The only thing standing between Butch and Serena…will die!
When the most slacker style sergeant on the police force shows up at the scene of a recent triple homicide, he takes one look at the fake façade and knows that this is the work of Tempe Video…no, wait…Butch Harlow. Apparently this poorly named perp is a heinous serial killer with a string of corpses from here to Bob Pollard's house. But when the equally strange stage monikered Serena Stalin shows up to Harlow's run down track house with some vague idea of revenge/re-education, the decidedly non-butch butthead turns out to be a rather soft-hearted slayer—especially with the threat of exposure hanging over his hubris. So he agrees to teach Serena the ropes…and daggers and chainsaws and bed bugs of living la vida mierda. Soon they are butchering poorly written ancillary characters and engaging in disturbingly asexual bed gymnastics. They even detonate a toddler, mid-teething, with a 12-gauge gunpowder greeting. As the body count rises and the banter level multiplies ten-fold, our horrible hackers suddenly realize something: they love each other in a way only people who slaughter humans can…which is apparently very dull and directionless. Eventually, the merry mutilators grow sick of each other's horrendous overacting and face off for an ultimate battle of brains, brawn, bowie knives, and tire irons. And just when you think this movie can't get any more manufactured, it tosses in a "trick" ending to tick you off even further. This is one cast and crew that better seek personal protection, because after watching this 89-minute hack home movie, the audience is going to be in the mood for a little Bloodletting.
Way back in 1987, a strange little unknown motion picture played a few obscure midnight showings and then settled in for a long shelf life on the horror racks of local video stores. Brandishing an outrageous cover art showing a married couple in post-"I do" embrace (except the groom is stabbing the flower girl and the bride is lopping off the best man's head with a chainsaw) and co-written and directed by then unknown novelist Gorman Berchard, this unwell wedge of weirdness was called Psychos in Love and proves today to be a strangely revered cult classic. At the time, the notion of two twisted serial killers getting together and committing crimes in the name of love looked like a nice goof on the whole horror/social notion of murderers as maladjusted malcontents just waiting around in their own filth for the moment to work out their sexual abuse issues with a nail gun. It was supposed to play as a dark comedy filled with quirks and quips, kind of like Eating Raoul meets Manhunter, but it ended up being another misguided concept from the "aren't I so clever" school of cinematic self-indulgence. And let's face it, the serial killer deserves better than to be buried in a bunch of unfunny romantic comedy clichés. People just don't like their mass murders all perky and passionate. They want gory, disorienting carnage and queer psychological explanations, not conversations about leaving the toilet seat up. But like the old maxim articulates, those who fail to learn from the past are doomed to remake it into an even worse movie. And if it's possible, Matthew Jason Walsh has done just that with his Tempe release called, interestingly enough, Bloodletting. Only problem is there's very little of the aforementioned claret covering the screen. Instead, this is another celebration of pointless bickering that does the amazing thing of giving the serial killer a worse name than they already have.
There is a single good thing about Bloodletting and a single thing only. During one of the so-called crime spree scenes, an infant is inadvertently shotgunned to kingdom come in an over-the-top explosion of blood and grue. Fulfilling the failed promise of every other feature of the film, this ten-second surprise is darkly comical and hideously grotesque, everything every other minute of the movie wants to be. Why it works is clear: it's risky and in very poor taste. Why the rest of the story doesn't is equally evident: it's redundant and hopelessly slapdash. Stars James "Lonnie" Edwards and Ariauna Albright come across as failing students in a community college improv class. Hampered with dialogue that screams "post-modern irony" when in actuality it sounds more like arrogant assholes having a pissing match, these two supposed screwball sickos are saddled with witticisms and insights which make petrified wood seem like Noel Coward. The plot ambles from set-up to set piece, but aside from the incredible baby blast they never pay off. Even the final knock down drag out conflict between these two cold-blooded body baggers is slow and over-staged. Never once do we believe that these are professional, perfectionist killers. They are just too sloppy, outrageous, and wrapped in a self-absorbed detached cool that mandates an evidentiary misstep along the way. Anyone who wanted to remain an isolated executioner would never mail leg and hand shaped "care packages" to unknown addresses from their local post office. They would never pick up their prey in a loud, well-lit local bar. And they would most definitely not hang out with a lesbian and her stoner friends in a cut-rate video store. Bloodletting may have worked better had more appropriate actors essayed the overwritten roles. Perhaps a huge influx of gore would have raised the watchability bar a few notches. But as it stands, wannabe cast and couldn't-be story in hand, the movie is a void as Otis Toole's conscience.
If there is anything, however, that saves this DVD from being a disappointing bypass into frills free filmmaking, it's the wealth of eye opening and mud slinging extras provided on the disc. One could call the commentary and behind the scenes documentary a weird welcome to the world of ultra-low budget independent movie production, Rashomon style. Everyone has a story in these descriptive bonuses and they usually don't add up to a single sane take on what happened. Actors blame the director. The director dumps all over the director of photography. The DP pulls no punches and calls everyone out. A perfect example of many stories for one circumstance comes in the form of the "punch-out" legend. The actual on-screen moment, seen at the end of the film as a "blooper/gag" has actor James Edwards belting Ariauna Albright crack in the jaw during their mano-y-mano finale. He literally smacked the bitch up and she went love TKO. But everyone has a take on why it happened (on purpose or accident?), the resulting damage (totally laid out to dazed and confused), and the damage done (a minor trip to the ER vs. a plastic surgeon's nightmare). It's stunning, as the material is crosscut—one story feeding into and around the other—and hearing 180 degree opposite accounts of what happened that day. Similarly, the majority opinion of the participants is that Bloodletting, while containing some decent work and acceptable moments, is really a failed pile of prima donna puke. And again, out come the fingers to point in any direction other than their own. Director Walsh offers a few "mea culpas" but then seems to focus on the unearned ego of his stars. The actors, especially Edwards, come across like those precocious eight year old beauty contestants coached by their stage mothers to be narcissistic whiners when things don't go their way. There is more backstabbing and character assassination in this background content than in the movie itself. The real Bloodletting was, apparently, behind the scenes.
On the sound and vision side, Bloodletting's sub-par production resources are apparent in the grainy image provided on the DVD. Many people, commenting on the movie, claim the print looks great and while there have been worse video movie transfers, this one is pretty weak. The full frame picture seems faded, without any obvious color or contrast correction. This leaves the actors looking paler than they already seem to be and the blood rendered a sickly orange, not red. On the sound side, there are some obvious looping issues and a faux 5.1 track that substitutes the occasional sound effect or channel bounce for immersive audio. But when compared to the incredible amount of additional material offered, the cut-rate presentation really doesn't matter. You get to view the original short which inspired the actual film (called "I've Killed Before," it's the first juvenile baby step in the movie's progress to putrid), a few deleted scenes that don't add very much, and a wealth of trailers for Bloodletting and other Tempe movie product (some of which look far more promising than this mistake). With galleries of reviews (odd) and production stills (interesting), an essay about the movie from Tempe guru J. R. Bookwalter, DVD-ROM access to the screenplay (why?), and the soundtrack in clear MP3 format (cool!), there is almost enough here to wash the wasted taste of this foul, failed film out of even the most forgiving fanboy's pie hole.
Like the failed experiment ten years earlier in giving the Gacys of the world a girl-friendly romantic comedy spin, Bloodletting tries to turn vicious vivisectionists into Nick and Nora Charles with anti-social issues. But don't be mislead. Asta ain't the only dog around here. Bloodletting bow-wows big time.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Tempe Video
• Commentary Track with Director Matthew Jason Walsh and Actors James L. Edwards and Ariauna Albright
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