October 10, 2011

Bleed (2002)

During the decade of the 90s, producer Charles Band found great success with his studio Full Moon Entertainment, a company aimed to the production of low budget horror and fantasy films. With the "Puppet Master" series, the "Subspecies" series and films like "Shadowzone", Full Moon survived through the decade, despite the increasingly low budgets and production values. However, by the year 2001 the market had changed a lot, and Full Moon was forced to evolve. Full Moon became Shadow Entertainment, and following requests from the market, it abandoned fantasy horror to make an slasher film (due to the late 90s resurgence of the subgenre). To fulfill this request, one of the new names at Full Moon, Devin Hamilton, was commissioned to the task, in his debut as scriptwriter after having been involved in administrative positions in previous Full Moon projects. Co-directed by Hamilton himself along Dennis Petersen, "Bleed" was the name of the slasher that would start a new era in Full Moon, now as Shadow Entertainment.

In "Bleed", Maddy Patterson (Debbie Rochon) is a young woman that finally feels liberated from her oppressive home: she's moved to Hollywood, found a good apartment and has just landed the job of her dreams. And not only that, but it seems that Maddy has also found a nice boyfriend when she meets Shawn (Danny Wolske) at her new job. It seems that life finally smiles for Maddy after a long series of sad events in her past. One day Shawn takes her to a party with his old friends, Chris (Allen Nabors), Tillie (Orly Tepper), Peter (Ronnie Blevins) and Laura (Laura Nativ). After one too many drinks, the group tell Maddy about their secret club, a "murder club" where members have to kill somebody to enter. Naturally, they are just joking about it, but Maddy believes they are being serious and, hoping desperately to fit in, Maddy actually murders someone. As this happens, a mysterious masked killer begins to kill the members of the "murder club" one by one. Maddy will have not only to figure out who's the killer, but also to deal with the demons of her past.

Devin Hamilton's screenplay for "Bleed" follows the most typical and basic pattern for modern slashers with the addition of one interesting little twist: from the start of the film, the main suspect of the murders is the film's protagonist herself. All the clues seem to point to her, and in fact, her desperate attempt to join her boyfriend's "Murder club" actually makes her a killer for real. She has to prove not that she's not a murdered, but that she has only committed one proved killing. This twist makes of Maddy quite an interesting character, as it's far removed from the classic model of pure and virginal slasher film heroine. Her backstory also offers several points of interest that make her even more suspicious. Unfortunately, the rest of the characters aren't as developed as Maddy and are reduced to the classic stereotypes; and in fact, the whole screenplay feels tragically underdeveloped, with glaring plot holes and inconsistencies marring the film. A real shame, as the basic premise was not really bad.

The tandem of Hamilton and Petersen in the director's seat doesn't really do much to save the film, as they employ a pretty basic and raw approach to cinema that gives the film an outdated dull style, closer to early 90s television than to film. While some scenes in "Bleed" are actually interesting and even funny, the execution of them leaves a lot to be desired, with its simplistic narrative and unoriginal editing, and the overall look is pretty amateurish. Cinematographer Mike King has a couple of good shots (the jacuzzi scene for example, or the flashbacks to Maddy's youth), but for the most part makes a pretty poor job, particularly during night time; though to be fair there was probably no budget to get the appropriate lighting equipment. Nevertheless, not everything is bad about "Bleed", and Hamilton and Petersen achieve some good moments that feel like brief sparks of genius. Unfortunately, those sparks are rare through "Bleed", and end up overshadowed by what's bad about the film.

Leading the cast is the always reliable Debbie Rochon as the troubled Maddy Petersen, and to be fair, Rochon actually makes a remarkable job considering the material she had to work with. Easily the best thing about "Bleed", her performance is actually subtle and restrained, and she truly manages to make her character believable as both victim and murderer. It's actually a shame that the rest of the film fails to be up to the same standards. Her counterpart, Danny Wolske, is the whole opposite, looking wooden and fake, and perhaps landed the role based on his looks only. Allen Nabors fares a lot better, and his role as the jester Chris actually feels natural and believable, appropriately annoying or restrained according to the occasion. Orly Tepper also has pretty good moments, though her role ends up limited to a stereotypical caricature. Brinke Stevens, Lloyd Kaufman and Julie Strain have cameos, with Stevens completely stealing her scene as Maddy's domineering religious mother.

Given its low budget and poor special effects, it would be easy to rip apart "Bleed" on the basis of its cheap look. However, the main problem of Hamilton and Petersen's film is not its flawed execution, but a more basic one: its underdeveloped story. As written above, Hamilton gives his story a twist by having all the clues pointing to the protagonist, Maddy. However, while the plot has certainly good twists and manages to keep the mystery, Hamilton leaves huge plot holes that cheapen the story to the point that one could feel cheated by it. The lack of development of the rest of the characters doesn't help, as all that is known about them is that they are all a bunch of cruel and unsympathetic yuppies. Not exactly a group easy to like. Another problem would be the way the story unfolds, as directors Hamilton and Petersen give their film a pacing that feels quite slow at times, to the point of becoming a tad tedious. Nevertheless, the big problem of "Bleed" remains that sad feeling of watching a great idea wasted on a bad movie.

Beyond its flaws and virtues, there's one thing in "Bleed" that's impossible to deny: the filmmakers, Hamilton and Petersen, put a lot of heart into the project. Despite its many obvious problems, there is a certain sense of fun that shows that there was a lot of passion to make of it a good horror film. Certainly, the lack of experience and budget damaged the result, but "Bleed" seems to have more heart than many horror films, including many of Charles Band's newer releases. Hamilton's posterior effort, the mix of comedy and sexploitation "Delta Delta Die!" is a better crafted and funnier film, an overall improvement over "Bleed", which unfortunately may be interesting only to fans of Debbie Rochon or fans of independent no-budget films.


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