Bloodrunners (2017)

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Bloodrunners just might be the greatest horror comedy yet unleashed on 2017. I don’t know if that’s a point for or against the movie, but, in either case, it’s pretty damn hysterical.

Set in the dying days of prohibition, Bloodrunners nominally focuses on Detective Jack Malone (Michael McFadden, who cowrote the script), a hardboiled cop in a sleepy East Coast town whose main jobs seem to be collecting protection money from speakeasies and hanging out at the local whoremansion (whorehouse doesn’t properly describe it), where he drowns his memories of World War I in an endless supply of booze and flesh. When a new underground establishment sets up shop, run by a proto-bohemian named Renfield (Peter Patrikios) and black Mafia chieftain Chesterfield (Ice-T), McFadden thinks that things are business as usual, and sets about opening the channels to begin collecting tribute from them, until a gristly murder indicates that the pair are a front for something much more sinister. Following a gruesome confrontation that takes the lives of several police officers, Malone must confront a threat that’s been haunting him since he first encountered it on the battlefield at Flanders years ago: Vampires.

It’s difficult to say just how much of McFadden and director/co-writer Dan Lantz’s tongues were in cheek when they came up with the idea for Bloodrunners. It’s the sort of concept (depression-era vampires operating out of a speakeasy) that could either be played straight and exploited for some legitimate creepiness, the way Kathryn Bigelow made “redneck vampires” a viable threat in Near Dark; or, it’s the sort of goofy jumping-off point for a Troma production. It would appear that Rantz and McFadden were probably aiming for the former, and, while they don’t quite hit that target, nor do they quite descend into the realm of Kaufman-esque satire, either.

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Much of Bloodrunners’ hilarity comes from such an obviously low budget for what, on paper, calls for a significant amount of money to pull off. It’s easy to see AIP putting out a picture like this in the 1970s, during the heyday of low-budget mafia movies, when a panama hat paired with a polyester suit was meant to be read as “period.” Similarly, the cast of Bloodrunners are outfitted in 2010s-does-the-1930s clothing that even the most indiscriminate of eyes will be able to pick out as wildly inappropriate, from the Express for Men suits to a band member in circa-2000 Walter White eyeglasses. Female history buffs, in particularly, will probably be quick to pick up on the glaringly inaccurate women's hairstyles, most of which look pulled from the pages of a 2016 issue of In Style. The modest budget is doubly brought to light by the presence of only two period vehicles (one police, one civilian) that comprise the entire motor pool of a small town, just as the film’s main characters seem to make up the entire population (to say nothing of the economy, which seems based wholly around the aforementioned whoremansion). There are shots on city streets in which we only see one or two people, indicating either that the production couldn’t afford many extras or that this town is severely underpopulated. Too, there are some surreal CGI sequences meant to take place in World War I that evoke the Golden Age psychedelia of Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, and which somehow take the viewer even more out of the movie than the sparse (yet vividly colored) sets.

 Left: 30s hair, Bloodrunners style; Right: 30s hair, 30s style

Left: 30s hair, Bloodrunners style; Right: 30s hair, 30s style

Which brings us to Ice-T. To look at the promotional art, this is Ice-T’s show, and it was one of the things that first piqued my interest in the movie. He’s shown some real acting chops on Law and Order, and seemed to be having legitimate fun in Leprechaun, so I was eager to see what he’d bring to the role of a vampire gangster. Unfortunately, Ice-T spends about as much time in Bloodrunners as Michael Keaton in Beetlejuice, and makes about 1/8 of the impression. It’s a glorified cameo at best, and for as accomplished an actor as he is, he seems to be phoning in the performance here—there are entire sequences where he looks as though he’s about to drift off to sleep, and he delivers much of his dialogue with all the conviction of a petulant child who’s been told he’ll get a cookie if he kisses grandma. Even if his performance were more engaged, he doesn’t have enough screen time or material to do a lot with it; much of Chesterfield’s scenes take the form of quick intercuts in which he indoctrinates a young woman into the ways of vampirism, a subplot with only the most periphery connection to the main action. The idea of a black Mafioso running a criminal empire in a small Eastern town in the 30s is intriguing in and of itself, even without the supernatural angle. But it’s never exploited for all its’ thematic or narrative possibilities or implications, beyond some perfunctory racist remarks. You really get the impression that Ice-T signed up for this because it looked like a better idea on paper, and that he more or less checked out when he realized what he’d really gotten himself into. It’s a shame, too, because he’s demonstrated himself as a versatile performer capable of really shining in genre work; I’d hate for this to drive him away from the genre for good.

Not that it matters so much, though, because the real standout performance comes from McFadden. While you may be able to fault him for such an obvious vanity project, the idea a star vehicle for him isn’t necessarily without merit. Perhaps it’s because this is his own material, but McFadden displays some real acting chops, demonstrating a firm handle on the hardboiled cop archetype. Whether it’s world-weariness, bruiserly angst, or cold-sweat PTSD, McFadden turns in a performance worthy of at least a solid B-picture, and if his goal was to demonstrate to the film making world that he has the makings of a star character actor, then mission accomplished. What’s more, he’s able to instill Jack with a genuine likeableness, making him personable even when he’s commiserating with madams about police corruption or roughing up guys in bars.

Once I realized that Bloodrunners was not the dark period epic I thought I was going into, I actually got to enjoy it. The ideas are interesting (especially the notion of vampires having scoured the No Man’s Land of WWI Europe, feeding on dying soldiers—now there’s a movie unto itself!), and it’s just technically adept enough for the badness to be enjoyable in a madcap, zany sort of way. I can easily see Servo and Crow hunched down in the corner of the screen making wisecracks. Odd as it may sound, go ahead and pick up Bloodrunners. Have some friends over, make some popcorn, crack open a few cold ones of your own, and go to town—it’ll be a hilarious night.  Be sure to check out their website HERE.

Preston Fassel