Ratings Key

= Excellent. The best the genre has to offer.
1/2 = Very Good. Perhaps not "perfect," but undoubtedly a must-see.
★★★ = Good. Accomplishes what it sets out to do and does it well.
★★1/2 = Fair. Clearly flawed and nothing spectacular, but competently made. OK entertainment.
★★ = Mediocre. Either highly uneven or by-the-numbers and uninspired.
1/2 = Bad. Very little to recommend.
= Very Bad. An absolute chore to sit through.
NO STARS! = Abysmal. Unwatchable dreck that isn't even bad-movie amusing.
SBIG = So Bad It's Good. Technically awful movies with massive entertainment value.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Blood Song (1982)

... aka: Dream Slayer
... aka: Dreamslayer
... aka: Premonition

Directed by:
Alan J. Levi

As a singer, Frankie Avalon scored two #1 Billboard hits ("Venus" and "Why") by the time he was just 19 years old. After selling millions of records in the late 50s through the early 60s for Chancellor Records, his singing career began to flounder but he got a second chance at stardom as co-lead (alongside Annette Funicello) in a series of extremely popular AIP "Beach Party" flicks starting with 1963's Beach Party. Bikini Beach, Muscle Beach Party and Pajama Party (all 1964) were quickly spit out immediately afterward and they were followed by Beach Blanket Bingo and Ski Party (both 1965) the following year. As has been pointed out elsewhere numerous times, though these films were supposedly marketed toward teenagers as innocuous fun, it was actually adults who were watching these (and not for the acting, plots or music!) and turning them into hits. By the time to final entry - THE GHOST IN THE INVISIBLE BIKINI (1966) - was made, Avalon had been replaced in the series by Tommy Kirk, and his career again hit the skids until he gained brief attention playing "Teen Angel" in the musical Grease (1978). However, even that hit film didn't do a whole lot to reinvigorate his career and just a few years after he was starring as a flute-playing psycho killer mental home escapee (!) in this early 80s low-budget slasher flick.

Avalon is paired up here with Donna Wilkes, a cherubic-looking actress so baby-faced she - like Avalon - was playing teenagers well into her 20s. Wilkes had roles in a handful of films (including JAWS II in 1978 and SCHIZOID in 1980) and appeared on TV as a regular in the short-lived series Hello, Larry (1979). Several years after starring in Blood Song, she'd receive her signature role as the title character in Angel (1984), which cast the 25-year-old as a 15-year-old high school sophomore. Thanks in part to a memorable ad campaign ("High School Honor Student by Day. Hollywood Hooker by Night."), it was a surprise sleeper hit for New World and grossed over 17 million in the U.S. alone on a 3 million budget. There were three sequels, but Wilkes didn't appear in any of them. By 1987, she was reduced to appearing in such dreck as GROTESQUE (1987) and soon after called it a day on her acting career. Afterward, she went to work for a software developer and kept busy raising her daughter. After a 20+ year hiatus from show business, she's resurfaced on the convention circuit and has appeared in two films for director David DeCoteau since. Blood Song would be neither the best nor the worst thing on either her and Avalon's resumes.

In 1955, a Portland businessman flies back into town, goes home, finds his wife in bed with another man, shoots them both dead and then turns the gun on himself and blows his brains out. Their little son Paul sees the whole thing and it naturally fucks him up. Twenty-five years later in Stanford Bay, a now-adult Paul (Avalon) strangles an orderly, retrieves a hand-carved wood flute his daddy made him right before dying that the staff took from him and escapes from a state mental institution (rather easily, I might add). Meanwhile, in suburbia, trouble teenager Marion Hauser (Wilkes) is having the usual teenage troubles. For starters, she's saddled with a leg brace thanks to a car accident years earlier. Second, she's dating a slightly older fisherman named Joey (William Kirby Cullen); a relationship her asshole father Frank (Richard Jaeckel) doesn't approve of. Actually, Frank - who caused the accident that crippled his daughter - doesn't seem too happy about much of anything. When he's not screaming at, spying on or threatening Marion, he's screaming at his wife Bea (Antoinette Bower) or sucking down beer complaining about his job and life.

