Nov 4, 2012


John Carpenter often tells a story about there being two kinds of evil in the world: The first is the otherworldly evil - the supernatural - that surrounds us; and the second is the evil inside all of us, our bloodthirsty impulses compelled by our reptile brains.

The same can be said about demons.

October (Sean Elliot) has returned to the hometown where he spent his childhood for what appears to be an annual hiking trip with his father, whom he instead refers to as "Russell" (played by the immeasurably and perpetually cool Lance Henriksen). It would seem that October avoided the family tradition of becoming sheriff of their local town and instead opted off to medical school, where his photographic memory made him quite adept at memorizing a numberless amount of medical texts. (Indeed, his own voice seems to haunt him as he attempts to help a dog ensnared in a coyote trap, and it guides him into what he needs to do to save the poor canine.) The relationship between father and son seems to be a shaky and uncomfortable one, and at first we're not really sure why. But as the hiking trip unfolds, so does the story. Through the aid of angered dialogue and hazy flashbacks, we start to put together the story as it's being fed to us. Once emotions are running high on both sides is when the "figures" (the only way I can describe them) begin to come out of hiding. And I say figures, plural, because while some are tall with alien-like slender bodies, others look like deranged mutants - a crab crossed with a hog crossed with I couldn't even say. One even appears to be made of billowing black smoke. So when a nasty fall leaves Russell unable to walk, and with these mysterious figures closing in, father and son must shake off the past that has seemed to put permanent enmity between them and fight for their very survival.

The very first thing you notice about It's in the Blood is that, for what will probably eventually be sold as a generic creature feature starring the guy who's made dozens of them already, it is strikingly directed by Scooter Downey. Right off the bat you can see that the material is being approached in as serious a manner as possible. After opening with a brief and legitimately creepy scene, we travel back in time to meet our main character. Sean Elliott's October sits quietly on the side of a road reading a text book. And you can see that October isn't your typical kid. Even as he sits and reads, and when a someone comes along to give the hitchhiking kid a ride, you can sense there's not something quite right about him. Not in a menacing or dangerous way, but in a way that makes you feel he's lived a lifetime already.

Additionally, Henriksen's first appearance is handled with equal thought. Because he is the one with recognition, so many times has he or other famous cult actors like him made their first appearance with their backs to the camera, only to turn for the big reveal so the cult audience who loves these actors can gasp and say, "Oh, it's him!" But no, this time around, Henriksen is on screen for what feels like several minutes, in the background, onscreen from the waist down, and out of focus, his voice the only sign of his presence. And it's for no other reason than because we are about to experience the unfolding of a story, which will be peeled back layer by layer. We're only given a little bit to go on at a time, and this begins with our two main leads. We're being eased into this just as they are, because while our two leads are obviously already well acquainted, the mangled history they share will finally come to light between them, just as it will for the audience.

If you've been following this blog for some time, I'm sure my utter man love for Lance Henriksen should probably be well known. He is not one of but the most underrated actor of our time. He brings his A-game to every film he is apart of, regardless of whether or not said film has even a remote chance of succeeding. Unfortunately, his work in A-List material has been relegated to cameos in the ridiculous Jennifer's Body and the very lame When A Stranger Calls remake. It pains me to see him offered so little except low budget horror that most people will never see. And it's even worse after watching him in It's in the Blood because he's so goddamned good. He effortlessly slips into the role as small town father, and his attempts to feel like, or at least come across as, a father feel absolutely genuine. He knows that shit's gone sour between the two and it's the last thing he wants. So if trying to teach his son to drive stick on a desolate road, imploring him to drive faster and faster - if that will help bring the two together, then he's willing to try it. We have seen Henriksen play the bad ass or the maniac for so long that when we see him playing a broken down, flawed character, especially one capable of showing real fear, he becomes even more humanized. We forget that he was ever Bishop, or Jesse Hooker. Russell might be the closest we've ever gotten to Frank Black. (As an aside, I wish Lance Henriksen were my friend. My life would be greatly improved by that, I think.)

It's important you know that It's in the Blood, while creepy, is a nearly brutal film to endure. Pretty paradoxical given that it's also pretty slow-burn and not terribly graphic. But it's brutal, not because of the violence, but because of the strength of the memories our two characters have tried to bury. They come back and they scream and sob in their faces and they demand to be remembered.

Scooter Downey establishes a very frantic aesthetic, as he wants to physically realize the demons residing in October and Russell's heads. He wants the audience to feel just as disoriented and grimy and haunted as our characters do, and for the most part this is achieved. Whether or not he goes a little overboard at times will obviously be decided by the viewer. Much like this year's Exit Humanity, I'm overjoyed to see a concept like this approached with such sincerity and maturity, so I can forgive the abundance of early Oliver Stone-like frenetic editing (and the, perhaps, overwrought scene of... er... impromptu necessary surgery.)

It's pretty amazing that this film is derived from the efforts of a bunch of first-timers. It is Downey's directorial debut, and Elliott's first time as writer and producer. His previous work as an actor consists of very limited screen time in a scant few films, but here he holds the screen quite handily as if he were a seasoned pro. In my experience, most young actors want only to participate in high profile projects where they can either look good doing it, or "prove" they should be taken seriously. But it takes true balls to realize a project, fund it, bring it to realization, and then on top of that, be responsible for 50% of the audience's sympathies. It's a tough order to fill, but one easily satisfied here.

Everyone involved in It's in the Blood deserves accolades, attention, and respect. It proves that Henriksen is still a force to be reckoned with (as if we needed that reminder), and it proves that, once again, all you need to make low budget horror work is brains and heart, not the almighty dollar.

It's in the Blood is now available via iTunes as well as Amazon and other VOD services.

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