Judge Gordon Sullivan cries we've got a bleeder!
Just your average inbred, hillbilly, cannibal family.
With cannibalism, transvestism, and redneck incest, The Blood Shed could have been an instant cult classic. Instead, it teases the audience with a glimpse into a birraze North Jersey world, but never quite lives up to the obvious talent behind and in front of the camera.
Facts of the Case
The Bullion family, a clan of inbred cannibals, must deal with the encroachment of the suburbs on their territory. When siblings Beefteena (Alan Rowe Kelly, the director), Hubcap (Mike Lane, Last Rites of the Dead), and Butternut (Joshua Nelson, Sea of Love) attack and kill a neighbor's child (Sasha Friedenberg) they attract the wrong kind of attention in the form of Sheriff Brogan (Jerry Murdock). In the midst of the Sheriff's investigation, Beefteena enters the "World's Next Top Model" contest, but after the photographer makes fun of her, her family must exact retribution. Everyone converges on the Bullion estate, demonstrating how The Blood Shed got its name.
When I sat down to review this film, I got critical vertigo. Usually when I review low budget fare, I find that often the story is bigger than the budget will allow (see Planetfall, another Heretic Films release for an example of a film that tries to tell a story bigger than its budget). Because of the low budget, I generally have less good things about the acting and the way the film looks. The Blood Shed is the exact opposite: the story is almost non-existent, but the acting and look of the film are light-years ahead of its budget.
The Blood Shed opens with a rockabilly nod to the start of Pink Flamingos, which really raised my hopes. Sadly, somewhere around the squirrel skeet shooting scene, I realized that there wasn't really much of a plot—even for a 70 minutes movie—and what plot their is feels completely tacked on, an excuse for showing the family at their finest. The increasingly bizarre antics of the Bullion clan became tiring, as the film can't decide if it really wants to have a plot or not. I wasn't expecting Shakespearean drama, but the film would almost have been better if it had abandoned any semblance of plot and was instead just a travelogue, documenting a rare visit to a freak farm. Luckily, the plot is the film's weakest link, and other aspects of the film were more impressive.
Let's face it, when you put an overweight man in women's clothing in a low budget film, you're going to remind people of Divine. Her great strength in John Waters' films was that she acted like a Hollywood movie star, always Divine first, and the character she was playing second. The camp factor really fit into the aesthetic of films like Pink Flamingos. Alan Rowe Kelly takes his Beefteena in the opposite direction, playing the character seriously, sans camp. It's an eeirly effective portrayal. I mean I never believed that Beefteena was a 12 year old girl, but I did believe that there was someone like that walking around in the world (and what better place than North Jersey?). The rest of the cast, with a few exceptions, are almost as effective, playing their characters sincerely, not looking for cheap camp laughs. Even the child actors, who I normally loath in low budget films, were strikingly effect for their small amount of screen time.
Besides the actors, the cinematography and art direction were outstanding for a film of this type. The hand-held camera work didn't look like the director of photography was on crystal meth, and their was a good amount of dolly shots and other camera movement. The compositions weren't like a Stanley Kubrick film, but they worked to capture the feel of the Bullions. The camera also effectively captured the wonderful set dressing. Most low budget films have minimal props, and they all look like they came out of one person's closet. Not so with The Blood Shed. Lots of time and attention was put into layering a staggering amount of different objects to create the haphazard, hillbilly look.
The DVD captures all of these elements perfectly. It's no stretch to say this is the best shot-on-video movie I've seen on DVD. Aside from a few of the shots that take place at night, the image looks bright and well detailed, with colors that pop. Sadly, it's not anamorphic, but considering how good it looks otherwise, I'm willing to forgive this oversight. The audio does a fine job of conveying the dialogue and the music. While the extras are slim, they are worthwhile for those who liked the film. The audio commentary features the director with some of the actors and crew. It's very informal and generally screen specific, with few gaps in their conversation. There's a little bit of narrating the action on screen, but for the most part they offer stories about the making of the film. The behind the scenes montage is exactly as it sounds, a collection of footage from the production, with no narrative or organizing principle I could discern. It's interesting to watch because we get to see just how much different the actors are from their characters. The trailer and actor bios are pretty standard.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
In the end, I can't wholly endorse the film, but I can see how others might succumb to its cannibalistic charms. Fans of low budget filmmaking could do much worse than The Blood Shed.
This was a film whose total was less than the sum of its parts. While there were a number of notable aspects to the movie (acting, cinematography, set design), they never gelled with a story I could care about. I hope all of these individuals, especially Alan Rowe Kelly, keep working, because even if The Blood Shed was a disappointment, I look forward to their next film.
The makers of The Blood Shed are found guilty, but insane. Heretic Films is acquitted for its presentation of the film on DVD, but warned that anamorphic is the way to go if they want to avoid hard time.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Heretic Films
• Director's Commentary
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