As if Marion isn't stressed enough already, things are about to become even worse when she starts having nightmares that are "so weird, so crazy like." These bad dreams turn out not to be dreams at all, but psychic premonitions. After the car accident that crippled her, Marion received a blood transfusion and that blood came from Paul himself, which has somehow given her ESP abilities. Quick! Someone call the Red Cross and warn them! Paul manages to hitch a ride from a truck driver, annoys him by playing "All the Pretty Horses" over and over again with his flute, chops him on the head with an axe and then steals his van. He then picks up up a hitchhiker (Jennifer Enskat) heading toward Stanford Bay, takes her back to a hotel, has sex with her and then strangles her with a necklace while she's topless after she too complains about his annoying lack of musical talent. It isn't long before Paul is after our luckless heroine because, by ridiculous coincidence, she just so happens to stumble upon him burying a body out in the middle of the woods at some random remote location. So what exactly was the point of the whole psychic-link-developed-via-blood-transfusion angle again? Hell if I know. The film drops that idea midway through in its entirety and then becomes just another routine stalk-n-slash flick.

A dismembered body is found in the garbage, someone gets crushed by a piece of heavy machinery and Frankie gets to hack someone up with a hatchet while screaming "You're not my dad!" and ride around on a forklift acting like an emotionally stunted man-child ("Come out and play!"). The big finale is an extended chase scene around a closed-down sawmill. They show all kinds of cool power saws and even a bark stripper with giant razor-sharp blades, but unfortunately none of that is ever utilized. There's also a twist at the finale, which doesn't actually really explain anything, but that's just as well. This one's about as textbook as you can get within its subgenre, with virtually no surprises at all along the way. The acting's highly uneven, the editing is sometimes ragged and the script is cliché-ridden and melodramatic ("Nobody believes me!"), with a poorly-developed plot and half-assed ideas aplenty. Bits and pieces of the dialogue (including many of Wilkes' "dramatic" moments) have been re-recorded at some point and looped back in by way of what sounds like a tin can.

Sometimes stunt casting works and sometimes it doesn't. In Avalon's case, it's the latter. He's not the least bit believable in his role and I couldn't tell whether he was trying to play the part seriously or shooting for straight up camp. Dane Clark plays the obligatory small town sheriff who is first introduced to us by saying he has "a hangover that would make King Kong climb a wall" (?!) Former professional wrestler, Colombo Crime Family member and eventual character actor Lenny Montana (best known as hitman Luca in The Godfather) not only appears in a small role as the boyfriend's kind-hearted boss, but also co-produced and co-wrote the film. His son Lenny Montana Jr. has a part as the truck driver victim. In real life Lenny Jr. (who is often called by his nickname "Limping Lenny") runs Enzo's Pizzeria in Los Angeles and is allegedly a member of an L.A. crime family himself. Noelle North (the girl who likes Sissy Spacek's prom dress in CARRIE) and Victor Izay (a regular in Ted V. Mikels movies) also have small roles.

There's a droning, repetitive 80s synthesizer score for those who dig them, some bloody moments and a few interesting directorial choices to keep it all at least watchable. Marion's premonitions are visualized in a rather unusual and effective way. The camera zooms in on her face, stops, does three closer still shots closing in on her eye and then a spiral effect begins at her pupil that uncovers what the killer is up to and are first seen in multi-colored negative image. Those are quite neat and they're also the highlights of this otherwise forgettable film. The soundtrack has a song ("All In Your Mind") performed by actress Lainie Kazan and for some reason entirely lost on me it opens with a quote from Alfred Lord Tennyson's 1855 poem "Maud."

TV director Levi's only theatrically-released film, it was distributed on VHS by numerous labels over the years, starting with a tape from Coast-to-Coast. Some later videos carried the new title "Dream Slayer;" likely to cash in on the 80s Elm Street craze.  In 2008, BCI Eclipse handled the DVD release and paired it up with Mausoleum (1983), but their print was sourced from a VHS copy (the original film elements are currently lost). It was also part of a cheap 4 movie set called "Blood Bath."


1 comment:

CavedogRob said...

Crazy movie! Avalon really goes nuts in the finale!

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