Director John Borowski is best known for his particular brand of historical-horror documentaries on infamous serial killers, so at first glance, it may seem strange that his latest project is an in-depth look at the life of a contemporary painter. However, upon closer inspection you’ll find that Bloodlines: The Art and Life of Vincent Castiglia can be just as horrific as the director’s previous work, but with an added touch of tragic beauty.
Naturally, Bloodlines follows the work of Vincent Castiglia, an American artist notorious for his use of human blood in the creation of nightmarish portraits. While Vincent’s unconventional methods and extensive body of work are haunting enough, we also dive into the painter’s nightmarish upbringing and personal troubles, all the way up to his friendship with the late master of biomechanical horror, H.R. Giger.
Along the way, we’re faced with several interviews featuring prominent musicians, filmmakers and other unlikely friends and fans as they discuss their admiration of Vincent’s artwork, not to mention his incredibly challenging journey as a human being. While the film occasionally succumbs to sensationalism, Vincent’s life is so extraordinarily messed up that this doesn’t really detract from the experience.
There are a few unfortunate sequences featuring exaggerated camerawork and a musical score that tries a bit too hard to be disturbing, but real-life photographs and bits of audio make up for these segments, firmly (and quite sadly) grounding the film in real life. Although a few elements start to feel repetitive after a while, with predictable segments following Vincent’s progress on a piece while we go through talking heads discussing his troubled past and showering him with praise, our main character and his work are so damn intriguing that it’s easy to forgive these minor shortcomings as you become engrossed in his story.
The creation of the blood-based artwork itself is also a joy to behold, as there’s an inevitable thrill when observing a master of his craft hard at work on a new project. Of course, the most entertaining part of the movie is learning about the context and motivations behind these paintings, and Castiglia luckily doesn’t shy away from the history of substance-abuse and a myriad of family problems that resulted in his unorthodox techniques.
Despite the sordid subject matter, Bloodlines still manages to be a weirdly inspirational and uplifting experience. It’s so rare to see troubled artists overcome their personal issues while also continuing to break boundaries in their work, and rarer still to see them opening up to a documentary crew. You don’t even have to be a fan of Castiglia’s paintings in order to appreciate this documentary, though it’s an especially gruesome treat for horror fans who wish to see the spookier side of art.
Overall, Bloodlines is a tremendously entertaining look inside the mind of a remarkable artist. It may feel a bit mechanical at times, but at a brief hour and a half, the film definitely doesn’t overstay its welcome. I’d recommend this to anyone with even a passing interest in art and the weirdos who make it, though exposure to Vincent’s peculiar work and methods aren’t for exactly for the faint of heart.