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Blood Junkies (1999)
Director: Bruce Naughton
review by Paul Higson
Bruce Naughton's Blood Junkies has built up a short-stack good reputation since its completion but has yet to make it into general circulation. To see the film is to spell out the reasons for its obscurity. It has clearly had a problematic production history as evidenced by variations in the quality of the presentation. Footage transferred to video has been edited back in, so belied by the grain. (Bruce Naughton amends this thought: "Everything was shot on film, but some of the stock was very fast - i.e. grainy. It was a job lot of re-cans so we shot with what we had!" The film was shot on Kodak 16mm.)
The acting is as variable though at least the main players maintain a standard solid presence. Most problematically of all the running time is short. This might be due to a common presumption and misconception that one script page always equates one minute of running time. Dependent on the amount of dialogue or the description of action the transfer can shift to something well beneath the running time and first-time director Naughton is not the first to have rumbled this too late in the day. George Hickenloper's The Killing Box closed with a battle that probably took up a third of the screenplay but was over very quickly on screen, and a well built up film was left with a sprint to the end credits. Naughton clearly attempted to remedy the shortage of material by padding out the film. Every scrap of an endlessly dreary party scene is used when most of it would have been expected to slip into the off-cuts bin. The opening titles don't hurry to deliver the few-named cast and crew credits, and the closing credits are incomplete, the music running on with nothing to report. (The copy submitted for review was a copy accidentally free of credits. The inclusion of the credits would push the running time up to 60 minutes. The rights are available on the film and Naughton is open to the idea of releasing the film as part of a double bill.)
The film is not without merit. Naughton latterly brought in Greenbeetle's Gary Davies and David Mitchell to snazzy up the opening titles sequence with a colourful collage of anatomical illustrations and microscopic images to the tune of Danse Macabre. In this it brings to mind the opening titles of Re-Animator with its own borrowed theme, Band cribbing from Herrman on that occasion. The titles sequence is inter-cut with episodes in the history of Sir Ruaridh MacDorchadas played by Sean Hay (whose character name we are told translates as 'red son of darkness'), vampiric acts partaken in, within the grounds of a medieval castle, at an 18th century ball and in a narrow Edwardian alley. The ball gives a nod to Polanski's Dance Of The Vampires, a reference brave and potentially dangerous given the forced comparison, the grandiose gothic against the miserably budgeted, but the sequence is a gesture, is throwaway, and was completely forgotten in between the first and second viewing of the film. The story is brought up to date in the grubby modern world of housing estates and the resident drug users that have become fodder to the vampire.
It is not difficult to see how the team could have believed they had sufficient footage, clear efforts having been made during the shoot to pick up shots day and night across a great number of locations. They did not put any restrictions on the shoot, went for broke. Cinematographer Martin Parry does a good job of capturing exterior 'night' shots on available lighting while capturing the requisite action. An overhead shot taken from a window revels in the criss-crossing of washing lines across a backyard. A cold rush of wind is heard on the soundtrack. The combination is distinctly unwelcoming and effective. A lively pub scene displays equivalent supervisory and post-production prowess. The flow promises to be continuous. Violent cops, led by the corrupt McCoist (Gordon Slater), don balaclavas and bust up a drug den, brutally slaying the helpless junkies in their grotty flat. One of the occupants is already dead; the vampire having beaten them to her, last drop drained. This is bad news to Zena Morton (Mary Goonan) a sexual health worker who had been trying to help the girl who would have died at someone's hands or teeth that night. An autopsy reveals that the girl had been miraculously cured of HIV before her death, nor were there signs of Hepatitis B in the little that remained of her blood, neither any further evidence of several bouts of gonorrhoea. The girl is ascribed signs of a quickly coined new condition, a Super Immunity Acquired Syndrome. Vampirism as a cure rather than a curse was first ventured into in Gerard Ciccoritti's Graveyard Shift in 1985, a film lauded in its time and forgotten now. In Graveyard Shift a character is informed she has cancer and little time to live but is saved by a vampirical infection. The premise is adopted as only one of several elements in Naughton's film.
McCoist is sniffing around the clinic under the ruse of an investigation but in truth ensuring that nothing comes back to him. Zena files a report to a colleague on the strange case and it is intercepted by a pharmaceuticals company looking for an in on the potentially profitable miracle. Zena discovers that another in her casebook is also suddenly free of HIV. The girl links it to her current sexual partner who in turn is having a dalliance of a manner with the ancient vampire. The vampire hosts parties that could be said to carry a theme of 'cesspit'. The drug taking and ephemera have an authenticity to them, the revellers and dredgers crammed into the basic rooms of a block of flats. These 'extras' may well have brought a personal expertise with them, acting as their own 'technical advisers,' something that was suspected of the similar party scene in Abel Ferrara's Driller Killer 20 years earlier (and many of those actors did not survive long after production). McCoist and Zena, in turn, pursue Sir Ruaridh, the thug cop wrongly predicting that drunken brute force will see him through. The girl does a little additional research first. She turns to an occult bookshop proprietor who advises on the appropriate reading material. The encyclopaedia of vampirism she recommends could be a little more helpfully arranged as it is described by degree of depravity as opposed to the more conventional alphabetical or chronological ordering.
Dialogue is generally good, though none of the performers are RADA standard. Sean Hay as the vampire does well with the delivery of dialogue that could have sounded utterly horrendous spoken by a lesser player. Scott Orr's gore effects are decent, though one feels that the director was also surprised at how good they look and the camera lingers too long on them. The clothes on the cops should appear worn to a comfortable fit but seem instead to be a size or two too big for them. A plastic axe makes for a rubbish prop in one scene, none of which is helped by the delayed spurt of blood from the off-screen victim. The film regularly fumbles but for every cumbersome move and wrong footing there is something admirable in the effort that has been put into Blood Junkies. It has integrity, which is more than can be said for Andrew Goth's execrable Cold And Dark.
The film was completed in 1999 but it may as well have been 1989. There are no mobile phones nor is there an Internet (but then the film was shot in 1993). Blood Junkies is stuck in time and I suspect the production period began much earlier. The film has a large cast, though few are currently on the credits. Blood Junkies aims at the social realist horror subgenre and though the drug-taking scenes have a feel that is genuine, the inequitable quality and the fantastic scenario are too far removed to make it successful as was shortly to be achieved in Andrew Parkinson's excellent Dead Creatures and Shaun Meadows' instantaneous classic Dead Man's Shoes. Films like Govan Ghost Story, The Whisperers, and Cold Light Of Day show that you can get a little too close to social realism and the results can be interminably glum. In its aims and executions though Blood Junkies is only slightly less successful than Genevieve Jolliffe's Urban Ghost Story, which has been well received in some quarters, and though I don't have a real answer to it's fate, it does deserve some audience attention. May I suggest, a DVD coupling with another decent undersize horror feature.
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