What if Joel Schumacher made a film and nobody cared? No, not “Tigerland,” this time it’s the ominously titled “Blood Creek,” a horror picture that Lionsgate Films (the blue ribbon brand of genre quality) is giving the “Midnight Meat Train” shiv treatment, dumping the film into grubby second-run theaters without a peep of promotion. Keep in mind this is the same company that willingly gave the wretched “Gamer” a 2,500 screen release a few weeks back, so clearly Schumacher must’ve irritated someone of great power to see his movie dumped so unceremoniously.
Those darn Nazis! The Third Reich is up to no good again in Joel Schumacher’s “Blood Creek” (a.k.a. “Town Creek” or simply “Creek”), a splattery horror picture that unites occult madness with a host of odd plot turns, making for more of an arcane sit than a petrifying one. Not a complete wash-out, “Blood Creek” has a few motivated moments of viciousness, but if this is Schumacher returning to his fried “Lost Boys” roots of darkly lit jolts, it’s a misfire, drowning in dreadful camerawork and a cross-eyed screenplay that’s much too literal for comfort.
In 1936, Professor Richard Wirth (Michael Fassbinder, “Inglourious Basterds”), a Nazi occult expert, has made his way to a remote American farm to inspect a mysterious Nordic runestone on the property, testing the rock’s demonic powers of reanimation and mind control. Decades later, Evan Marshall (Henry Cavill) is an EMT worker dealing with the disappearance of his war hero brother, Victor (Dominic Purcell, TV’s “Prison Break”). Frayed and bloodied, Victor returns out of the blue one night, begging Evan for help, soon taking off to a familiar farmhouse where he was kept hostage. Hoping to assist Victor and his game plan of revenge, Evan instead finds a frightened German family who cannot age, and a terrifying mutated version of Wirth in the cellar demanding blood. Commencing a night of survival as Wirth terrorizes the house, Evan and Victor find they must learn the true nature of the runestone to effectively fight back.
Kicking off with an expressionistic flashback to Wirth’s arrival on the farm, “Blood Creek” promises style and sense in the early going, launching the story with an eerie bit of exposition that captures an unsettling mood. Considering his recent output, the prologue is perhaps Schumacher’s best work in years, signaling that while bluntly titled, “Blood Creek” isn’t some run of the mill slasher story. Unfortunately, once the cinematography snaps to color, the director loses his equilibrium.
“Blood Creek” aims to be a feral and relentless, and in terms of sheer pace, Schumacher shows some real pep, with the opening 40 minutes of the movie dedicated solely to nail-biting tension, shoving the characters into place as swiftly as possible. However, actually getting an eyeful of the chaos is another story. Abusing hand-held camerawork and cloaking much of the action in unlit environments, the director renders the film a frustrating blur. “Blood Creek” contains some fairly ornate visuals that require more than a passing glance to interpret, but Schumacher is driven to pound the senses with his terror sequences, fervent to create something savage rather than disturbing. The herky-jerky photography grows numbing and useless in no time, and it’s especially disruptive to Wirth’s reign of terror, which includes the possession of horses to help hoof down the good guys. Demonic horses on a kitchen killing spree? Now there’s something to study in amazing screen detail. “Blood Creek” only offers abstract flashes.
The horse sequence is bizarre, but so is Wirth in his modern day form as a Red Skull-like figure who needs his blood and stones to give birth to his (literal) third eye of doom. A string-bean presence running around in a long leather trench coat, Wirth is impossible to take seriously, but Schumacher believes in him, building an impressive display of rage as the madman looks to grow in power. The makeup design on Wirth is marvelous, but the visual effects are lackluster, watering down the character’s threat level and the film’s suspenseful attitude. The whole runestones angle is inventive and easily feeds into promised sequels that will never arrive, but the manifestation of its powers into the human characters looks downright silly. I don’t care how much Karo is spilled here, it’s still an unthreatening actor prancing around in an expensive leather outfit. Obviously this is pretty much catnip to Schumacher.
Select moments of “Blood Creek” pop with expected skill, while the rest of the picture flounders in a strange way, as if the production doesn’t even believe in the nonsense at hand. While hardly Joel Schumacher’s worst hour, “Blood Creek” nevertheless fails to live up to the director’s proven talents as a convincing screen stylist. It’s ugly, raw, and marginally tasteless (“Nazis. I hate these guys.”), so perhaps the irksome inability to clearly see what’s going on is an unintentional gift.
(Lionsgate failed to issue a one-sheet online for this title, so here's Joel Schumacher and some Muppets instead)