Blood Creek

Blood Creek is a whole hell of a lot better than any movie called Blood Creek has a right to be. What sounds like the title of a '70s TV horror movie starring Bradford Dillman is actually the new film from director Joel Schumacher. Schumacher is a director known as much for his work on the Brat Pack "classics" St. Elmo's Fire and The Lost Boys as for putting nipples on the Batsuit in that epic fail known as Batman & Robin, a directorial decision that evoked a reaction about as negative as Dylan going electric. That said, sometimes an angry reaction is better than no reaction at all, which is what Blood Creek received upon being dumped into a handful of theaters and now onto DVD. In these days of Saw sequels and Halloween remakes, any original horror film should be greeted with respect. Luckily, Blood Creek ends up deserving some. Viking runestones under the old barn. Immortal Nazi occultists who drink blood and ride zombie horses. Ancestral bones used as armor against evil. Third eyes growing out of the forehead. Sounds like someone's been reading his Lovecraft. The film begins with a prologue set in the 1930s, complete with wonderfully atmospheric black-and-white photography that crosses The Grapes of Wrath with German Expressionism. Arriving on a small farm in West Virginia, Nazi historian Richard Wirth (Michael Fassbender) intends to "study" an ancient Viking rune found on the property. For their trouble, the family is to receive $150 a month while he stays with them. A fortune in those days, it proves to be not nearly enough for the trouble he brings. It seems that Wirth is planning on using the power in the stone, along with his own occult rituals, to defeat death itself and become a kind of superman God by the end of the process. Unfortunately, it's not an easy process, and it requires a great deal of blood in order to work. Things aren't always as they are advertised are they? The family become unwilling accomplices in his zeal for power and live through the years without aging, attending to his horrific needs.

Decades later, Evan Marshall (Henry Cavill, Showtime's The Tudors) an EMT worker dealing with the disappearance of his war-hero brother, Victor (Dominic Purcell, TV's Prison Break), finds himself suddenly face to face with him. Soaked in blood, Victor begs Evan for help, dragging him to the farmhouse where he was kept hostage. Confused but committed to helping his brother, Evan doesn't know what to make of the immortal German family he finds living there, and the terrifying mutated Wirth in the cellar demanding blood. The brothers join forces with the long-suffering family to learn the secret of the runestone and destroy Wirth before he can complete the ritual.

The "Nazi Occult" subgenre is rare enough in itself to deserve attention. Outside of the Indiana Jones films and Michael Mann's moment of insanity, The Keep, there's only a few Jesus Franco entries, one Jean Rollin (Zombie Lake), and perhaps the best known, Ken Wiederhorn's Shock Waves with Peter Cushing and hordes of Nazi superman zombies wearing sunglasses. Those films were less about Hitler and Himmler's fascination with the occult than with Nazi experiments in raising the dead. They were zombie movies at heart. Blood Creek isn't exactly a zombie film, but it has lots of zombie-styled action and a living-dead villain who drinks blood, so it's really just a matter of labeling. In fact, the film is gory enough to remind you of Lucio Fulci, in particular his 1981 film House by the Cemetery. That film has quite a few similarities with Blood Creek's plot and a monstrous, mutated villain with the unforgettable name Dr. Freudstein, who resembles this film's leather-jacketed Nazi monster as well. The difference lies in the approach. Fulci could care less about his ludicrous plot, because, like most pulp horror stories, it's ludicrous. Much better to focus on a nightmarish atmosphere and scary set pieces.

Schumacher is still too tied to the mainstream cinema to free himself from the need to explain what Wirth is doing and what powers he has and doesn't have. This makes him much less frightening, but Schumacher makes up for it by directing the action with so much enthusiasm and energy that the film propels past logic and catches up with Fulci's nightmares just around the corner. Once Victor returns, the film shifts gears into what is almost real time, with one incident giving way to the next with so much speed that David Kajganich's backstory can barely register. This is a good thing, since it doesn't matter HOW Wirth is able to raise a horse from the dead so much as that he DOES raise a horse from the dead. In an incredibly hallucinatory scene, the now demonic Mr. Ed crashes into the family kitchen, stomping on anyone in its way before being lit aflame! Now that's a scene I always wanted to see, even if I didn't know it. In fact, that scene should've been used to sell the whole picture: "Watch Flaming Horses from Hell Stomp the Life Out of the Innocent!"

The cast is usually of no consequence in these films, but this one is really top notch, perhaps even overqualified. Michael Fassbender from Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds is particularly good as Wirth. But he's matched by Cavill, Purcell, and Emma Booth as the ageless family daughter. There isn't much material to work from, but each of these actors makes the most of what is there.

The film's open ending makes it seem like the pilot episode of a WB series. Just don't hold your breath waiting for the sequel. You'd have to be immortal to live long enough to see that happen. There's nothing really special about the DVD. The film is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen and 5.1 Dolby Digital. The sound mix is fine, but the images may just be a tad too dark. It's clear that this was an aesthetic choice by Schumacher, but some shots seemed to be nothing more than black frames. I love radio plays, but not while watching a movie.

The only real extra is an audio commentary from Schumacher. The director is a very calm, low-key host and seems to be proud of all the people he worked with in making the film, particularly his cast. Nothing very illuminating, but it's a good listen. The first half of the commentary is filled with all kinds of Nazi trivia he learned from his research and which make it almost seem like you are watching something pulpy about Nazis on the History Channel. He does eventually get around to talking more about filmmaking, his interest in the horror genre, the advantages and disadvantages of shooting a film in Romania, and his desire to put the audience right in the middle of the action from the middle of the film to the end. Altogether, I have to say that I he was totally successful in creating that effect, and it's one of the reasons I found the movie to be surprisingly entertaining.