Blood Beat is a perplexing oddity that has managed to crawl out of the foggy ether of 1983, aided in its journey by the demented minds of Vinegar Syndrome. Long since forgotten after a barely there VHS release, Blood Beat makes its debut on blu-ray in a shockingly gorgeous transfer. A US/French co-production set in wintry snow-covered Wisconsin isn’t anything you might expect from a “slasher” of the time period. “Slasher” is in quotes for a reason. Blood Beat is much more than a simple dead teenager flick. Writer/director Fabrice A. Zaphiratos uses the sub-genre to deal with a heady mix of themes: the catharsis of art, familial ties bound only tighter by psychic links, the through-line of sex and death…oh, glow-y blue power balls and a killer samurai to boot!
The plot as it stands, beyond the basic setup, is esoteric at best. Likely, only Zaphiratos knew just what the hell was going on. We’re quickly introduced to serious-eyed Cathy who’s plagued by “visions” and her eager to please live-in boyfriend, Gary, as they get ready for the arrival of her children during the Christmas holidays. Surprise! Cathy’s son, Ted, decides to bring along his new girlfriend, Sarah. There’s a great deal of uncomfortable telekinetic hoodoo between Cathy and Sarah that puts an awkward spin on “meeting the parents.” It isn’t long before Sarah is having strange visions of her own, discovering ancient Japanese armor in a bedroom trunk, and having big “O’s” when things start getting bloody.
From there, the film is a muddled mess but in only the best of ways. There is a mysterious being watching local folk through their windows and breathing heavy à la Mikey Myers. It’s no spoiler to reveal the killer happens to be someone or something in the aforementioned samurai garb. The explanation for why that is, however, is a detail I’m still a bit fuzzy on. The film does a decent job of keeping the killer in the shadows for a majority of the action. By doing so, the cheese factor is kept to a minimum, allowing Zaphiratos to muster up several moments of genuine suspense. The plot expands to include Poltergeist-y kitchen assualt and more psychic/telekinetic 80’s goodness. It culminates in what amounts to the filmic equivalent of a laser light show. Plus, the final reveal truly takes the fruit cake for the most confounding moment of them all.
From a production standpoint, the movie has the look of many regional horror efforts from the 80s. It actually was shot on 35mm over the more cost effective 16mm but filmed in a oh-so-cinematic 4:3 aspect ratio. You can clearly see characters blinking when they’re supposed to be dead. The set design is “Grandma’s Cabin Chic” and the local actors are giving the nonsensical script their best. Lines such as “You’re very bright and very talented and very full of visions!” can’t be easy to pass off with a straight face. A quick glance on the film’s IMDb shows for most of those involved Blood Beat is their only credit. The same goes for the director as well.
To be honest, that’s a shame. Yes, in terms of narrative and basic story telling structure, Zaphiratos might not have quite been “there” yet when he helmed this, his first and only film. What’s amazing about this micro production, however, is the hypnotic quality to the proceedings. From the opening shots of frozen wilderness to the pulsating synth score – Blood Beat managed to cast a spell on me that had me mesmerized from beginning to end. Like a nice fluffy blanket on a chilly winter night, the film lulled me into its grasp with every illogical turn. Blood Beat becomes more of an experience than a piece of entertainment. Dare I call upon the name of Argento? But there’s a sliver of that hallucinatory magic in Blood Beat that is so evident in much of The Maestro’s earlier work. Sure, my more cynical side could claim the film’s score does a lot of the heavy lifting (it is pretty amazing), and some of those out of focus shots that help lend to the dreamlike nature of the film were likely not purposeful. These things might be true, but hearing Zaphiratos discuss the filming makes one think otherwise.
Vinegar Syndrome has done an outstanding job on this release. An opening title card warns that while a 4k scan was created from the original camera negative, the print suffered from a great deal of damage and mold. They also explain the closing credits weren’t available and were sourced from the only available copy, a VHS. Despite that jarring shift in quality during the credits crawl (and seriously, who would complain about that…wait, I’m sure someone) the transfer is truly beautiful. Special note, the packaging lists the transfer as a 2k scan. Either way, the image is superb. Skin tones are natural, the muted palette of the film matches perfectly to the cozy cabin vibe of the whole endeavor, and the moments of color from psychic power orbs(?) or Christmas decor pop right off the screen. On the flipside, shadows are nice and deep without losing too much detail.
On the audio front, things aren’t nearly as pretty. The DTS-HD Mono track is heavily muffled and had me relying on the closed captioning in the quieter moments. This is likely more an issue with the original recordings. Much of the dialogue sounds like it was recorded under water. Thankfully, the droning score still comes through crisp, loud and clear.
Bonus content consists of a short “Silent Version” of the film, a short from the director’s own son, and best of all, two interviews. One is a lengthy and enlightening chat with the film’s cinematographer, Vladimir Van Maule. The other with the director himself. It’s clear from the chat (recorded this past July) that Zaphiratos fancies his film more of an art piece rather than a a mere slice of exploitation. He speaks of purposely choosing the various elements throughout production from costuming to vehicles, some brought over from France. This conversation throws the idea of this being a “run and gun/shoot what we got” type of production up in the air. Although, he does reminisce on his love of old Marvel and X-Men comics. Glow-y blue balls!
To reiterate, this is no ordinary stalk n’ slash. This pretty much takes the most basic setup (family in a secluded cabin coming under attack by an evil force) and delivers it in the most obtuse way. Why is there a supernatural samurai in Wisconsin on Christmas? We may never know. But, we can can be thankful that oddities like this are still being rediscovered and preserved on blu-ray. For connoisseurs of 80s cheese, you can’t get any better that Wisconsin cheddar.
SIDE NOTE: Even the film’s closed captioning is insane.