Friday, May 20, 2022

Census Bloodbath: We Come To This Place For Murder

Year: 1984
Director: Rick Sloane
Cast: Mary Woronov, Jenny Cunningham, Jonathan Blakely
Run Time: 1 hour 15 minutes
MPAA Rating: R

Plot: Blood Theatre follows three young workers at Spotlite Theatres who are sent by their sleazy boss Mr. Murdock (Rob-Roy Fletcher) to open up a new location at the site of a closed-down vaudeville theater that is being haunted by poltergeist activity and the wandering stalker who burned 22 people to death many years before.

Analysis: Blood Theatre opens rather well, with an off-kilter strangeness that feels almost Twin Peaks-y, but it doesn't take long to discover that this quality is less than intentional. The filmmakers are clearly interested in making a goofy, random movie (at no point more so than the PA voiceover that plays incessantly in the theater, a non-stop source of alleged gags) that would fit well within the Troma canon, but most of the things that are the most off-putting about it come merely from incompetence and fail to add up to a reliable atmosphere, instead becoming absolutely exhausting.

By far the worst element of the film is the acting, almost exclusively from performers who had never worked before and would never work again. The main exception is Mary Woronov, a cult actress who frequently rubbed shoulders with both Andy Warhol and Roger Corman. While I certainly can't claim to have seen all 121 roles she played on film, this just has to be the worst. Nobody would accuse her of being one of the great actresses of our time, but she is a capable presence who can ground wacky material, as she proved in that same year's Night of the Comet. Here she is mugging to the rafters and it is an almost obscene failure of comic acting, likely due to a director who had no handle on his own tone. The other, untrained actors fare even worse and at times resemble video game NPCs who haven't been properly animated, waving their arms in vague approximations of human physical behavior while frequently dubbed deadpan lines emerge from their mouths.

The environment they are running around in is just as wooden and unbelievable. The movie posters in the theater are clearly just colored pencil drawings (Blood Theatre eventually had its own poster - a totally decent one, too! Why couldn't they have just hired that person early?), and the rest of the sets bear the plain white walls of your average porn studio. The foley artists were also clearly out to lunch. Literally, because that might be the only way to explain the way that a door being opened sounds exactly like a brown paper lunch bag being ripped in half.

It's a true blessing that this film is hardly feature length, because it would be beyond human endurance to sit and watch it for any longer. The minutes stretch before the viewer as the three teens wander around the theater in unison, vacantly staring at various objects without saying a word. I will give it points for at least having a solid, sinister opening sequence and a sizable body count, even if most of the kills are offscreen and all of them save one clearly took an effects person about 15 seconds to put together. There is also a modicum of camp to be found in the very worst performance, so at least something in the film rolls all the way around the scale of badness to end up somewhere amusing.

Killer: Original Owner (Jonathan Blakely)
Final Girl: Jennifer (Jenny Cunningham)
Best Kill: Adrian's death by decapitation is both the most dynamic (a window partition lowers and severs his neck when he's looking through) and the most unexpected because the movie was totally setting him up to go ape in a third act of The Shining kinda way.
Sign of the Times: Selena and Darcy show up for work in matching orange and purple stockings.
Scariest Moment: The phone dissolves in Mary Woronov's hand when she's hearing Selena getting murdered on the other end.
Weirdest Moment: The lazy concessions stand employee gets her "revenge" on Adrian and Jennifer for not paying for their popcorn by sneaking into the movie, removing her bra, and waggling her boobs at them.
Champion Dialogue: "They're giving us whores a bad name."
Body Count: 10; not including 22 people who die of smoke inhalation during a fire in the prologue.
  1. Ticket Taker is stabbed to death.
  2. Dee-Dee is stabbed in the chest.
  3. Dee-Dee's Friend (which is her credited name) is stabbed to death.
  4. Lisa dies offscreen.
  5. Lisa's Friend (also her credited name) is stabbed in the gut.
  6. Darcy is dragged under the stage.
  7. Malcolm is accidentally electrocuted.
  8. Adrian is decapitated by a window partition.
  9. Selena dies somehow, which is represented by a light being flashed at her.
  10. Original Owner is stabbed in the back.
TL;DR: Blood Theatre is a poorly mounted, goofy, and aimless piece of work.
Rating: 3/10
Word Count: 821

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