Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Full Moon Fever: Bleed

by Patrick Bromley
An historic entry in the Full Moon catalogue. For real!

This installment of Full Moon Fever was suggested by Chaybee Barber (@brahmofficial). Thanks, Chaybee!

After 30 years of producing and directing low-budget cult movies first as Empire Pictures and then as Full Moon Entertainment, Charles Band was looking to change things up in the early 2000s. The decreasing potential for making independent movies with any kind of budget and the viability of shooting on DV was changing the industry, so Band, ever the adaptive survivor, decided to change along with it. In 2002, he put an end to Full Moon Entertainment and relaunched it as Shadow Films, a new and arguably more "respectable" label that would release genre films that more closely resembled what was popular in the mainstream at the time. The Shadow Films experiment lasted only two years and four movies, and by January of 2004 the Full Moon Pictures moniker had returned. Everything was back as it should be.
The first film produced under the Shadow Films umbrella was 2002's Bleed, an obvious attempt to replicate the success of the late-'90s attractive-young-people-in-a-slasher-movie formula made popular with the success of Scream. Just look at that poster! If only it featured a WB star or two, it easily could be mistaken for any I Still Know What You Did Last Summer or Valentine or Urban Legends sequel. This was not by accident. The story goes that the movie came about because Blockbuster Video, the chain responsible for much of Full Moon's success having introduced a generation of video store kids to their brand of oddball cult movies, commissioned the company to make a slasher that would capitalize on what was hot in horror at the time. Full Moon Shadow Films obliged with a slasher that's messy and confused, changing what it wants to be every 30 minutes, but also totally watchable and interesting in a lot of ways. I'm not sure it was ever going to satisfy Blockbuster patrons looking for something slick, superficial and scary, but as a horror movie buff and a Full Moon fan, I'll take it over any of the studio stuff it tries to imitate.

Two men are leaving a costume party dressed in drag. One is killed as he approaches his car. His girlfriend, waiting for him naked at home (and played by Julie Strain in a topless cameo), is murdered as well. Credits! We're off and running.
The movie proper opens as Shawn (Danny Wolske) welcomes his new co-worker Maddy (Debbie Rochon) to the office and then immediately hits on her. What office? What do they do? I have no idea and it's never explained, but there are Full Moon posters adorning the halls. Shawn and Maddy quickly begin dating despite some major red flags that Maddy is psychologically unstable and Shawn is a major bro. He brings her to a pool party to meet his friends, some of whom are nice to her and some whom attempt to sexually assault her. After everyone has had a little too much to drink, they confess to Maddy that they are all members of a Murder Club, in which they've all taken turns killing random strangers for fun. Maddy, desperate to belong, tries to become a member. Meanwhile, the masked killer from the opening scene is still out there, ready to strike again...

