By MICHAEL GINGOLD
Starring Helen Benton, Terry Brown and Claudia Peyton
Written and directed by Fabrice-Ange Zaphiratos
With THE DISASTER ARTIST, James Franco’s dramatization of the making of Tommy Wiseau’s THE ROOM, heading into theaters, the time was right for Vinegar Syndrome to unearth a much lesser-known example of WTF filmmaking for Blu-ray/DVD release. Not only has the company rescued Fabrice-Ange Zaphiratos’ BLOODBEAT from obscurity, they managed to track the writer/director down to state his case for his creation.
Shot on Wisconsin locations in English by the French Zaphiratos and barely released Stateside to this point, BLOODBEAT bears a 1982 copyright, though certain elements recall hits from 1983. Occasional shots and portions of the soundscape are reminiscent of THE EVIL DEAD, and one of the actresses sports post-FLASHDANCE leg warmers. Still, its brand of crazy is very much its own. The “story” centers on a family gathering for Christmas in a remote house; matriarch Carol (Helen Benton) creates odd paintings, and her son’s girlfriend Sarah (Claudia Peyton) freaks out, complete with psychedelic negative-color flashes, during a hunting outing. There seems to be some sort of astral connection between the two women…and then things get really strange when Sarah inexplicably finds samurai garb hidden in the home. This cues the appearance of a fully armored ancient Japanese warrior, sometimes surrounded by a blue glow, who begins stabbing and slicing the brood and their neighbors.
For better or worse, you’ve never seen an ’80s slasher like BLOODBEAT. It’s essentially an 86-minute non sequitur, full of odd dialogue, random characters, sudden bursts of cheesy optical-effects lunacy, sex/death juxtapositions that never make sense and Prokofiev on the soundtrack that doesn’t match the tenor of the scenes it accompanies (the inevitable “Carmina Burana” is more appropriately applied). While the movie rarely has its desired effect, it does keep you watching, just to see what bit of nuttiness Zaphiratos will pull out of his hat next. He doesn’t disappoint, right through to the climax, where…well, let’s just say that if BLOODBEAT ever made it to MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000, someone would no doubt make a “Wonder Twin powers…activate!” joke.
You might sit through the film thinking that its creators must have been on drugs—and as it turns out, you’d be right. On the discs’ audio commentary (in French, with subtitles), Zaphiratos repeatedly admits to being under the influence during at least some of the writing and shooting; the title, he reveals, is a reference to the accelerated heartbeat you get while high. “I don’t want to dive into the story, it’s a bit peculiar,” he says at one point (understating the obvious), and while most of his talk deals largely with production concerns, he does attempt to explain some of BLOODBEAT’s head-scratchers. (It’s certainly no surprise to learn that two of the stars were non-actors who lived in the key location.) On the other hand, why is there a samurai stalking Wisconsin? “Why not?” is Zaphiratos’ reply to his own query, and given how weird everything else about the film is, why not indeed?
One more question Zaphiratos answers is why BLOODBEAT, which was shot on 35mm, is presented by Vinegar Syndrome in fullscreen instead of widescreen: The DP thought he was filming for television rather than theaters. Given a pre-film warning that the negative suffered “severe mold and moisture damage,” the 4K transfer generally looks splendid, with startling clarity and solid colors—a true case of a movie looking better than it has any right to. Zaphiratos also contributes a barely-there introduction and sits down for an 18-minute on-camera chat, in which he rambles on about his background and influences, artistic interests and theories, etc.; those interested in the film at hand can stick with his commentary. Cinematographer Vladimir van Maule (a.k.a. Wladimir Maule) gets an interview segment of equivalent length, in which he discusses the rural production and fills in some gaps regarding the practical side of making BLOODBEAT—which, despite massive evidence to the contrary, he claims was planned, thought out and storyboarded in advance.
Indeed, the only way BLOODBEAT could be more avant-garde is if it was cut down to a third of its running time and played silent save for an accompanying score…and wouldn’t you know it, just such a re-edit is included, featuring music by Nervous Curtains and Horror Remix. The extras package is rounded out by a brief photo gallery and the short film L.U.N.C.H. by William Zaphiratos, which is more straightforward than his dad’s feature but is drawn out too long for the punchline at its conclusion.