Pale Blood (1990)

SEPTEMBER 22, 2020


A couple weeks ago, or maybe it was seven hundred years because who can accurately tell time anymore, the internet managed to make 2020 worse for a few hours by spreading word that Wings Hauser had passed away. Thankfully it turned out to be a false rumor, but I already had Pale Blood ready to go in honor to pay tribute, as I not only hadn't seen it, but also understood he was the highlight. Not that that was much of a surprise; he tends to be the highlight of everything he's in, as he's just one of those actors like Christopher Walken or Nic Cage that seems to be operating from another planet than the rest of the cast, bringing excess energy and just pure screen magnetism to even the junkiest fare.

And unfortunately that's where he spent pretty much his entire career, as apart from a bit part in The Insider his classiest movie might have been Tales from the Hood. No, alas most of his movies were like this, where if he wasn't in them you might struggle to think of anything memorable about them a week later. The plot sounds great on paper: a vampire with the hilarious name of Michael Fury (George Chakiris) who doesn't believe in killing (he only takes enough blood to live) arrives in Los Angeles to investigate a series of murders that appear to be the work of a vampire, and while looking around the latest crime scene he crosses paths with a sleazy videographer (Hauser), who has the equally laughable name of Van Vandameer and is also seemingly tracking the murderer. So it seems like it'll be setting up an uneasy partnership as they kinda sorta buddy up to find the killer for their own secretive reasons, right?

Well, that's not what happens. But nothing else happens either, as the killer pretty much retires the second Fury arrives at LAX, making the whole plot feel like an afterthought. Without any new evidence or fresh crimes to look at, Fury just kind of hangs out for a few days, meeting a young woman named Jenny to feed on while also making friends with Lori, a vampire obsessed investigator who helped him find his place and supplies him with info. Meanwhile, Hauser keeps making his weird videos, one of which has Darcy DeMoss (sans "(I'm No) Animal", alas) breaking an egg on her knee and letting the yolk run all over her thigh. The most productive people in the movie are the unseen DJs, as every 15-20 minutes we are treated to another montage of LA traffic and people milling about various locations in the city while a smorgasbord of radio announcers give us traffic updates that rarely, if ever, match up to what we're seeing (they reference the crawl on the 405 over a shot of Melrose Ave in West Hollywood, which is nowhere near the 405).

But at least they're doing something! No one else in the movie is, and you can figure out who the killer is pretty easy since the script can't be bothered to introduce any other suspects. The reveal is delivered with a shrug too, so maybe it wasn't even supposed to be a mystery? Perhaps the script made it clearer at an earlier point and that scene got dropped, inadvertently turning it into a whodunit? Since the movie spends a lengthy amount of time showing Fury arriving in LA (from overseas) the night after the most recent killing, we know it can't be him, so it's... well, I guess I shouldn't spoil it for the people who may be making Pale Blood the first movie they ever saw in their lives.

I will reveal that it's not Sybil Danning, either. For reasons the director neglects to explain on her interview, there's a single shot of Ms. Danning walking down the street during one of those traffic montages, and that is her entire "performance". My friend Matt believes it's actually just a random shot of footage from a movie called LA Bounty, which also starred Hauser and shares some producers, so there is a solid foundation to make the connection, but doesn't help explain why they'd do something so distracting like throw in a wordless shot of a recognizable actress from a different movie entirely. IMDb lists her as "Sidewalk pedestrian", but I prefer Letterboxd's "Woman of the Night", because it makes her sound like another vampire and perhaps the actual killer, which means Letterboxd has managed to come up with a more compelling story than the film itself.

For a while though it's kind of compelling in its own weird way. The old LA shots delighted me, showing off a long-dead Hollywood filled with punks and record shops, now all replaced with tourists and Greek restaurants of varying quality. Agent Orange's catchy af "Bite The Hand That Feeds (Pt 1)" plays a couple times (the band itself even shows up once or twice), which like the shots of LA made me happily nostalgic for a time when horror movies had memorable tunes within the film, such a rarity nowadays (here's hoping Scream 5 can bring back the '90s rock soundtrack along with all of the cast members they refuse to retire or kill off). And the audio is oddly recorded, as if they neglected to add room tone to the mix or something, which gives it all a very dreamlike quality that, while probably not intentional, kind of worked in its favor.

Alas, that sort of thing can't carry the movie alone, and nor can Wings, who has all of the movie's best lines and moments (a dissolve from him shrugging his arms out to a crucifix is applause-worthy) but isn't on-screen every minute. So while he brings the movie back to life, it ultimately flatlines again as soon as they cut to the other characters. Even the final battle with the killer is treated with a total lack of urgency; Fury just tosses the villain into a few stacks of empty boxes and then it fades to the future, where the guy/girl is an institution for their crimes. Yep, his "no kill" rule extends to a murderer, so the body count in this "vampire vs serial killer" movie is, I believe, one (at around the hour mark the killer murders someone to lure Michael out). Long story short, there are a few things here that can appeal to some very niche tastes, but even those people gotta be patient and keep expectations in check.

What say you?

P.S. The film's lone bit of trivia on the IMDb, which is that DeMoss went with Hauser to the film's cast and crew screening (riveting!), seems to come from her interview on Vinegar Syndrome's disc. The only other extra is one with the director, V.V. Dachin Hsu, who now goes by the name Jenny Funkmeyer and very much seems like the type of person who would make Pale Blood. Transfer on the film is very nice though.

1 comment:

  1. Wow, can't believe I've never heard of this one. Wings Hauser AND Agent Orange?!
    Speaking of ol' Mr. Hauser, have you ever seen The Carpenter? I don't see a review for it on the site, and I thought you might enjoy it. It's an odd little slasher film with Hauser as, well, a murderous carpenter...but he's a murderer who comes off as polite and charming, even while he's killing you! I found it very entertaining.


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