And a Lesser Known Dan O'Bannon Lovecraft Adaptation...

After The Resurrected, how about another Dan O'Bannon Lovecraft adaptation? This is a much more obscure one called Bleeders that came out in in 1997. Now, O'Bannon didn't direct this one, but he does have a writer's credit and if you're a fan, you can feel him in the material. So, who did direct it? Peter Svatek, who's best known for, uh... Witchboard III, I guess. Yeah, this is a film from A-Pix Entertainment, a video company that was known for putting out cheap direct-to-video B-movie junkers and "erotic thrillers" for late night cable throughout the 90s. I don't imagine it's where O'Bannon really wanted his script to end up. You know how Full Moon shot Subspecies 2 & 3 back to back, on the cheap? Imagine if Kubrick's people slipped them a script and asked, "hey, could you guys quickly shoot this thing we wrote called Eyes Wide Shut while you're at it?"
But, while it's a big step down for O'Bannon, making it easily his worst horror film. It's also a big step up for A-Pix. It's an ambitious story for them to tackle. And when you step back and look at the locations and general production values, you can tell that at least some people involved in the production really cared and wanted to rise to the challenge and create something better than their usual output. But not everybody; it's a very uneven film, more Lurking Fear than From Beyond. ...But, it's definitely better and more credible than Lurking Fear. And, in fact, The Lurking Fear is the Lovecraft story this is based on.
After a prologue about an incestuous European countess who took her family to America and then quietly disappeared, we meet a a strange anemic man who sails into a small island town with his nurse and girlfriend in search of his family history and possibly a clue to the cure for his mysterious blood disease. It seems he's arrived at a bad time, however, because the town is digging up their graveyard over a scandal where the dead were buried in cheap, knock off coffins rather than the ones their families had purchased. Things get even more upsetting when they discover that something had been getting at the bodies while they were underground. So they team up with the local doctor (Rutger Hauer) to uncover all the dark secrets.
It's an intricate little story with a lot of cleverly interconnected parts, and some traditionally Lovecraftian pay-off. The effects are pretty good, too. But some poor acting - sometimes due to the actors being wildly miscast in their roles, and sometimes due to some good old fashioned bad acting - along with a generic point-and-shoot visual style add up to a pretty amateurish film that really can't sell audiences on its deliberately slow pace. Some sturdier performances and more colorful atmosphere could've really pulled audiences into this story. But as it is, this one really requires a lot of work on the audience's behalf if they're going to get anything out of it. On the other hand, there's definitely something there if you're willing to pan for it. I mean, you're going to have to concentrate pretty hard just to ignore one character's laughably unconvincing wig.
Now, you've probably noticed that the DVD cover I scanned here doesn't say Bleeders on it, but Hemoglobin. That's because this isn't the standard US disc, but a UK import. Why do I have that version? Because Bleeders has been cut for an R-rating. Bleeders is already a flawed film, so cutting stuff out of it only makes it worse. If you're going to give this film a fair shot, you've got to at least seek out the Hemoglobin version. And while I'm not sure if every DVD from every country titled Hemoglobin is complete, I can promise you this edition from ITC Film is. It's the one I own, and I've compared it directly to the original Bleeders US disc. Some sex and nudity is cut out, which isn't such a big deal, since it feels gratuitous. But one of the film's most horrific shots of... well, I'll just say it: fetus eating has been cut. And cutting down one of the most horrific moments out of an already too tame horror movie is definitely not doing it any favors.
So there aren't any extras, of course, and the soft, fullscreen transfer looks like they just used the same video master as the VHS. But apart from the darker scenes getting a bit murky it looks alright for that level of cheapo, home video release. I mean, it's a lot better quality than The Kindred was. And it's at least got the trailer on it, which is worth watching just to hear the totally unfitting music they cut the footage to.

Apparently, there's actually a Japanese laserdisc of this film in 2.35(!), which I'd love to see. But until one of those surfaces, this will have to do. There's also a 1.85:1, non-anamorphic French DVD, but it has no English language options. I'd still be curious to see it, though.
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Update 9/22/15: I noticed on Amazon that this DVD was given a USA re-release by a label called Fries Home Video/ Ardustry in 2006. My expectations were zero that this label I've never even heard of before had done any kind of upgrade, and the ugly banner they added to the bottom of the cover sure doesn't inspire confidence, but I figured I'd check and see if they had the uncut version. Plus, I never took any comparison shots of the old 1998 DVD, so this would be an opportunity to put the US/ UK Bleeders/ Hemoglobin DVDs side by side as well.
US Home Fries DVD on top; UK ITC DVD underneath.
So yeah, it's the same ugly VHS-sourced full-screen master. In fact, it's worse, because it has serious ghosting problems, as you can see in the second set of shots. But... but, but, but the million dollar question is: is it uncut? And yes, it seems to be! It has absolutely every bit of nudity and violence on the ITC disc from the UK. Maybe that's why it has the ghosting - they ripped the PAL DVD? Whatever the reason, for US fans, it means you no longer have to import. Although it might be worth it anyway, depending how badly that ghosting bothers you. But, I mean, it's going to look like an ugly VHS no matter what.

Naturally, Fries hasn't added any extras or anything, apart from some bonus trailers for other films they've released, including Breeders. But it's still missing the actual Bleeders trailer, which is available on the UK disc. One notable thing they have done, though, is add a 5.1 mix (in addition to, not instead of, the 2.0 stereo mix all the other DVDs have had). So it's just a question of whether you value a 5.1 mix or an original trailer and no ghosting. Since both are underwhelming, more likely, you might just want to go with whichever one you come across that's cheaper.
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Again, I definitely wouldn't put Bleeders anywhere near the level of The Resurrected or From Beyond. But if you've seen all the first class Lovecraft films and are still looking for more, there's definitely value to be found in this little oddity. In fact, this movie is pretty similar to The Resurrected on a script level, in terms of both tone and content, if you can look past the much lower production values. Just be sure you're seeing it uncut.

1 comment:

  1. I have the U.S. Platinum DVD (2003), which runs 1h 32min NTSC. I also have the Netherlands PAL release from RCV that runs 1h 28min. Both are full frame with 2.0 audio. Both releases are under the HEMOGLOBIN title. I've never been brave enough to subject myself to back-to-back or side-to-side viewings to check content. You can view the covers on my DVDProfiler site: http://dvdprofiler.com/DVDCollection.aspx/Phil%20Menard

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