Bleed (2002): A Shadow on the Moon

Matty gives a flawed yet fascinating — and wholly uncharacteristic — Charles Band production the nod. 

For some, BLEED (2002) beginning with a shot of a not quite full moon will be apt. The first picture produced by Full Moon’s short-lived offshoot Shadow Entertainment (or, as it’s credited here, Shadow Films), Bleed arrived at a moment when Charles Band and his iconic B factory were believed to be plummeting into a financial and creative quandary that many still think they’re stuck in.

It’s nonsense, of course.

In the world of indie filmmaking — in particular, the world of indie genre filmmaking — there are always peaks and valleys, and Band has weathered every industry change-induced storm better than most. And though general consensus repeatedly tries to claim otherwise, supposedly ‘lesser’ Full Moon fare such as this; Shadow stablemates Birth Rite (2003) and Delta Delta Die! (2003) (which, like Bleed, were both directed by the talented Devin Hamilton); and those cobbled together during the pre-Shadow Tempe era (Jigsaw (2002) and Hell Asylum (2002) et al) are as rich as their canonised predecessors, Puppet Master (1989) and Subspecies (1991). Thing is, because so few of them feature Band’s signature blend of tiny beasties and comic book silliness, and because they are so lo-fi even by the mogul’s usual low-budget standards, they’re considered as incomplete as the glowing space rock presented in Bleed’s opening salvo. A bunch of not quite Full Moons indeed.

Yet watching Bleed, one gets the distinct impression that’s the point.

An office location central to the film’s early passages serves a dual purpose. Based upon the amount of framed Full Moon art scattered around the place, a good guess would be that these portions of Bleed were lensed at the company’s actual offices — a surefire way to save money on an already impoverished $45,000 production, practically speaking. Artistically, however, it’s tempting to interpret this decision as a wry tip of the hat: it’s Hamilton and his co-director, Dennis Peterson (a Tempe alum drafted in by Tempe boss/Bleed ghost producer J.R. Bookwalter when he himself passed on helping Hamilton, Full Moon’s distribution exec at time, co-helm his feature debut), paying lip service to Full Moon’s history while bouldering into distinctly un-Bandian slasher flick territory.

With Band having largely eschewed the form in favour of more fantastical material throughout his career, Bleed’s slice n’ dice template came at the behest of Blockbuster Video. Then the primary buyer of Band’s wares, the now defunct rental giant wanted a movie in the Scream (1996) mode, per what was selling according to their meticulously vetted market trend spreadsheets. A cynical move, perhaps, but undeniably successful. Written to order by Hamilton, Bleed was in the black before it hit U.S. shelves on 24th December 2002 due to Blockbuster and Hollywood Video’s pre-orders (which in turn inspired Band to quickly acquire Keith Walley’s equally Scream-soaked body counter, Cut-Throat (2002), for domestic distribution) [1]. 

Interestingly, despite his vocal disdain for slashers, Bleed appears to owe a debt to another left-field hack-a-thon Band had bought and unleashed on tape in 1986, David DeCoteau’s Dreamaniac. Bleed and Dreamaniac play beautifully back-to-back, the pair anchored by an affinity for strange, reality-splintering visions; squirty and deliciously tacky gore effects (which, in Bleed, were provided by millennial schlock-horror make-up legend Joe Castro); and a juicy streak of homoeroticism. The two share a similarly ragged and tatty aesthetic quality as well — albeit the shot-on-16mm Dreamaniac has a greater visual sensibility on the whole. In fact, the biggest criticism of Bleed is that it’s an absolute eyesore. Its hazy, early ‘00s digital video ‘style’ (or lack thereof) is tantamount to a bad public access TV show, and to experience it without prior preparation — without knowledge, without bracing — would be akin to jumping in a bubble bath with a plugged in toaster: shocking. 

Hamilton’s script isn’t without problems either. It’s all predominantly weird narrative leaps and occasionally nonsensical story progressions for the sake of story progressions — but it does deserve respect for at least trying to be as character-focused as its obvious influences, I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997) and the aforementioned Scream. Hamilton’s premise is intriguing, too. Bleed is about a loutish drinking club where every member has killed someone… Or have they? In an odd plotting choice, the answer is revealed within minutes of it being established — yet I’d be loath to call it a flub as it ultimately shifts Bleed into something darker and creepier than a mere ‘line ‘em up n’ knock ‘em down’ picture. The masked psycho busy thinning the gang’s numbers is a formality.

Bleed is really a surprisingly gritty exploration of impulsive behaviour and unhealthy relationships.

It doesn’t totally work in that regard, but Debbie Rochon’s brilliant, complicated performance as (anti)heroine Maddy (get it? M-A-D-d-y) facilitates a compelling enough study of a troubled soul seeking meaningful connection. Sadly, the am-dram supporting cast barely pass muster — though B-royalty Julie Strain, Lloyd Kaufman, and Brinke Stevens appear in fun cameos, the latter very nearly besting Rochon with her bravura ‘Piper Laurie in Carrie (1976)’ lift.

[1] Here in the U.K., Bleed was released on VHS and DVD in April 2003 via the once ubiquitous budget label Film 2000.

Special thanks to William Wilson

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