Dreamin' Of a Samurai Christmas: BLOODBEAT (1982) Review

Merry Christmas everybody! If you hadn’t noticed, I’ve been posting some appropriately festive reviews on the days leading up to today, so what might I choose for the big day? Why, something obscure of course! And you know who makes some of the weirdest movies out there? Europeans! And not just the Italians, either; the French have a lot of explaining to do as far as some movies out there go. So what would a horror movie set at Christmas directed by a man from France be like? And what if it was shot in Wisconsin? And what if it was a supernatural slasher? Brace yourselves.

BLOODBEAT (1982) Review

Ted (James Fitzgibbons) and his sister Dolly (Dana Day) are going to their mother’s home in rural Wisconsin for Christmas, and Ted’s brought along his new girlfriend Sarah (Claudia Peyton) to meet his mom Cathy (Helen Benton) and her boyfriend Gary (Terry Brown). However, the minute they get there, Cathy begins acting strangely around Sarah, and Sarah just begins acting weird period. And just to make matters worse, people begin showing up dead, the weapon being an ancient Japanese samurai sword. As it turns out, the ghost of a Japanese samurai warrior has been re-awakened and has created a psychic link between Sarah and him. Now, the family must find a way to put an end to the madness, but can they do it in time?

To be honest, I’m not sure if the above plot description is completely accurate, the reason being that this movie is REALLY bizarre. In fact, bizarre doesn’t do it justice. Before watching it, I saw a clip of the climax and thought it was really weird, and then went into it expecting something weird, and even then, I wasn’t prepared for how strange it was. Actually, Bloodbeat was a pet obsession of mine for a little while, as I was dying to see it yet couldn’t find a way to get my hands on it (that was cheap, of course). Thankfully, someone uploaded it on YouTube and I finally watched it. Now, I can give you my thoughts. This is another one of those movies where no one in the cast or crew went on to anything else notable, which adds to the surreal feeling the movie has.

In fact, for such a ridiculous premise, director Fabrice Zaphiratos plays it remarkably straight…almost a little too straight, actually. He tries his hardest to create a really good, artsy slasher, and sometimes, he succeeds. For as laughable as a lot of Bloodbeat is, there’s actually some good moments hidden within. There’s a chase scene about halfway through that actually succeeds in building some suspense as the samurai chases down a slob who’s still in his bathrobe. Then there are the death scenes: they’re really not that good. We rarely see the sword make contact, although there are some bloody aftermaths that almost make up for it. Also, for most of the movie, we don’t actually see the killer. What we get are some POV shots with Halloween-esque heavy breathing, but when we do see him, I will say that he is one of THE coolest looking horror movie antagonists EVER.

However, Bloodbeat’s weakest point is its pacing issues. There’s a lot of excessive footage that should have been taken care of in the editing process, like a lengthy scene where the family goes out hunting that goes on for entirely too long, as well as other assorted padding. The score for the movie is as schizophrenic as they come, with music choices varying between classic synthesizer, church choir, a smooth beat, and even full on orchestral. The music creates bizarre mood shifts during the runtime, but all things considered, it’s quite fitting when you look at the movie as a whole. Also, it’s quite clear that a foreigner wrote it because the dialogue is really awkward and doesn’t sound natural at all. Some of the acting isn’t terribly good either, but it’s not terribly bad either, so the dreamlike atmosphere isn’t broken with any laughably bad acting or breakthrough performances.

But that doesn’t mean this movie isn’t barrels of fun! Most of the fun comes from the fact that it’s just so out-there and never explains anything. Where did the samurai come from? Who cares! Why are Cathy and Sarah psychic? Who knows! Why does Sarah orgasm every time the samurai kills? Why bother!  What’s the connection between the three of them? Explanations are for pansies! I get the feeling Zaphiratos tried to explain it all somewhere in this near-incoherent mess (random footage from WWII pops up at the end; what does that explain?) Speaking of which, the climax to Bloodbeat may be the greatest climax ever to grace the reels of VHS, and even ranks up there with Rocktober Blood in that category. I can’t really put into words why I got the goosebumps I did, but you’ll know when you see it. I also appreciate the attempt to take the slasher subgenre in a new direction by mixing it with haunted house capers (at one point, all the haunted house stereotypes are put into full play, with opening and closing windows, flying knives and other household items, the Christmas tree shaking, etc.). The characters are pretty likable, so the movie generates some suspense during the climax. It’s pretty cheesy as well, with the horridly dated drawn-on neon effects, and some repulsive dialogue.

I was let down by Bloodbeat when I first saw it, due to the lackluster pacing and scatterbrain plot. The more I began to think about the Bloodbeat experience, the more I yearned to give it another shot, and I’m glad I did. Yes, the boring padding is still there, and the plot still makes zero sense, but I began to see the good things the movie has to offer. The insanely awesome-looking killer, the gory aftermaths of the deaths, the crazy climax, cheesy effects, a solid chase scene, and general WTF hilarity. Bloodbeat suffered as a VHS rarity released by the saints at Trans-World Entertainment until Apprehensive Films recently released a DVD-R which I haven’t purchased yet, but the word on the street is that it’s little more than a VHS rip. But hey, it’s better than hunting down an actual tape. So until Criterion releases a much-earned Blu-Ray, it’s all we have. It’s certainly not for everyone, but if you’re a seasoned obscure movie fan, it should be seen no matter what the cost. But there really need to be more slashers featuring samurais as the killers.

The Verdict: Despite a multitude of cons (pacing, plot, score), Bloodbeat is a dizzying foray into outrageous French filmmaking. It’s a hypnagogic pot of gold brimming with awesomeness. Totally worth a look…even if you fall asleep.

Score: 7/10 

And since the video artwork is pretty bland, and the DVD art is just the art from Silent Night, Bloody Night, here's some sweet foreign art for you to feast your eyes on:

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