The Films of Joel Schumacher

my 2018 personal Blank Check project

Blood Creek (2009)

written by: David Kajganich
starring: Henry Cavill, Dominic Purcell, Michael Fassbender, Shea Whigham, and Emma Booth

So I've had a rough couple of weeks. That's the plain truth of it. It's been a hard couple of weeks, and I'm exhausted, and behind schedule on many things in my life. So, when I sat down to watch Blood Creek (on the 13th, mind, so much later than I had hoped or scheduled), all I wanted was something decent. What I got was something fun-- something genuinely enjoyable, entertaining, gory, and engaging-- which I appreciated very much. 

 Blood Creek is a simple kind of horror movie-- two brothers find themselves trapped on a farm with a monster. But this is a real devil-in-the-details situation, and it's truly the details of this movie that make it fun. The set up is straightforward enough: in the late 1930s, as Hitler takes power in Germany, he sends various guys to spots in America to investigate mysterious rune stones believed to have dark, occult magic. The opening of the movie sets up this exact premise, in full noir style (gorgeous, crisp, ominous), introducing us to one of those Nazis (Michael Fassbender, appropriately smooth and slimey for this sort of thing) and the family he shacks up with.

Seventy years later, that guy is still around, and now he's not just a normal Nazi, he's an immortal zombie-mummy-vampire-necromancer Nazi. That's enough of a set up for me to get on board with. It would be plenty for him to just be a spooky necromancer, but he's literally also all those other things. It's amazing and extravagant, but it plays like gangbusters within the nitty-gritty of the movie. From the get go it's all dark magic and occult symbols and whispered incantations. The stage is set, and then the lore of all this can spin out. David Kajganich, the writer, went on to show-run my favorite thing in 2018, AMC's The TerrorThe Terror is a masterful piece of human drama, set in an encroaching horror story filled with dread, tension, and a monster who goes unseen while still wrecking havoc upon our semi-hapless heroes. Blood Creek plays some of these same cards, and is successful for that. This is, after all, a horror movie.  

The human drama of the movie is between the two brothers. One brother, Evan (Henry Cavill), is an EMT, struggling to keep his family together after the mysterious disappearance of his brother during a fishing trip they took together. He's tired, stressed, and guilty, but he's a good man. This is something Cavill is good at, and certainly the reason he's been Superman for five years. There's something inherently decent to him, when he plays good people. He has a broad, open, very pretty face. I'm at a point with Cavill where I'm really not convinced he's a good actor, at all, but he's not bad here. There are a few moments of fear and distress from him that are really effective, and it's maybe the most human I've ever seen him (and believed him to be). Some of the heroism isn't as good, but I'll forgive him. I think some of it comes from the fact that he’s British, and when he has to do an American accent, it makes him a little stiff and forced. But he’s a handsome boy doing his best, and that’s enough.

The other brother, Victor (Dominic Purcell), he of the missing-presumed-dead-for-two-years, is a tougher type. Purcell is an actor who I know by face better than by performances, and he's good here. Generally tough, tortured, and angry, Victor is a character who could be pretty flat, but Purcell imbues him with an undercurrent of doubt and fear which makes him more fully formed. He's brave and capable, smart and determined. Oh, and he's not dead, by the way, and his return sets off the action of the story. Victor, it turns out, had been kidnapped by some farmers and kept as a blood-bag feed source for the immortal zombie-mummy-vampire-necromancer Nazi. He's escaped, and now he's out for revenge. So, with Evan in tow, he goes to get it.

So the movie begins as a revenge thriller. Very quickly, and I mean within 20 minutes, Victor and Evan are back on the farm and ready for action. It's fast, which is exciting. There's very little wasted space on this movie. It's a tight 90 minutes, no fat. The farm is a spooky sort of place, semi-abandoned and covered in painted symbols and boarded up windows. It's a good set, and once we're there, the movie remains there for the next 70 minutes. Simple stuff, but effective. The farm has a main house, a barn, a spooky shipping container in the back. The brothers are attacked by a dog, which is killed. They confront the family in the house, killing the son. Finally, having taken control of the property, the brothers get the family to sit down and explain what's going on. And then, the sun goes down.

With the disappearance of the sun, the movie turns from revenge thriller to full on horror. The family, who we recognize from the opening sequence with Fassbender, have been trapped in a limbo without time, stuck on their farm, unaging, undying, but also unable to leave. They have trapped the evil Nazi on the property, using his own sigil-based magic against him, and have spent the past 70 years keeping him mollified through human sacrifices. That's why Victor was taken, to be eaten. Again, the world building is clear and well established. The vampire Nazi can't drink dead blood, and to keep him from running wild on the world, the family has caught bystanders, put them in the shipping container, and allowed the Nazi to drink from them for, apparently, years at a time. Meanwhile, his evil magic has kept them alive, but ah! what a cost!! 

Oh, and then the Nazi busts out of the cellar and starts to really stir shit up. What happens next is a series of small set pieces, as the Nazi tries to get at everyone. As a necromancer, he brings back the previously killed dog, and brother, and sends them into the house after our heroes. Then he kills a HORSE and sends a ZOMBIE HORSE into the house. That sequence looks bad, I will admit-- a CGI zombie horse that is also on fire is uh a hard thing to successfully create-- but the idea behind it is bonkers in a way I loved. How do you fight off an undead horse??? Horses are already terrifying, and now this one is a zombie!? and on FIRE!? That's the sort of striking thing this movie does really well. By the time they introduce the idea that the Nazi can only be killed by drinking his own blood, you’re like, yeah sure why not. It tracks. After the zombie horse, even a suit of armor made of human bones makes perfect sense. Once you’ve established the magical runes aspect, and the immortal Nazi thing, the rest of it falls into place. I enjoyed every turn of lore and bit of new information. It ramps up and lets loose, and you just have to get on board for the ride.

