Blood Money (1996): Crime Doesn’t Pay

Matty sticks this compelling but technically sloppy thriller with some murky behind the scenes facts under the microscope. 

For a brief moment in the mid ‘90s, stockbroker-cum-conman Jordan Belfort — ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ — dabbled in moviemaking. Teaming with father and son duo Harry and Brian Shuster, a pair of colonial South Africans who owned a few L.A.-based restaurants and had already racked up a couple of low-budget credits themselves, between 1996 and 1997, Belfort amassed a slate of eight films that included: two vehicles for wrestler Hulk Hogan (The Secret Agent Club (1996) and Santa With Muscles (1996)); the David DeCoteau double-whammy of Prey of the Jaguar (1996) and Skeletons (1997); and the Bruce Campbell-starring ‘Die Hard (1988) in space’ romp, Assault on Dome 4 (1996). Despite BLOOD MONEY sitting at the bottom end of the Belfort/Shuster scale in terms of quality, it at least deserves mention for the dodgy dealings surrounding its making. On 13th July 2004, Skeletons and Blood Money were two of seven pictures whose rights were auctioned off by the Screen Actors Guild in the union’s first ever public foreclosure for non payment of wages and residuals. Coupled with Belfort’s subsequent, erm, ‘legal issues’ and Harry Shuster’s 2001 conviction for securities fraud after embezzling more than $5million in illicit funds via a series of scams involving cigar clubs, animal safaris, and, of course, independent movies — well, Blood Money is kind of fitting, ain’t it?

A noir-ish, Desperate Hours-y (1955) tale of greed and revenge, Blood Money finds modern day Full Moon favourite Sonny Carl Davis (the Evil Bong saga) as a nasty criminal who escapes from jail and tracks down his old back-stabbin’ accomplice (Dean Tarrolly) to settle the score and commit ‘one last heist’. Working from a well-structured script co-written with frequent collaborator Steve Jankowski, helmer John Shepphird demonstrates a good feel for scope as he ties a multitude of narrative threads together. There’s a lot going on: in addition to Davis and Tarrolly’s posturing, there’s a home invasion; the cops on Davis’ trail (led by a grizzled James Brolin and his Noel Edmonds-esque dyed beard and hair); the ever-excellent Billy Drago as an ambiguously aligned Witness Protection operative; and an ace turn by Traci Lords as Davis’ moll. Shepphird does a quality job of juggling them as they weave in and out of the twisting story, and he gains extra marks for keeping the dialogue free of the faux-Tarantino hipness that mars a lot of similar made-for-cable/direct-to-video productions of the period.

Alas, where Blood Money falters is that the usually pretty reliable Shepphird seems to not give a toss about the technical side of things. The deep shadows of Neal Brown’s photography in the film’s flashback scenes play in nice contrast to the warm, orange glow of the present day stuff (as an aside, Brown also shot Shepphird’s Teenage Bonnie & Klepto Clyde (1993); the also-produced-by-Belfort/Shuster Firestorm (1997); The Santa Trap (2002); I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus (2002), and Chupacabra Terror (2005)), but the rest of Blood Money’s look is plagued with surprisingly bad screen direction. For reasons unknown, Shepphird constantly has characters facing different directions when they’re supposed to be talking to each other, eye levels continually don’t match up, and a couple of basic shots just don’t cut together. It’s very distracting: it makes Blood Money appear cheap and hacky, and really does a disservice to what’s otherwise a fairly compelling crime flick.

Also known as ‘Savage’ and ‘Blackmail’.

USA ● 1996 ● Thriller ● 89mins

Sonny Carl Davis, Dean Tarrolly, Traci Lords, Billy Drago, and James Brolin Dir. John Shepphird Wri. John Shepphird and Steve Jankowski

Blood Money (1996) Poster

Portions of this review appear in Matty Budrewicz & Dave Wain’s forthcoming book, “Schlock & Awe: 2,001 Forgotten Films of the ’90s Rental Realm”.

Follow Matty on Twitter @mattybudrewicz

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