Judge Gordon Sullivan once walked through a field of hats, but he's coy about it.
The most violent feud in American history.
Don't tell people in Mississippi, Virginia, or Georgia, but technically Maryland is in the South, right below the Mason-Dixon line. Though the state of Maryland supplied almost 85,000 troops in the Civil War, over two thirds went to the Union army. I bring this up because in the century and a half since the Civil War ended, it's become easy to characterize it as North versus South, slave versus free. In fact, it was never so clear-cut. Arguably, the infamous Hatfield/McCoy feud began because of just such an ambiguity. Despite being from Kentucky, Harmon McCoy fought for the Union army. When he returned to his native soil, many of his fellow citizens saw his time in the military as a betrayal, and few were surprised when Vance Hatfield murdered him. I wish that I could say Hatfields & McCoys: Bad Blood was a dramatic retelling of the feud that captures the complexity and ambiguity of life during Reconstruction, but that's far from the truth. Instead it's a workmanlike drama with a few decent performances that appears to have been released to ride the publicity wave of another, better-funded, miniseries.
There are Hatfields, there are McCoys, and they are feuding. Ostensibly the reason for the feud start with Harmon McCoy's tenure in the Union army, but the violence quickly blossoms and involves both families.
Unsurprisingly, Bad Blood is being released to coincide with a History Channel miniseries on the feud between the Hatfield and McCoy clans. As befits a channel bearing history in its name, the History Channel series focuses on the historical record, moving from the Civil War up through the final settlement of the feud. It's the serious, grownup treatment that the story has deserved (and not yet earned) from popular culture.
Bad Blood is like the miniseries' younger, pulpier cousin. Admittedly, the Hatfield/McCoy feud is pretty pulpy, with its war-time origins, star-crossed lovers, and violent revenge. However, Bad Blood compresses all the nuance and characterization right out of the story to focus on revenge and more revenge.
Considering the film is from Fred Olen Ray, the guy who brought us Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers, I really wanted to like the film. However, it's hampered by a lot of problems. The first is that it just doesn't have the budget to pull off an epic feud. Many Westerns (especially lower-budget ones) often focus on a single character getting revenge. This keeps things manageable in terms of both story and money. With less people to revenge, there's less money spent on the film. Bad Blood has two whole families killing each other, and that takes a lot of dough to pull off, dough that Ray and company simply don't have. Most viewers then won't get past the cheap-looking cinematography.
On the flip side, the film doesn't quite get into Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers territory, either, never quite tipping all the way over into "so bad it's good" territory. Though some shots look cheap and some actors chew their lines a bit, Bad Blood never quite gets goofy enough to be enjoyed ironically.
The film also isn't helped by its PG-13 rating for "some violence." Since they advertise the film as an "epic, bloody, fight-to-the-death story," a little bit more than "some violence" is really necessary. Sadly, Bad Blood doesn't deliver. I don't know that a lot of gore would have made a huge difference, but it certainly wouldn't have hurt.
In Bad Blood's defense, this is a decent DVD. The 1.78:1 anamorphic transfer is generally bright and clear. Though the film doesn't offer much to enjoy visually, colors are well saturated and compression artifacts aren't a problem. The 5.1 surround track is fine as well. Dialogue is clean and clear out of the center channel, and the surrounds get a bit of use during fighting sequences. Fred Olen Ray sits down for an entertaining commentary track. There's also a stills gallery.
I don't know why Christian Slater keeps getting shoved front-and-center in publicity materials for films he's not in all that much, but that's true here. However, he and the other actors do a surprisingly decent job with the material most of the time. Slater and Fahey are both better than this film, but they both dig into their roles.
Someone in marketing had the unmitigated audacity to put "The Wild Bunch meets Unforgiven" on the back of this DVD. I don't know what movie they watched, but it wasn't Hatfields & McCoys: Bad Blood. No, this film is a low-budget Western that has a few okay performances but can't overcome a lack of solid story or a low budget. Fans of Fred Olen Ray or the actors might enjoy this one as a rental, but everyone else should steer clear.
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