Paying homage to the slasher classics of the seventies and eighties gives this gory low budget romp it’s best and worst aspects.
DIRECTOR: Frank Sabatella
CAST: Bill Mosely, Danielle Harris, Nate Dushku, Anthony Marks, Billy Magnussen, Alissa Dean
MPAA RATING: R
An entire generation entered the ranks of full blown horror fanatics in the days when slasher flicks and their many sequels cluttered the shelves of every video store from Pemasquid Point, Maine to Timbuktu, and all points in between. At the time, it was a rite of passage to peruse the rows of VHS box covers, studying and memorizing each of them, making a mental list descending from most necessary viewing in the top spots to least necessary at the bottom. Many of the faces frozen in masks of horrified howls were familiar, having established themselves as actors and actresses who could be trusted to deliver the screams and scares being sought.
It wouldn’t be shocking to find out director Frank Sabatella was a member of that generation. BLOOD NIGHT: THE LEGEND OF MARY HATCHET suggests this is true because of how faithful it is to the general storyline and aesthetic of so many of those low budget slasher films. Unfortunately, it’s greatest weakness is that it so slavishly attempts to follow in those footsteps. There are a few moments where Sabatella demonstrates that he may have some hidden talents, but they are too few and too far between to rescue the film as a whole.
BLOOD NIGHT begins by outlining, you guessed it, THE LEGEND OF MARY HATCHET. It’s essentially a twisted and depraved short film. It succeeds in being disturbing, grotesque and hard enough to make it’s point very clear, establishing Mary Hatchet as a classic slasher villain, both tragic and horrifically violent in her fury. By beginning this way though, Sabatella and company end up making a promise the rest of the film doesn’t keep. It is, without doubt, the part of the film that succeeds most in it’s attempt to recreate some of the better elements of the classic slasher films it’s emulating. It builds the framework for a villain that could be compelling, gives that villain a tragic story, and delivers on the blood, guts and violence.
Things begin to lose steam when it moves on into the rest of the story though. Jump forward a few decades, and the town which was the setting for the events in the first sequence is celebrating “Blood Night,” a local holiday not completely different from Halloween, but more specific in that everything is related to Mary Hatchet and her bloody rampage. We’re introduced to the cast of unfortunate characters, almost all of whom we’re positive will meet a murderous end before the film is done. Unfortunately, Sabatella is trying to hold so closely to the set up and aesthetic of those old slasher films that he never seems very interested in making any of the characters interesting enough to care about. The better slasher films from the time period he’s trying to pay homage to had at least one or two characters the audience cared about. They often had another five or ten that were literally disposable, but there was always at least one for the audience to root for. Sabatella was either trying to make all of them more interesting than standard slasher characters or was so intent on recreating the aesthetic and general vibe of that kind of film that none of them stand out from the others. Beyond the fact that he makes nods to the general stereotypes used in slasher films for decades, there’s nothing to distinguish them.
As the film progresses, the mythology built at the beginning of the film doesn’t necessarily break down so much as it becomes incomprehensible. There’s a central idea about the how and why all of this is happening that isn’t really given any explanation or much thought. The information we are given doesn’t stand up to even the slightest bit of curiosity. The slasher genre has always had problems in this department, and to that degree it’s somewhat excusable, but this is one of the differences between the better films and franchises in the genre and its lesser entries. Given the opportunity to build on a mythology that is set up in a way that could make it the kind of story and set of rules and ideas that slasher film fans really enjoy and sink their teeth into, BLOOD NIGHT devolves into a mess of contradictions and plot holes. Most slasher films have plot holes, this is definitely true, but this is more a bunch of plot holes strung together by some unconvincing dialog.
There are moments that suggest Sabatella is capable of more, which are part of what make the film disappointing in the end. Through a combination of cinematography and editing, there are a few specific scenes that play out really well. In those sequences, the way he’s telling the story visually is interesting and helps to create a kinetic, chaotic energy that would have served the film extremely well had they been better used and if the audience was able to care more about at least one of the characters. They don’t last long enough to carry the rest of the film, but they do at least give the impression that if Sabatella can better utilize those talents in the future, he may actually produce something fun and different.
Bill Moseley is also a treat to watch here. He’s so often saddled with the duties of on screen villain that seeing him get to play the more heroic character is fun, and he does as much as he possibly can with a flimsy script. Even though his is essentially a side character, in part because of Moseley and in part because the other characters are so weak, he comes out as the one that is most well defined and sympathetic.
It would be nice to say the same for Danielle Harris, the other horror veteran in the film, but it just wouldn’t be true. Her character is the unfortunate recipient of the films silliest and least well written actions and arc. Even for someone weened on so many of those low budget, knuckle head gore fests, it’s both ridiculous and slightly annoying to see how little her character is developed and how poorly anything behind that character or where she ends up at the films conclusion is explained. Ms. Harris, you’ve been done wrong. The leaps of logic and intuition that have to be made for this character to work and for her actions to make much sense at all are gargantuan.
There is one thing BLOOD NIGHT does well though, effects. It’s the one thing about how badly it wants to follow the seventies and eighties slasher films that works completely in it’s favor. There are a few really good effects pieces in the film and one that is gross, hilarious and still interesting from a technical standpoint. It’s the only time the film seems to be at all self aware, because it goes on, and goes on, and goes on until the ridiculous nature of the whole thing becomes undeniable and makes for a good laugh. If Sabatella had followed that instinct in the rest of the film, it may not have been any less ridiculous, but it would have been more fun and by not taking itself so seriously would have excused many of it’s worst problems.
Sabatella seems to understand that the most deeply loved slasher franchises had interesting villains with back stories and mythologies that were even more interesting than the character often was on screen. He’s able to lay the groundwork for that kind of character, but then inexplicably loses all sense of her and her place in the story immediately after she and her mythology are introduced. By following so closely in the footsteps of a genre that he clearly loves, he ends up creating a carbon copy of it’s more forgettable entries.
Every creative person goes through a period of imitation. It’s inevitable. There were a few flares in this film that do suggest that if he’s given the opportunity to make other films once he’s gotten beyond that imitation period, he might be able to create something that, at the very least, would be visually interesting and that he’d be able to tell it’s story in an unusual way in that respect. Hopefully he gets there soon.
BLOOD NIGHT: THE LEGEND OF MARY HATCHET is available on Netflix Watch Instantly.
If you’ve seen BLOOD NIGHT: THE LEGEND OF MARY HATCHET, let us know your thoughts on the film in the comments.
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