A Real Character: Blood Symbol (1992)

Dave delves into the first feature of acclaimed Canadian horror director Maurice Devereaux and discovers some class among the crudity.

For all intents and purposes, BLOOD SYMBOL shouldn’t be featured in our forthcoming tome about The Forgotten Films of the ‘90s Rental Realm. Like so many indie horrors that crept into video stores at the start of the decade, it began life way, way back in the depths of ’80s, as writer-director Maurice Devereaux told The Hysteria Lives in the mid-‘00s:

“I started it in 1984. I was seventeen and in college and it took the rest of the decade to complete because me and my co-director/cinematographer at the time, Tony Morello, were paying for everything and we’d always run out of money. We were shooting on film (Super 8 at first, then 16mm) and it was bloody expensive, not only to buy the film stock, but to then have it processed, transfer it onto video, pay for the Betacam tapes, then pay for an off-line VHS editing suite, then an on-line Betacam editing suite! Together we must have spent at least $35,000. If I had had today’s technology when I was a teenager, I probably would have made fifteen shitty feature films in six years, instead of just one shitty film over a six-year span.” [1]

Well, if there’s something that Blood Symbol isn’t, it’s a shitty film.

Formed around the simple premise of a centuries old zombie monk (Richard Labelle) stalking college kid Tracy Walker (Micheline Richard) – the ‘chosen one’ whose blood will ensure his immortality – it’s apparent that Devereaux’s film lacks depth and intricacy. Having said that, it makes up for this in spades with a plethora of flourishes that’ll cause you to grin in admiration.

Blue tints, red tints, monochrome, and strobing – there’s a swaggering dexterity to this debut and it’s bursting with visual flair. In fact, if you’re familiar with the director’s subsequent output – which includes the thrilling Slashers (2001) and the chilling End of the Line (2007) – it’s obvious that Blood Symbol represents his film school as it contains so many traits that would be utilised throughout his later career.

Echoes of another cult filmmaker loom large in this shocker. With a central teenage character, dreamlike sequences, and an expansive graveyard, there are moments when this micro-budget Canadian offering feels like an ode to Don Coscarelli. Add to that Devereaux’s ambitious desire to self-finance, and it’s clear that the Phantasm (1979) creator was someone that the young Montrealer wanted to eclipse.

However, while Coscarelli’s Tall Man saga wrapped after twelve months, the fact that Devereaux and his co-conspirator Tony Morello were still plugging away some years later does diminish the punchiness of their debut. Not only that, but Micheline Richard left halfway through the project, so her later scenes make use of a double shot from afar. There are also syncing issues as well, and you can’t help but notice the slightly jarring effect as the movie switches back and forth between 8mm and 16mm film stock. [2]

Languishing in ownership rights hell, it looks unlikely that Blood Symbol will make the jump onto a digital format just yet, which is an absolute shame. Despite its production flaws and narrative simplicity, it remains a fascinating and supremely stylised film that would unquestionably find an adoring contemporary fanbase. Not that the director agrees:

“As for a DVD release, I doubt it, as there’s no demand so it wouldn’t be financially viable, and I have no idea where it stands legally and who owns the rights now. There was actually a guy online selling a bootleg homemade DVD-R (from the VHS) with a DVD cover and all. I asked him for a free copy (being it is my film and it would be indecent for me to pay for it) and he was nice enough to send me a copy. I pity the poor unsuspecting buyers though. It’s bad and amateurish and it looks awful.” [3]

Hard disagree.

Canada ● 1992 ● Horror ● 81mins

Micheline Richard, Maurice Devereaux, Richard Labelle ● Dir. Maurice Devereaux, Tony Morello ● Wri. Maurice Devereaux, from a story by Tony Morello

Artwork courtesy of VHS Collector

[1] Interview with Maurice Devereaux by Justin Kerswell, Hysteria Lives.
[2] The syncing issue arose from the film being recorded without sound, and the actors forgetting their deviations away from the script.
[3] Interview: Maurice Devereaux by Slayer, Upcoming Horror Movies, 9th August 2009.

2 thoughts on “A Real Character: Blood Symbol (1992)

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