Saturday, 18 February 2012

Bloodlust!

Certificate: 15
Running time: 68 mins
Director: Ralph Brooke
Starring: Wilton Graff, June Kenney, Robert Reed, Troy Patterson
Genre: Horror
Country: USA

Richard Connell’s short story The Most Dangerous Game is one that seems to have a timeless appeal to film makers with Ernest B. Schoedsack, Robert Wise and even John Woo all referencing it through the course of their directorial careers.  Ralph Brooke was clearly taken by the story of the forbidden hunt as it became the subject matter for his first and sadly only feature film as director, his untimely death two years later brought to an end a career that, in Bloodlust!, showcased talent and a love of the theatrical.

Dr. Albert Balleau (Graff) lives on a secluded island with his wife Sandra (Lilyan Chauvin) and has dedicated his time to hunting.  Have shot, killed and mounted just about everything on the island Balleau’s tastes have turned towards a more dangerous sport as he hunts humans brought to the island.

Bloodlust! cames in for a lot of criticism from people, they have issue with the fact that the film looks and feels a lot older than it actually should.  Having been made in 1961 most film fans will happily admit to being somewhat taken aback by the use of black and white film, the use of chiaroscuro lighting and staging of this piece.  They seem to think of it as less sophisticated than other filmic offerings that year, that somehow Brooke was out of date and out of touch.  I don’t subscribe to this nonsense.  The film is a period piece, much like Steven Soderbergh’s The Good German was a homage to the cinematic stylings of the 1930’s and 1940’s so Bloodlust! is a salute to the Classical Horror during a time when Hollywood was moving away from this model and towards a more fashionable contemporary era and this is where a lot of criticism comes from, the fact that they don’t feel the film is trendy.  Nonsense.

Brooke’s influences are clear and present for all and the choice to make the film as though it’s a product of the 1920’s-30’s is inspired as it allows the world of the film to exist within the period in which the short story was published.  Modern directors are doing the exact same things today with H.P. Lovecraft stories and are being applauded for it, case in point the H.P. Lovecraft Societies period version of The Whisperer in Darkness.  The use of lighting is fantastic as the low camera angles and under lit characters cast exaggerated gothic shadows that are reminiscent of Weimar cinema and those directors that proved to be so influential that their Hollywood careers give birth to not just horror but also film noir.  Like classic noir/horror the chiaroscuro lighting in Bloodlust! serves two purposes, the first being to create a psychological landscape within the film that is menacing and piercing and the second (and certainly more pragmatic) is to mask off the budgetary limitations of the film.  Bloodlust!’s budget most certainly wouldn’t have sprung for a realistic tropical setting but Brooke’s understanding of how to sculpt a scene with light means that it doesn’t really become an issue.

The use of the camera comes in for some criticism and rightfully so as it always feels placed and is never in any real danger out acting as an investigative character in this story, something which is true of a lot of classical horror but not all.  While making Dracula in 1931 the Studio hit upon the realisation that it would be cheaper to hire a Mexican cast and crew to make a Spanish language version of the film rather than dub the Lugosi version.  Though the Mexican Dracula lacked any real menace the director’s use of the camera was almost revolutionary and it’s this level of comparison that Bloodlust! should hold itself up to.  Unfortunately it doesn’t come close as the cinematography in Brooke’s homage to classical horror is heavy and reluctant to be actively mobile.  It does add a certain something to the film though as it gives it a genuine feeling of life before Orson Welles.

Wilton Graff (as Dr. Balleau) puts in a shift and a half, yes he acts with a capital A and it thunderously theatrical but he’s a mad Doctor is there any other kid of mad Doctor other than the thunderously theatrical kind?  His performance is one of assurance, confidence and class that comes from having worked with Alfred Hitchcock (on his TV series) and Orson Welles (Compulsion) and is genuinely faultless and in period the entire time.  The scene in which he shows the group of stranded friends his trophy room is incredibly haunting, especially when you consider that this is a film that’s 50 years old attempting to look and feel like a film that’s 70-80 years old.  The trophy room’s depiction is like a grotesque version of the National History Museum and must have had some sort of impact of Writer/Director Eli Roth as not only does the theme of his Hostel trilogy bare resemblance to Bloodlust! and Connell’s short story but the trophy room looks a lot like that of the trophy room we are shown in the opening moments of Hostel: Part II. Robert Reed (as Johnny) and Walter Brooke (Dean) both give strong performances but are unable to keep the lid on it in the face of Hurricane Graff.  The only performance, for my money, able to come close to Graff is that of Troy Patterson who plays Captain Tony.  He’s a genuine duplicitous Shakespearian character and is handled with a level of skill in the hands of Patterson that most people overlook.

Mystery Science Theatre 3000 featured Bloodlust! during the sixth season and in doing so brought what must be considered a timeless horror film to an entirely new generation.  Some have immediately and impatiently dismissed it as irrelevant and old fashioned but what they haven’t seen is the films ability to bridge a generational gap between the contemporary horror films that were about to explore out of Hollywood, Halloween, Poltergeist and Friday the 13th to name but a few and the foundations of horror, the Weimar movement in Germany, the Universal Studios output and even offerings from RKO.  Bloodlust! isn’t just a good film it’s an important film.  Tragically we'll never know what affect Ralph Brooke might have had on the cinematic landscape of horror.















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