[review by Bradley Steele Harding]
Taken at face value, the late-in-the-slasher game BLOOD HOOK from 1986 is what one might call a quintessential example of the genre. All the ingredients for a by-the-numbers body count entertainment are here: a pre-credit death set in the past, a group of young people gathering at a lakeside cabin, several eccentric characters who might be the killer – and, of course, a series of bizarre murders. What sets this film apart from many similar late era “comedy slasher films” is a literate, even nuanced script and an appealing cast who are more than just “bait” for a crafty killer. Years before HALLOWEEN (2018) leaned into the idea of trauma to contextualize its troubled protagonist, BLOOD HOOK uses it in a more literal sense – quickly setting it apart from its direct-to-video contemporaries.
A young boy witnesses the ambiguous death of his grandfather who, while playing some music on the dock of their lakeside cabin, disappears after falling into the water. 17 years later, after inheriting the cabin, the boy returns to the scene of the accident to check out the property. Peter (Mark Jacobs from BILOXI BLUES), now an adult and finally ready to face his previous trauma, brings a group of friends along. Their visit coincides with the annual Muskie Madness fishing contest; a popular tourist attraction that also includes a weeklong festival. Along for the ride are Peter’s analytical girlfriend Anne (Lisa Jane Todd), fishing enthusiast Finner (Christopher Whiting), new wave punker Rodney (Patrick Danz) and conceited style maven Kiersten (Sara Hauser).
|BLOOD HOOK: This fish has a death curse!|
An irritating family and several eccentric locals are also introduced as the small lakeside community begins festivities surrounding the event. After checking out a few of the tourist attractions, Peter and his friends arrive at the rustic cabin where the fatal incident took place all those years ago. As they make plans for their extended stay, we learn more about the characters and their group dynamics. Finner, who wants to fish and has plans to win the big contest, convinces the edgier Rodney (wearing a fishing lure as an earring) to join him on the hunt. Peter, who has had some trepidation about returning to the cabin, is also a frustrated musician with perfect pitch. His psych major love interest Anne, whose misguided support causes some friction, does her best to ignore Kiersten’s obvious designs on Peter.
As the festivities begin, old rivalries between local fisherman are revealed – including a shooting accident involving Peter’s grandfather and cranky groundskeeper Duerst (Paul Drake). Friendly bait shop owner Mr. Leudke (Don Winters), the man with all the answers, provides just enough backstory for the myriad red herrings to stay afloat. Soon, characters who get too close to the lake at the wrong time, are struck with a giant bait hook and pulled into the water. When his friends begin to go missing, Peter starts to put together the bizarre confluence of events (including a chorus of cicadas!) that occur before they disappear. Armed with a boom box and a rod and reel, he sets out to find his missing girlfriend and conquer his childhood trauma.
|BLOOD HOOK will have you hooked. Or something.|
Though a Troma release, the tone, pacing and unique character flourishes in the film belie their signature cheese-and-sleaze aesthetic. In fact, the screenplay showcases some sharp dialogue and a refreshing respect for the young protagonists. At one point the vacuous Kiersten chimes in, “Fishing is rude! I mean, you gotta get your hands in all that snotty crap and scales.” A few of the principals are so appealing that their inevitable deaths even generate a modicum of disappointment. Director Jim Mallon makes the most of the strong script (for which he receives a story credit) with a game cast who ably walk that fine line between drama and camp. His light touch with the material would later serve him well as part of the original creative team for Mystery Science Theater 3000. Mallon also directed a theatrical iteration of the show in 1996 (his only other feature film credit).
BLOOD HOOK, in its uncut, nearly two-hour running time, often feels like a less frenetic MEATBALLS (1979) with its quirky characters and genial humor. Indeed, the first 20 minutes, which amble along with an engaging charm, share little with the generic direct-to-video horror releases of the era. Additionally, the idea of an “uncut” slasher film – even one framed as a “horror comedy,” might lead one to believe that most of the restored footage would contain excised gore, nudity or other sensational elements. While there are a few added moments of old school splatter, the majority of the reinstated footage contains a lot of the eccentric character development that makes this cut so unique.
With an emphasis squarely on comedy and quirk – slasher fans looking for the baser elements of the genre will likely be disappointed. But those who liked Fred Walton’s APRIL FOOL’S DAY and the more absurd comedic elements of Tobe Hooper’s TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE PART 2 (both released the same year as BLOOD HOOK) will find much to enjoy.
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female: 2 / male: 4
1) Male hooked on dock and pulled into lake
2) Female hooked on dock and pulled into lake
3) Male hooked on boat while tanning and pulled into lake
4) Male hooked on stalled motorboat and pulled into lake
5) Female hooked while swimming
6) Male ear torn off by hook, stabbed with hook pole