Cheesy movies are a special joy. Despite an earnest attempt to create compelling stories, filmmakers often miss the mark. Some movies turn out simply mediocre. Others become entertaining in spite of their flaws or authorial intent. They become cheesy. In Your Weekend Cheesy Movie, we’ll examine some of these misguided efforts for what they fail at achieving and what they manage to do right.
This week: Blood Freak
While many of the movies we profile are of a certain budget and respectability — yes, even the Cannon movies — cheese knows no such parochial notions. It can appear in a motion picture of any size. All it requires is the film getting away from the director and his or her intentions. That’s certainly the case in this weekend’s selection as Blood Freak definitely gets away from its creator, Florida filmmaker Brad F. Grinter.
In fact, I wish there was more information available about Grinter. His work is on par with Harold P. Warren (“Manos”: The Hands of Fate) and Edward D. Wood Jr. for z-grade cheese classics. The fact all three made alleged horror movies is not accident. Even today, horror is cheap to make and easy to sell. That’s not meant as a criticism of the genre, mind. Amazing things can be done with horror projects on tight budgets and short schedules, but a certain laziness often creeps in that Warren, Wood and Grinter, for all their faults, never succumb to. All three are strangely passionate in their pursuits of obscure cinematic truths.
The plot beings when Herschel (Steve Hawkes), a somewhat burned Elvis lookalike, stops on the side of the Florida turnpike to help a young woman whose car has broken down. Her name is Angel and she invites him to join her at her home. Yeah, I know, that’s the set up for skin flick, but Blood Freak plays by different rules; even if its director made a short film celebrating the nudist lifestyle. Instead of sex, Herschel encounters Angel’s sister Anne and her dope fiend pals. For reasons never really specified, Herschel has an aversion to the demon weed. Angel appreciates this and invites Herschel to stay at her place until he gets back on his feet. She also encourages him to learn about the Lord Jesus.
Okay, now I know that sounds like the set up for another kind of film, but Grinter faith is as cloudy as the rest of his vision. An example: Angel spends the entire movie dressed in a way one might call “generous” where Anne is more demure. But Anne is (initially) presented as the bad news and Angel is, well, angelic. It sort of subverts expectations, but I doubt Grinter had much say in its. Actors Heather Hughes and Dana Cullivan no doubt provided their own wardrobe.
So after several scenes of Herschel cleaning the ladies’ pool and rejecting Anne’s offers of sex and pot, he finally relents and smokes a doobie. He’s hopelessly addicted after one puff ‘n’ pass — as so frequently happens when impressionable youths hit the reefer. On the plus side, he gets a job helping a local scientist raise some turkeys. Although, it’s unclear what sort of science he’s conducting in squalor conditions with a lab assistant who just happens to look like an escaped convict. They convince Herschel to eat some chemically altered turkey meat and give him more Mary Jane as a bonus for his assistance. He immediately has a seizure. Believing Herschel to be dead, the scientist order his assistant to dump his body in a nearby ditch.
But instead of dying, Herschel becomes a turkey-headed vampire who craves the bloods of sinners.
Yeah, I could’ve lead with that description, but the route the movie takes to get to its hook is part of its charm. Grinter’s grasp of story and theme rivals Ridley Scott in terms of missing the point. It’s doubly shameful for Grinter, as he wrote the dang script (with an assist from Hawkes). But that’s another aspect of why the movie works in spite of itself. Without a clear sense of what he wants to say, Grinter goes for long, dimly-lit walks with the movie. Nevertheless, it’s still magical because for all of Grinter’s failings as a storyteller, he has a preternatural sense of pace. I’ll admit, the movie approaches boredom several times as Grinter repeats a handful of scenes in the hopes that he’ll eventually get them right. But just as you suspect the movie is finally out of steam, it suddenly does something interesting; like depicting a man cutting his own leg off with a table saw.
Unlike recent weekend cheesy movies, the performances are not noteworthy. I can’t determine if Hawkes means to be an Elvis impersonator or if he just stumbled into it. Hughes and Cullivan definitely feel like friends of the director who were willing to let him use their houses for his silly film thing. If any performance is successful, it might be Grinter himself, who repeatedly intrudes upon the narrative to speak directly into camera about his thematic concerns for the preceding and upcoming scene. It’s a pretty ballsy move. But as Grinter is terminally incompetent, I still can’t tell you what he’s trying to get at. I’m sure he knows, but it’s not translating to the dialogue he wrote for himself.
Also, his intention to denounce all drugs is severely undermined as all of his narration scenes feature him chain-smoking; including a wrap-up in which he has a coughing fit during his final point.
In all serious, Blood Freak is a great movie for a group viewing. No one will believe what they are seeing. It might be tougher to watch alone. But if you do get some friends together to watch it, get ready for one of the all time great cheesy movies. Like I said, Grinter should be appreciated with the likes of Ed Wood, Tommy Wiseau and Hal Warren. He’s just that great and Blood Freak is a monumental work. Well, monumentally cheesy anyway.
Blood Freak is available on DVD from Something Weird Video. It might be out of print, but prices on eBay are still reasonable. The DVD release comes with Grinter’s short film about nudism. It’s as ambivalent about the topic as Blood Freak is about Jesus, drugs and turkey.
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