Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Blood Ties (USA, 1991)

Back in 1983, Jim McBride created one of the more unmentionable guilty pleasures of that decade with his misfired remake of Breathless (1983). While the film pretty much put the career of its star Richard Gere on hold for seven years, being the first of a line of unsuccessful turkeys that didn't get broken until 1990 with Pretty Woman and Internal Affairs, McBride walked away from that fiasco more or less unscathed. Moving back and forth between television and mainstream movies, he directed episodes for TV’s The Twilight Zone and The Wonder Years as well as the movies The Big Easy (1987) and Great Balls of Fire (1989). A rather respectable career, all things considered, although he has actually delivered more turkeys than caviar. And this dud, a television flick (released in Europe as a "real" film) that tried to put an interestingly new spin to the vampire myth but that failed miserably, is definitely not caviar. Questionable is who is more to blame: McBride or scriptwriter Richard Shapiro, the man whose first television success was the script for Sarah T.—Portrait of A Teenage Alcoholic (1975).

Blood Ties starts out promisingly enough, with good ol’ Bo Hopkins (sporting a wonderfully fake Amish beard) leading two guys who look like bouncers into the bedroom of a peacefully sleeping country couple, bloodlessly staking them to the bed, filling their mouths with dirt and then torching them. When their son Cody (Jason London) pops into the room screaming "Mom! Dad!", they shoot him in the gut with a crossbow, but let him get away. Cody hightails for Long Beach, and it is then that one gets the first real hint about how bad Blood Ties is going to be, as Brad Fiedel’s abysmal synthesizer music tones over the credit sequence. The movie wears the music and other tasteless aspects of 1980s television, like its wardrobe, on its sleeve like some big piece of snot, neatly castrating an already ball-less flick.

Once Cody gets to Long Beach, he looks up his mysterious Uncle, the man his parents had told him as a child that he should go to if something terrible ever happened, and eventually finds out that he and his parents are, in fact, vampires. Actually, it is this spin on the vampire legend is the most interesting aspect of the whole film. Shapiro & McBride present vampires as basically another Western European race of human beings, the "Carpathians." The descendants of Adam's legendary first wife Lilith—a story generally skipped in Sunday school, she is presented in this film as a sexually adventurous woman turned out of house and home due to her predilection for sitting on top—Carpathians are more or less the same as everybody else, other than that they're a bit stronger, live longer, have bigger dicks and occasionally suck blood. The last they seem to do the most happily during sex, when they give each other big hickeys.

Blood Ties straggles uninterestingly along after that, alternately focusing on the question of whether or not Cody will become like all the other juvenile delinquent, motorcycle-riding young vampires or not, whether or not reporter (and vampire) Harry (Harry Venton) and some City Prosecutor will work it out and become a couple, what to do when the vampire hunters that killed Cody’s parents turn up, who's sleeping with whom and so forth. Basically, imagine some nighttime soap opera featuring almost-human vampires, but instead of using a whole season to tell the tale, everything gets stuffed onto one and a half hours. Not surprising, seeing that Shapiro was both a writer and executive producer for that trashy nighttime soap Dynasty; Blood Ties merely rehashes much of what happened on that series, but with a new angle. And like some trashy television series, the film ends with more than one story line not fully resolved. Could it be that Blood Ties was originally conceived as a nighttime television series? Sure feels that way. In any event, while Blood Ties never did make it to syndication, it did obviously inspire an Aaron Spelling rip-off in 1996 called Kindred: The Embrace.

Blood Ties is a bloodless dud, and considering how much it has to do with (heterosexual) sex, it sure lacks testosterone. Don’t bother.

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