Ho, Ho, Huh? — the Bewildering Beauty of Blood Beat

[An abridged version of the following piece appears in this Blu-ray edition of Christmas Evil.]

I’m willing to bet you’ve never seen a stranger Christmas film than Blood Beat. In fact, I’ll assert that you’ve probably never seen a stranger film — of any kind — full stop. A maniacal mood piece of truly esoteric proportions, French novice Fabrice A. Zaphiratos’ debut feature — his first and last — was hastily dumped onto home video in ’83, where it languished for several decades before finally re-emerging from the bowels of DTV damnation in the form of a sparkling 4K makeover (courtesy of cult giants Vinegar Syndrome) two years ago.

Everybody’s family is weird, right? Just as we knew that Jack Nicholson was crazier than a shithouse rat at the beginning of The Shining (1980), something’s amiss here from the off; particularly with New Age-y matriarch Cathy, a sensitive creature who spends most of her time painting and the rest of it bickering with her beau, who’s desperate to make an honest woman of her. Events take a distinct turn for the what-the-fuck when her grown-up offspring — Ted and Dolly — come home for the holidays, joined by Sarah (Ted’s girlfriend), with whom Cathy appears to share some sort of inscrutable telepathic bond.

“Ma, how did you know Sarah was coming?” asks her son when he spots a gift for his girl under the tree . . .

“A mother knows everything.”

What initially plays out as a peculiar riff on meeting the ’rents cascades into utter chaos when Sarah discovers a mysterious chest filled with ancient Japanese armour and a big ol’ samurai sword. Before you can yell “don’t open the box!” there’s something supernatural tearing Evil Dead-like through the woods, leaving a trail of slaughtered locals en route; meanwhile, Cathy’s sanity takes a nosedive and poor Sarah goes full-on Linda Blair, writhing vigorously on the guest bed in the throes of irrepressible demonic rapture.

As preposterous as the previous paragraph sounds, you’d better believe that Blood Beat takes itself very seriously. One could argue that the film’s inelegant framework was a result of Zaphiratos’ directorial inexperience, but beneath the muddled facade lies an imaginative and extraordinarily fascinating picture, one that evokes the ethereal chills of 1971’s Let’s Scare Jessica to Death through its savvy use of sound design — oppressive blasts of classical music and synth, punctuated by the recurring thump of a heartbeat — and eye-catching photography that breathes haunting life into the stark and wintry landscapes of Wisconsin.

Even as the film threatens to buckle under the weight of its own ideas — the final half-hour has to be seen to be believed — there’s no escaping Blood Beat’s fevered grip, as it forces us to surrender to its idiosyncratic charms. Simply put, this is rule-free guerrilla filmmaking at its balls-to-the-wall best.