From its generic title to its washed-out, looks-like-video photography to its sometimes questionable aesthetics (the locations and production design range from boring and nondescript to comically inept; one character's apartment is so clearly not where that guy would live that it becomes funny at a point that we shouldn't be taken out of the movie), there is a lot to nitpick with Bleed. I'm not really interested in talking about the ways it might not work. The internet has plenty of places to read lists of grievances. I'm more interested in talking about Bleed's position in the history of Full Moon or the things it does that are different or interesting. That's what makes these articles worth reading, right? Trick question! These articles are not worth reading.
Let's start with the fact that this is, to the best of my knowledge, one of only two times that indie horror icon Debbie Rochon made a movie with Full Moon (the other being Witchouse 3: Demon Fire one year prior). Rochon is more commonly associated with her work at Troma, the Rolling Stones to Full Moon's Beatles (or vice versa). Regular readers of this site will know just what a Debbie Rochon fan I am; she is a talented, strong, smart, funny, crazy beautiful actor who has remained committed to independent film for more than 20 years despite possessing the charisma and ability to have a mainstream career. I will watch literally any movie that Debbie Rochon is in, which can be a problem sometimes because she has appeared in some pretty terrible movies (a sentiment with which I suspect she would not disagree). The fact that she has the lead role in Bleed is a big part of what makes the movie so watchable for me, as Rochon's performance is colored with mystery as to whether or not she's crazy or stable, a murderer or a wannabe. Details are handed out slowly, culminating in a flashback with Brinke Stevens and Lloyd Kaufman in a cameo as her parents (Kaufman's unintentionally funny appearance marking another historical crossover between Troma and Full Moon). The way Rochon keeps us guessing, wavering between monstrous and sympathetic, possible predator and possible prey, sets Bleed apart; she's no ordinary Final Girl. As usual with any project in which she's involved, Rochon is the movie's greatest asset.
The rest of the cast is fine. They're generic and sculpted and have hardly a personality trait among them save for Chris (Allen Nabours), Shawn's best friend and the designated "funny" one of the group. He's clearly modeled after Matthew Lillard in Scream, only instead of being obnoxious and funny he's obnoxious and a horrible sexual predator and garbage person who is never funny ever. Their nondescript sameness only makes Rochon stand out more, as she neither looks nor behaves like she belongs in their little friend group. Their confession about being a "murder club" (the original title of the movie, which then became Make 'Em Bleed before being shortened to just Bleed) is simultaneously Bleed's most inspired development and a completely nonsensical inclusion that has no real bearing on the central slasher mystery. It is so casually introduced to a total stranger they only met hours ago that I assumed it was some disaster of screenwriting. In some ways, it is. But there's more to it than we are initially told, and while it doesn't work or make sense as yet another twist, it at least somewhat excuses the randomness with which the confession is introduced. This is the sort of thing that really should have been the premise of its own movie, with all the mystery slasher stuff removed. Clearly I'm not the only one who thinks so, either, because it basically is the plot of 2008's Pathology (written by Crank's Neveldine/Taylor), in which a bunch of med students form a club to kill people and disguise it as natural causes. See? The influence of Bleed reaches far and wide.
The "murder club" subplot need to work, too, because as slashers go, Bleed isn't very memorable. A few of the major kills take place off camera, while the ones that are shown aren't especially inventive or well-executed. A head that's pushed into a wall leaves a stain like a can of crushed tomatoes, while a character facing death in a swimming pool makes no attempt to, I don't know, swim to the other side and run away. The killer's mask is just a blank white face, which I hoped was meant as a sly commentary on overused slasher movie tropes just like I was hoping for the same from the opening scene, featuring a man dressed in drag as a blonde woman, a welcome inversion of what we've come to expect from slasher movies that turns out to not really mean anything. I suppose the fact that there are even hints at something more introspective should count for something even if it doesn't amount to much, especially when the little amount of digging I did for other reactions online all take the movie at face value and dismiss it as a sub-par slasher without even trying to consider what novelty it brings to the table.

As much as I enjoyed my time with Bleed both as a historical curiosity and as a way of spending another 90 minutes with Debbie Rochon, I have to admit that it's an experiment I'm happy to see was short-lived. You may not love the kinds of movies that Full Moon makes, but at least they're their movies; the idea of the company denying its distinct personality and trying to copy something more popular -- and, to be honest, more bland -- just doesn't appeal to me. Bleed feels commonplace by design, having been engineered at the behest of a corporate entity with a vested interest in movies that feel commonplace and corporate. That's not Full Moon. Maybe not every low-budget killer doll movie is a classic, but there's no one else that makes movies like them.



12 comments:

  1. Thanks so much, Patrick! This was a fantastic read! Much of what your synopsis is what gives Full Moon films (and films like FM) such charm. Even though it seemed more bland and was obviously an attempt at a mainstream copy, I still have to check it out for all of the reasons you described.

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    1. Oh, and it's Chaybee Barber :)

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    2. That was either an autocorrect or a typo. I promise I know your last name. Sorry!

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    3. Haha, no worries! Thanks, again.

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  2. Make sure you don't inadvertently order 2016's Bleed, Chaybee. That movie is awful. "Are we sure this thing has enough ominous music, fellas? No? Then let's add some more. Make sure it's really overbearing."

    Grace. That's a good film. Grace.

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    1. Grace is definitely better than Bleed (2016) although I'm lukewarm on both (I know, people really liked Grace but I didn't respond to it really). "Proxy" though, that's a great film! Was in my top ten that year (2014? Can't remember).

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    2. That's one of the things I love about this podcast/website, Chaybee: all the recommendations for movies I otherwise probably wouldn't have even heard of. I watched The Dark Tapes because of a comment you posted about that film. I didn't love it, nor did I expect to based on what you said, but I'm glad I watched it.

      Thanks, man.

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    3. Hey, of course, you're welcome and I echo what you said! "Proxy" has really mixed reviews and feelings towards it. Personally, I loved it and really responded to it. I confirmed it was 2014 and, in case you were wondering, my top ten that year were (in no order):

      I am a Ghost
      The Guest
      Nighcrawler
      The Raid 2
      Enemy
      Under the Skin
      Pieces of Talent
      The Strange Color of your Body's Tears
      Mood Indigo
      Proxy

      WOW! Looking back - that is a HELL OF A YEAR!!

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    4. I'm afraid you squandered any credibility you may have had, Chaybee, by not including 2014's Kirk Cameron's Saving Christmas on your list.

      Has there been a better move than this one before or since? The answer is no.

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    5. *Has there been a better movee

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    6. That was actually mentioned on the 2014 F-This Movie bet of the year podcast :)

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