Perhaps one of the horror genre's most troubling offspring, courting controversy, outrage, and condemnation among not only critics and special interest groups but fans, the Slasher celebrates bloodshed and emotional suspense equally -- at least the successful ones. Descendents of the German Krimi and Italian Giallo, with elements of Noir and classical suspense thrown in for spice, the Slasher experienced something of a 'golden' period from the late seventies to the late eighties, resulting in several classic 'Body Count' pictures that managed to successfully merge genuine terror and suspense with overt gore and sexual exploitation. Then again, some films didn't fare quite so well, languishing (deservedly so) on video shelves. Three such films, released by VCI in The Ripper Blood Pack, are now presented for your viewing pain. So good that they're bad, these shot-on-video productions lacked the technical polish, craftsmanship, and stylistic energy of the truly original Slasher opuses. Worse, they lacked even the creative death scenes that graced many lesser operas of pain and dismemberment with entertainment value, laboring with ideas neither exploitative or emotionally engaging. Today even the term shot-on-video raise ire, hinting at a lack of storytelling quality. Known for bad production values, worse cinematography, lousy acting, and worse FX, shot-on-video is just another term for 'please shoot me!' The saving grace of films lacking either engaging stories, suspense, or titillation is the unintentional joy they bring audiences. Giving Ed Wood a run for his money, The Ripper, Blood Cult, and Revenge: Blood Cult (2) are delightful ways to spend an evening if you're a fan of decidedly bad movies. These laughably inept bloodbaths are as dripping with bad taste and lousy acting as copious gallons of stage blood, and perhaps could be best enjoyed as examples of what didn't work in the gory-glory days of the 'creative kill' years.

Aping Halloween, Friday the 13, and The Prowler with some occult clap-trap thrown in for 'originality', Blood Cult, directed by Christopher Lewis, steals from various sources but fails to evoke the tension of the classics upon which it models itself. This virtually plot-less video nightmare fails to achieve a shadow of the atmosphere, enthusiastic violence, or arousal that even the most rudimentary example of the Slasher film attained. The filmmakers don't quite know if they're making a serial killer flick or a 'Murder She Wrote' episode, and this indecision of what to focus on, how, or where ruins an already needless screenplay. The story itself evokes little interest, and invites little empathy in the plight of its characters -- people we never get to know, nor wish to, as the cheaply shot picture fills the shaky frames with one filler scene after another. Blood Cult is, in fact, everything you hate to see in a horror film, particularly if its a Slasher, that often maligned and just as often beloved member of the exploitation family.

Starring Julie Andelman, Charles Ellis, Josef Hardt, and Bennie Lee McGowan, this lustreless body-count screener focuses on the murders taking place across the sleepy confines of a mid-western college campus. The killer leaves behind a golden amulet alongside mutilated corpses. The inept sheriff is unable to fathom the motivations of the killing spree or the identity of the butchers. As political and social pressures mount, enticing him to dig deeper into the mystery, this deadly dullard is aided by his daughter --- who just happens to find a book laying around the library that explains the amulet's occult significance. Soon, we're immersed into a muddled story of a demonic cult hoping to raise a hellish force on earth through sacrifices.

Of course a movie, book, or story of any sort has no political ambitions to fulfil, no morals it must preach, views it must advocate, or lines of philosophy that it must reflect; a product of art or entertainment does, on the other hand, need to entertain in at least a basic, simplistic level, providing escape if not reflection, exploitation if not catharsis. And this is wherein Blood Cult truly fails, committing the deadliest sin that a movie can -- quite simply, it's reoccurring stock footage, banal filming technique, and pedestrian logic invites nothing but boredom. Its themes are as simplistic and commonplace -- and, yes, as banal -- as its transparent surface themes. If it doesn't commit any greater sins against expectation, logic, or sense than other Slasher films, it does fail to support such faulty structure and illogic with the visual flair and nightmarish intensity required to make us care.

Revenge (1985), the sequel, utilizes much the same plot structure, although making use of Patrick Wayne and John Carradine. While wonderful thespians, even their presence can do little to save a ridiculous story. There is little need explore the plot here in detail, as it is modelled after the original, with little deviance or surprises. Murders occur. They are investigated. More murders occur. A demonic cult is implicated. Unsurprising 'revelations' occur. While this film is a bit more polished in directorial style and scene compositions, the cheapness of the production, and the fact that the actors all look surprised to be there, induces all the wrong emotions. Rather than terrify or shock, the film evokes laughter at scenes that are unintentionally humorous.

Violent psychological horror films have long been victimized by special interest groups, political mouth-pieces, and women's groups. As often reviled as revered for its excesses, the Slasher often substitutes effect for motivation and excessive spectacle for subtlety, and while I might argue the defects in this approach to storytelling, a filmmaker with enthusiasm and a true love/understanding of the sensationalistic power of his material can often make much out of little. Similar to its more intelligent ancestor the Giallo, the primary power of the Slasher is its unapologetic ability to shock. This has long invited the disjointed fury of politicians who, unable to feed the hungry or protect its citizenship, instead seek to invent a Bogieman for the paranoid public to direct their energies on. Movies such as Revenge, while no more deserving of this censorious nonsense than any other, does add fuel to the fire by adding to the stereotypical image of Horror as a genre lacking in intelligence, beauty, or cultural relevance. It does this -- as do several other films more interested in churning out a buck than in crafting an honest-to-god story -- by offering up blasé violence with nonsensical reasoning. Worse yet, it dilutes the very primal essence of such exploitative emotions as fear and wonder by staging violence and pseudo-occult activities in a manner no more convincing (or threatening) than an after-school children's drama, many of which have proved more disturbing.

