By Richard Mogg for Retro Slashers
Ahh… the glory days of Shot-On-Video (S.O.V.) horror. With six times the bad acting and ten times the charm, these camcorder classics were the ultimate fad during the up and coming years of the VHS. Think a couple hundred bucks isn’t enough to make a movie? Jon McBride proved otherwise. Don’t have any actors to be in your film? Convince your friends to do it. The point is, with the homegrown wackiness of S.O.V. films, most rules need not apply. As long as you pour on the red stuff and keep the action (reasonably) in frame, you’re on your way. So with all this nostalgia starting to seep back in, let’s rewind those clunky cassettes and give that old VCR another cleaning as we look back on one of the all-time greats.
Tulsa, Oklahoma. A young sorority sister bathes in the shower, caressing her soapy body behind a transparent plastic shower-curtain. She finishes and towels off, unaware of the intruder who’s quietly slipped into the house and is making his way upstairs. The intruder bursts into the bathroom, surprising the towel-wrapped girl and a struggle ensues. The intruder flashes a large meat cleaver and chops repeatedly at the defenseless, nubile Tulsanian. Finally as the screams fade, the sorority sister is dead and the killer has disappeared into the night with the girl’s severed arm. And so opens Blood Cult, the self-billed “first movie made for the home video market!” (The accuracy of this claim is ultimately debatable, as many people believe John Wintergate’s Boarding House to be the first real S.O.V. film, though that 1982 film DID actually play in theaters). The rest of the film then saddles up with the local Sheriff (and his librarian daughter!) as he investigates the ensuing murders, which lead him to a cult of hooded demon worshipers who want to reassemble the stolen body parts into a new vessel for their god.
So with a story like this and a killer who not only uses a meat cleaver, but also takes the newly-hacked off body parts with him after killing, one would expect this S.O.V. outing to include outrageous gallons of blood. Unfortunately though, save for the opening bathroom murder, Blood Cult is relatively bloodless. It’s really a bit of a head scratcher too, since the film openly advertises itself as a bloody slasher, a S.O.V. slasher no less, where there are no limits imposed by video censors. But perhaps the answer lies within as Blood Cult is certainly one of the more professional S.O.V. titles around. In contrast to some of the more amateur S.O.V. flicks like Cannibal Campout (1988), where it seems that the less money a production has, the more it excesses in gross-out gore, Blood Cult has the slick feeling of a full crew, the occasional trained actor, and some relatively sophisticated make-up effects. Here, we can tell that the cameraman utilized a tri-pod for the camera from the stable, smooth zooms and camera pans (which is far more advanced that most S.O.V. cheapies). Plus, while its focus is still on the average horror viewer, Blood Cult seems to strive itself into becoming more of a cheesy police investigation drama. But while these delusions of trashy new heights mostly fail to deliver, the results are often times hilarious and come off with a strong sense of corny fun.
Where the gory make-up does get to shine through though, is the opening murder. Not only do we get repeated shots of the meat cleaver swinging down and coming back up with blood splattering glee, but the sorority girl gets a few good bloody hacks into her while the bathtub gets literally hosed in red blood-sprays. And just when you think the bloodlust has ended, the girl’s gory, newly-severed arm comes falling straight into frame with a crashing thud! And the best part of all? The gruesomely severed, hacked, bright-red stump falls directly in the forefront of the frame. This, ladies and gentlemen, is true S.O.V. classiness! The rest of the film, while not as gruesome, still manages to keep us gorehounds interested by trying to reach our funny-bones, but settling for jabs at the ribs. First off, no one seems to want to get their heavily hairsprayed, poodle-curled hairdos wet… especially the opening girl in the shower (who obviously strives to keep her golden locks high above the shower head). The acting, while never tipping the scales into full believability mode, comes off more like a crazy aunt dressed up in a secondhand costume to appease their overly excited, filmmaker nephew. In other words, it’s often times exaggerated, but that’s half of the fun with S.O.V. titles. But the crème de la resistance comes in the form of the Sheriff’s librarian daughter. Dressed in the most dated, most outrageous, most hideous (not to mention, most inappropriate for working in a library!) red dress this reviewer has ever had the pleasure of viewing, it truly has to be seen to be believed. Couple all of this with the deep, swaggering, native Tulsa accents and we’ve got a recipe for legendary S.O.V. status here.
So is Blood Cult truly the first movie made for the home video market? Maybe not. But it’s still a homegrown blast in the illusive S.O.V. subgenre (which is currently making a resurgence with the advent of DVD – Hooray!). There are far gorier, far more outrageous, and (dare I say) far better S.O.V. flicks out there than this one, but in terms of notoriety, Blood Cult takes the cake and serves it up with a meat cleaver frenzy.