Today, I’m going to be fulfilling a request from one of my gracious Patreon patrons, and talking about 1997’s Bleeders.
The plot of Bleeders is summarized on IMDb as follows:
A man travels to an island with his girlfriend in search of his relatives but he finds maybe more than what he wanted to know.
Bleeders is loosely based on a serialized 1923 H.P. Lovecraft story called The Lurking Fear, which had been translated to the screen twice previously in Dark Heritage (1989) and The Lurking Fear (1994).
Among the credited screenplay writers for Bleeders is Dan O’bannon, who was known for genre flicks like Alien, Return of the Living Dead, Lifeforce, Total Recall, and Screamers. Also listed is Ronald Shusett, whose works include Freejack, Above The Law, and King Kong Lives.
The cast for the movie is headlined by Roy Dupuis (Screamers, La Femme Nikita), Kristin Lehman (The Killing, The Way of The Gun), and noted character actor Rutger Hauer (Blade Runner, Surviving The Game, The Hitcher).
As with many b-movies, Bleeders has been released under a number of different titles over the years, including Hemoglobin and The Descendant.
Bleeders currently holds an IMDb user score of 3.8, alongside an unenviable 30% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes. A prominent review of the film on HorrorNews.net confidently stated that “I’ll be damned if there was anything in this picture worth seeing again,” which succinctly sums up the general reaction to the film.
When I first saw images of Bleeders, the first thing that stuck out to me were the monster designs. They don’t look particularly good, but they are, I suppose, imaginative. I assume that the budget, particularly for the effects, was really low, so there was a lot of necessary creativity to accommodate those restrictions. Honestly, considering that, the monsters could definitely have looked a whole lot worse.
That said, there is definitely a problem with the monsters: they aren’t scary. While they do successfully rack up a kill count over the course of the movie, they are never particularly intimidating, which I think is more the fault of the direction than the creature designs themselves. There is one specific sequence I recall in the film where one of the beasts charges out of a clothes dryer at a potential victim, only to get caught in a sheet, flail confusedly, and then fall head-first into a boat motor. That sequence is probably the best representation of a Dungeons and Dragons “critical fail” that I have ever seen on screen, and it doesn’t give the CHUD-like beasts much gravitas.
The ludicrousness of that incident aside, the moment in the movie that has made the most lasting impression on me was a sequence that was meant to have great plot significance. One of the lead characters is, during the story’s climax, forced into a position where he must succumb to his long-suppressed cannibalistic nature. On its own, this setup has the makings for a decently dramatic scene. However, the way he goes about indulging this need is at once too gross, while arguably not being explicit enough: he eats (drinks?) a wet specimen of a human fetus.
While the act isn’t shown, the lead up and its aftermath are. On one hand, the very idea of eating a wet specimen is hella gross, and that is accurately and sufficiently conveyed. On the other hand, from the perspective of understanding and experiencing the character, not actually capturing this final, irredeemable act is a huge loss for the audience: it is a pivotal, climactic moment for a central character that is played entirely off-screen. While suggestion can certainly be powerful, missing out on the entire fall from grace isn’t something that can be overcome easily. At the very least, the act could have been done in silhouette or in deep shadow: any way that the content could be understood and experienced, while details of the act could still be somewhat concealed. The moment simply would have been more powerful if the audience could have experienced it.
This brings me to the biggest issue with the film: there really isn’t anyone for the audience to identify with. One of the strengths of Lovecraft’s stories comes from his ability to write horror from a distinct perspective, which helps immerse readers into his tales of terror. However, Bleeders lacks this immersive identification with any of the characters. If the story were from the perspective of the sick young man, that might have worked as a descent into madness. If the story had been through the eyes of his love-stricken, confused caretaker, there still could have been a story there, as she is the most notable outsider on the island. Instead, the narrative doesn’t back anyone in particular: the audience is left without even the slightest guidance. On top of that, the characters are all so damn weird and unbelievable that I couldn’t help but feel like a wholly disengaged gawker, rather than an invested observer of the story.
Overall, Bleeders is a weird, if uneven, b-movie. Rutger Hauer is good for what little time he is on screen, and there are a couple of other hammy performances that lighten up the experience of watching the flick. However, the story is pretty damn slow, and pretty much everything that shows up on screen is visually bland. There are definitely the makings of a decent movie with the source material, but this isn’t it.
As far as a recommendation goes, I’m on the fence. Bleeders is definitely not your everyday b-movie, and it does have some redeeming qualities, but they aren’t enough for me to recommend it to anyone but the most die-hard bad movie fans.
If you want to be able to request movies to be covered on Misan[trope]y, check out my Patreon page! Right now, early adopters that are willing to contribute $3 a month will get to make a request every month!