The Ripper, again directed by Lewis, is perhaps the best of the worst this package has to offer. While the story is as cliché riddled, and the performances as stilted, as the above, the hilarity factor (the great bloody amounts of cheese!) in this sloppy ode to 'Springheel Jack' is even greater. Starring Tom Savini in what would begin a rather undistinguished acting career (he'll just have to be content with being one of the greater FX artists of the industry), this production -- again shot on home video -- is extremely mean spirited. While this bodes well for it, drowning sleazy murders and nihilism in moments of exceptionally graphic gore, the movie feels more like pornography than storytelling.

In a minimal, rather idiotic plot, a ring once owned by Jack the Ripper falls into the hands of a college professor teaching a course in Serial Killers. Professor Harwell's specialty is the Ripper, and as he digs deep into the subject women across campus are murdered, slit and gutted using the Ripper's old MO. Professor Harwell, dating a dance instructor, wears the ill-fated ring that he purchased with her at a jewellery store (what!?), and soon begins to blank out, unaware of precisely what he's doing each night as co-eds continue to die. Is the killer Hartwell or one of his students, particularly one who grooves on horror films too much? Is the Ripper a ghostly revenant returned from the grave? Will you continue watching or switch to something really scary, like Bill Riley?

The incredibly messy murders are the showcase here, not the story, which is paper thin -- as are characters and dialogue. None of this is a bad thing, per say. Violence, misogyny, and hatred are all very human emotions worth exploring in the emotionally safe confines of art. No, it isn't the extreme gore or torture that bodes ill for The Ripper, it's the lack of professionalism . . . In acting, direction, pacing, storytelling, and, finally, the FX. With all the blood spilling, none of it really resonates or effects the audience. It isn't realistic enough nor filmed with enough expertise to do that. In addition, so little happens between scenes of lingering mutilations and gut-wrangling that the gore itself looses its emotional potential, and the whole affair soon feels more like a visit to the slaughterhouse (or a gag store) than a cinematic story of characterization or themes.

Despite this -- and despite the lack of story value, logic, excitement, acting, believable effects or atmosphere -- The Ripper, like Blood Cult and Revenge is enjoyable as a primer for what to avoid as an aspiring writer or director. Certainly in no way comparable in terms of quality, approach, or even sheer exploitative nerve to the films they attempt to mimic, these deadly duds achieve some degree of success as shlock-shock z-grade spectacles, more notable for how they stumble -- and for unintentional humor -- than for any true artistry. Enjoyable in much the same way that you pity a child doing his/her best to play Beethoven when they can't yet play 'chopsticks' there is something admirable (barely) in the 'hey, let's put on a show' mentality evidenced in each of the productions. Cheap gore, silly plots, dead performances, and more absurdity and inept dialogue than Mystery Science Theater could even lampoon, this triple threat is a medicine for mediocrity by reason of its very audacity. For lovers of bad movies only, these flicks are enjoyable when all is said and done because of their shortcomings, not despite them!

Featuring exactly the kind of visual quality you would expect, Blood Cult is featured in a full screen print, and suffers from rampant soft imagery and grain. Audio is competent in Dolby Digital 2.0. Revenge is featured in full screen as well but looks improved, with less grain or distortion and better production value all around. Audio is above average, again in Dolby Digital 2.0. Specifications for The Ripper are the same, with the Full Screen print and Dolby Digital 2.0 Audio Track. Extras are surprisingly robust, and in many cases better than the films they support. Blood Cult's first supplements are Interviews with Christopher Lewis and producer Bill Blair, and an Audio Commentary with Lewis. Wherein Lewis cares little for the genre (and is irritating for his disdain for the horror film) in both instances, approaching the genre as a technical experiment, Blair is a quite personable speaker, and seems to care more about movies in general. Commentary and interviews are followed by sparse Cast and Crew notes. Two Promotional Videos are next, giving fair warning what to expect, followed by a fairly extensive Photo Gallery of behind-the-scenes footage. Most impressive are the generous number of trailers, including spots for City of the dead, Satan's Cheerleaders, and several others. Extra materials for Revenge are near as thorough, including more Trailers, another Photo Gallery, and a self-congratulatory 'Making Of' Featurette. The Ripper, the last feature, sports another Lewis commentary, where his disdain of the genre is fairly evident, as is his preference for technological challenges. The ensuing Music Video for "Fire" is laughably bad, splicing lackluster dance scenes from the 'movie' with original music, followed by a Theatrical Trailer, an inane and rather ridiculous short film "The Appointment," and a Tribute to Bill Blair. The Ripper promo and trailers for other VCI product round out the economically priced collection of cheese.

Review by William P. Simmons

Released by VCI
Region 1 - NTSC
Not Rated
Extras :
see main review