal with this movie? Well, for starters, it’s a regional Wisconsin slasher film directed by a Vietnamese-born, French amateur director (Fabrice A. Zaphiratos). I guess you could maybe say something was lost in the translation, but that would somehow assume something was being said in the first place. And to that point, I’m not entirely sure. This movie just…exists somehow.
I don’t want to give too much away about the plot, as I think it’s best to just barrel through this one blindly. What I can piece together for you briefly is this: brother and sister, Ted and Dolly (James Fitzzgibbons and Dana Day) have returned to their rural Wisconsin home for Christmas (making this a totally undiscovered Christmas slasher, by the way!). The kink in this rather banal setup is Ted’s girlfriend, Sarah (Claudia Peyton), who has accompanied him home for the yuletide season, appears to have a very peculiar telekinesis-related problem. And by that, I mean, every time she orgasms, a ghost samurai appears out of nowhere and begins slaughtering people. Not to mention, the matriarch of the family (Helen Benton) also has some telekinetic powers that are at odds with Sarah’s powers, which means there, of course, needs to be a showdown. (Or at least I think that’s the way I remember it. After seeing Blood Beat, I can’t differentiate between real and fake memories anymore.)
How much more do you really need at this point? Stop reading and go pick up the Vinegar Syndrome blu ray immediately. Which, by the way, is an act of God. The 4K restoration is beautiful—almost on par with Synapse’s Suspiria release last year. I do bring this comparison up on purpose. For all the filmmaking shortcomings in Blood Beat, it does have a wonderful atmosphere that’s full of color and imagination, with one of the best 80’s soundtracks I’ve ever heard. It’s quite obvious this is an attempt at an art film.; it’s just a shame Zaphiratos didn’t have the ideas or filmmaking chops to pull it through to the finish line. There’s a reason why this is his one and only feature film.
But I don’t want to give you the impression this is a bad film. I mean, it is, but it is actually one of the more entertaining and purely enjoyable and interesting films I’ve discovered in a while. I’m among those who think there is no such thing as a bad film, as long as you can find true enjoyment in it, sincerely or ironically. And I’m not one to watch things ironically. Blood Beat may not be good on a technical level, but it is earnest and a truly singular experience. For fans of slashers and 80’s horror, you will find something to latch onto in this. It definitely transcends any subgenre of horror.
Final item of note: I started Blood Beat at 12:30am after drinking two bottles of wine and stayed wide awake throughout the entire movie. It’s that damn fun.