There's also a part where the Nazi rides a horse, which struck me so, I gasped out loud. I would say overall this movie isn't anything necessarily remarkable to look at, but there are a few flourishes and little touches that I quite liked. There are lovely symmetrical shots, beautiful hazy lighting that makes hair glow and eyes twinkle. Schumacher uses a few bold effects on flashbacks and dream sequences which work well, and an appropriately disorienting light fish-eye thing that blurs out the edge of the frame. I know there's a name for that (Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, now on Netflix, uses it perhaps too much), and someone should please tell me what it is. But in Blood Creek, I liked it a lot. It creates a kind of off-kilter claustrophobia. The characters can't see into their peripheries, and neither can we. I liked the touch. And as ever, Schumacher loves looking at faces. There are beautiful shots of Cavill and Purcell, striking lighting as the sun sets, and then, once the farm is half on fire, the glow of it lights scenes spectacularly. 

The rest of the movie is equally well designed. The Nazi himself is a long, lean monster. It's clearly Fassbender under there, which I appreciated seeing. He has a particular body shape and way of moving that I recognized, and to see him hurl himself around the movie, both stalking and tricking his prey and then forcefully crashing through pieces of it was quite satisfying. When he emerges from the cellar after dark, his face is wrapped in bandages, and the whole looks has a frightful touch of old monster movies. He's the mummy, emerging from the shadows to steal your life. As the movie progresses and various dark magic things happen, he takes off layer and layer of his face, revealing something new and freaky each time. The middle level is probably the best, when his face is carved with runes and lines, giving him a stitched-together look. It's cool stuff, and the face-layer removal is visceral and icky each time. He literally peels his face off, which kinda rules.

The whole movie is appropriately icky. The early violence is swift and brutal, the later stuff is gooey and gross. By the end, they defeat the Nazi by garroting him with razor wire, and the camera does not shy away from the visual of slicing into skin, tendons, and cartilage, nor does it avoid showing the congealed pus and blood which that wound produces from his undead Nazi body. It's a big gross out and I screeched and giggled through it. For me, that's the best response to gore. It was gross, but enjoyable. Icky, but not so icky I didn't want to watch it happen. Unpleasant, but satisfying. It's a thrill and a palpable victory to watch that Nazi get killed-- and if that isn't the sign of a successful finale to a horror movie, I don't know what is. You want to celebrate when the baddie gets his due. I did here. 

After that, the movie delivers a good denoument, and a gentle set up to a sequel that will never come, which doesn't feel cheap or unearned. It's a cool idea that expands the world of vampire-zombie-mummy-necromancer Nazis, and heck, I would watch such a thing. It won't happen, because Blood Creek barely exists. In a different world, we have two or three of these movies by now, as Cavill's character hunts down the other Nazis who were sent to America like Fassbender was. That sounds fun, y'all! But alas.

What we do have is one solid little movie. It's dark, it's thrilling, it's spooky and gross. I had a good time watching it. It's doing enough visually to not feel dull or generic, without going over the top and becoming ugly and Too Much. The balance here is right. It's maybe not a remarkable movie, but it's really solid and the stuff that stands out is really neat. I appreciate a simple set-up well delivered. That's what Blood Creek is.

Of course, it must be said that it helps that the cast is so good. As ever, Schumacher demonstrates that he's got a good eye for rising stars. This is Cavill pre-Superman, and Fassbender pre-X-Men. At this point, Dominic Purcell, star of Prison Break, might have been the biggest name in the main cast. That's honestly wild stuff. But Schumacher knows what he's got, and he knows what to do with it. Fassbender's few early scenes as a handsome professor come to West Virginia totally work. He's charming and shark-y all at once, already doing black magic and smiling at little girls. Later, his work as a gruesome monster is good too! He's delivering a lot under all visual grossness of his character, which speaks to his ability to act through makeup and beyond just his face, and to Schumacher's understanding that a good and interesting actor can add a lot to a role that doesn't seem to require much on paper. It's the trick to having a real actor in an action movie-- they bring character and performance to each moment, even while running and jumping. Here, Schumacher allows Fassbender to bring real performance to a monster who spends most of the movie wrapped in bandages or covered in decaying flesh. That's good shit. 

I linger on Fassbender because I think he's the best of the leading actors in this movie, and has the least to work with and the most difficult challenges to his performance. But he does a good job, and creates an interesting, creepy villain. 

Schumacher does something similar with Blood Creek itself. He takes something that, on paper, is only okay, and has some challenges in it (evil Nazis as a plot point is pretty trite. Like, duh, you know?), and creates something slick, fun, and visceral. I physically cringed multiple times watching this movie. It's fast-paced, never dull, and thoroughly a wild ride from beginning to end. Is it a masterpiece? I guess not, but to that I say... whatever dude. It's a movie about an immortal Nazi who drinks blood. That doesn't need to be a masterpiece. But hell, if it's a fun time.

 Overall: ★ ★ ★ ★
Schumacherness: ★ ★ ★

Up next: Twelve (2010)

Hannah Blechmanschumacher