BLOOD BEAT (1983) Blu-ray/DVD combo
Director: Fabrice A. Zaphiratos
Vinegar Syndrome

Going home for the holidays turns deadly and flat out weird with Vinegar Syndrome's Blu-ray/DVD combo of the obscure French-produced, Wisconsin-lensed BLOOD BEAT.

When her daughter Dolly (Dana Day) and son Ted (James Fitzgibbons) come back from college to the family farm for Christmas, New Age-y Cathy (Helen Benton) gets weird vibes off of Ted's new girlfriend Sarah (Claudia Peyton). The feeling is mutual, as Sarah feels Cathy's eyes on her even when she is not in the room by way of the woman's surreal and disturbing paintings. Sarah's unease worsens when she comes across a disemboweled poacher in the woods while out deer hunting with Dolly, Ted, Cathy's woodsy common law husband Gary (Terry Brown, DARK RIDER), and their uncle Pete (Peter Spelson, THE PSYCHOTRONIC MAN). Caught between Sarah's anxiety and his mother's suspicion of her, Ted does not know what to think, while Dolly discovers that her mother can indeed read minds when she announces that she is not returning to college. While the family is distracted by inner tensions, Sarah suffers from horrifying visions as a killer clad in ancient samurai garb starts slashing his way through the surrounding farms and is moving in on them.

A singular entry in the regional 1980s horror cycle shot in Wisconsin (stomping grounds of regional filmmaker Bill Rebane during this era) by a Vietnam-born French novice filmmaker with non-professional actors whose performances border on narcotized, BLOOD BEAT seems to draw on the nonlinear storytelling styles of Nicolas Roeg (DON’T LOOK NOW) and Donald Cammell (PERFORMANCE), juxtaposing unacknowledged inner tensions with scenes of overt violence and subtly inferring a causal connection (the closest similar example might be the more proficient British 1980s horror film THE APPOINTMENT). Seeming at first to be a riff on the psychoanalytical interpretations of Alfred Hitchcock's THE BIRDS in which a mother's pathological jealousy of a younger woman seems to generate violent phenomena, the film dumps the psychological for the telekinetic during an optical-heavy finale that is too strange to be laughable (other than the use of a tin of Quaker Oats as a deadly projectile). Making no more sense in high definition than it did on videotape, the chilly pastoral atmosphere might not enough to hold viewer attention with subsequent viewings.

Released direct to video in 1985 by Trans World Entertainment, BLOOD BEAT comes to Vinegar Syndrome Blu-ray/DVD combo from a 4K scan of the original camera negative, and the 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC pillarboxed 1.33:1 presentation looks as good as it can since more restoration than the usual color correction and scratch repair was required for the damaged film element. Underexposed night scenes are heavily grainy as can be expected and the few opticals are also coarser-looking, so the actual damage is really no more distracting for the most part than the hallmarks of a low-budget production. The end credits had to be culled from the film's tape master. The DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 mono track is relatively clean, with dialogue always intelligible apart from the moments when the very prominent scoring – some cool eighties synth and a bunch of public classical music recordings – overwhelm the dialogue. Optional English SDH subtitles are provided and amusingly refer to the music stings that accompany the displays of telekinesis as "mystical boinging."

The film is accompanied by an audio commentary by director Fabrice A. Zaphiratos (in French with optional English subtitles) in which he recalls coming to America with nothing and dating a girl with money who wanted to make a film. Staying on a farm in Wisconsin owned by Benton (the adopted daughter of a U.S. Senator), Zaphiratos was inspired by the location to explore what he had come to understand as "deep America" of farming, hunting, pick-up trucks, and evenings on the farm. In a video interview with Zaphiratos (18:04), also in French with English subtitles, he provides more information on his background, coming to France with his family from Vietnam in the sixties and his father's career as an independent filmmaker, as well as his cinematic and cultural inspirations and aesthetic approach.

Cinematographer Vladimir Van Maule (CHOKER) also provides a video interview (18:44) in which he recalls coming to America from Czechoslovakia and attending film school in Chicago, founding his own commercial filmmaking company at twenty-four and taking BLOOD BEAT a year later for the opportunity to shoot a feature in 35mm with Panavision equipment and a Steadicam. Utilizing his own private plane, he and Zaphiratos flew back and forth between Chicago and Wisconsin to develop film and collect dailies for eight weeks. Of the shoot, he recalls the cold weather, living with the cast and crew on a farm near the location, and the challenges of lighting and shoot in cramped authentic locations. "BLOOD BEAT: Silent Version featuring Nervous Curtains and Horror Remix" (28:08) is a condensed version of the film that proves how superfluous the film's dialogue actually was and proves a moodier experience. Also included is the short film “L.U.N.C.H.” (13:54) written and directed by Zaphiratos's son William and a stills gallery (1:03). The reversible cover features new artwork by Earl Kessler and the original poster art on the reverse. The first two-thousand copies ordered directly from Vinegar Syndrome feature an embossed slipcover of the Kessler art. (Eric Cotenas)