Review Date: January 17, 2006
Released by: Heretic Films
Release date: 9/27/2005
Region 1, NTSC
Widescreen 1.85:1 | 16x9: No
In recent years the DVD market for independent, direct-to-home-video horror has been growing even faster than it did during the VHS era. The boom has been nothing if not egalitarian. With numerous companies playing the field, even filmmakers working on the most meager budgets can be assured that their opus will find distribution somewhere. The downside to this is that the market has been flooded with amateurish, borderline unwatchable movies that have managed to obscure many of the gold nuggets that the boom has created. This brings us to Cold Blood
, an independent regional film that dates back to 2001. Does it qualify as gold – or as garbage? Keep reading to find out.
We open at a typical upscale condominium where a brutal crime is about to take place. J.M. (Barnes Walker III
) has just discovered his wife in bed with another man, and after throwing the offending stranger out he proceeds to murder her with a baseball bat. Realizing the gravity of what he has done, and not knowing what else to do, he puts her body in the bathtub and fills it with cold water and ice. In his grief he watches videos of their wedding. The next day her lover, a beefy jackass named Danny (Kendall Dreyer
), shows up at the house wanting to talk to her. J.M. refuses to open the door for him and he tries to smash his way in. J.M. gathers his wife’s body together and sneaks out the back door. He puts the body in his trunk and drives off.
He takes refuge at a farmhouse in the hills owned by his sister where he meets the property’s redneck caretaker John (John L. Altom
) and his sweet young wife Julie (Carrie Walrond
). He finds the seemingly perfect place for the body – an old cooler in the barn. However, no sooner has he stashed her there when John’s even more buffoonish cousin Bud (Brian Avenet-Bradley
) stumbles upon it, and in the ensuing fight J.M. kills him as well. Not knowing what to do again, he dumps the man’s body in a nearby pond. Now trapped by his own deeds and guilt, J.M.’s mental condition begins to deteriorate as more violence follows and he is forced to come to terms and stop running from the horrible things he has done…
As a thriller, Cold Blood
is only partially successful. It is better than most low budget thrillers but still worse than many. Originally intended as a black comedy, by the time writer/director Brian Avenet-Bradley (yes, the same guy who plays Bud) got around to making the film it had become a straightforward genre piece that retained only a few traces of the intended dark humor. Whether or not it would have worked better as a black comedy we’ll never know, though what elements of humor remain don’t show anyone involved to have any special gift for comedic writing and timing. It’s not so much a bad movie as it is a bland one, competently enough put together but usually uninspiring. It’s original title was Freez’er
(under which it had a prior DVD release), a title that doesn’t have the same exploitive sounding potential as Cold Blood
, even if it is more accurate – J.M. never actually kills anybody in cold blood, he is always acting out of anger or self defense.
The character of J.M. is a complete blank slate, to both good and bad effect. He has little discernable personality and we really know nothing about him except that he loved his wife and the farm is where they got married. He is given very little in the way of real characterization. Hell, he isn’t even given a real name. But to a limited extent the blankness of the written character works. J.M. comes across as the remains of a man who once was an actual person but has become a burned-out shell from the torment of his deeds. His motivations for running away with his wife’s body and for killing and hiding his subsequent victims are never clear. At times he seems as if he knows it’s all for nothing but doesn’t have any idea what to do. Other times it seems like he genuinely believes he’s going to get himself out of the situation he’s in. Barnes Walker III is acceptable in the part, but then again, when the role requires you to have no personality it’s pretty hard to screw up.
The rest of the small cast manages to make the most of their parts. It’s all low budget, non-professional acting, and they are not given the best roles, but they are noticeably enthusiastic and take their performances seriously. The worst of the supporting actors is Kendall Dreyer as Danny. Dreyer, who was actually the film’s executive producer and who wasn’t originally intended to play the role, is pretty stilted, though to his credit he comes across as a total prick, which was the apparent intention of the script. As the redneck caretaker John L. Altom is simultaneously believable but amateurish, as if he knew the part but was uncomfortable with being on camera. The best of the supporting players is without a doubt Carrie Walrond as Julie, who manages to be effective, believable and endearing as the sweet young woman who, as we quickly learn, is abused by her husband.
The film is decently paced, but it is too cluttered. People run back and forth from the house to the barn to wherever else, with the result being that the storyline seems to start meandering, even when it isn’t. The movie really looks and feels like the debut directorial effort that it is. It’s the kind of movie that you see all the time in the new releases section of Movie Gallery and other chains – the cheesy-looking little horror film that has been thrown out straight onto home video by one of those aforementioned indie DVD companies. Most of us pass over these titles with good reason, because at best so many of them are mediocre, unexceptional little efforts that don’t provide very much in the way of satisfying entertainment. Mediocre, unexceptional little efforts like Cold Blood
is given a 1.85:1 letterboxed transfer that is not enhanced for 16x9 displays. Initially I was surprised to realize that it was shot on film rather than on video, but the occasional scratch and speck gave away its celluloid origins. The image has a video-like sheen to it and doesn’t look quite as much like film as you’d expect. According to the commentary the 16mm negatives for the film were telecined onto DigiBeta tape and edited digitally from there, which would explain a lot. But it’s a decent looking release nonetheless. The cinematography, by Avenet-Bradley’s wife Laurence (who also plays J.M.’s wife in flashbacks), is unusually polished looking, bringing out the lush greenery of the countryside and taking full advantage of the provided shooting locations. The transfer showcases her work in respectable form. The level of detail and clarity is acceptable, though well below the capabilities of the DVD medium. Shadow detail varies from decent to poor. There are several very noticeable instances of digital artifacting during scenes where there is fog or mist present.
There is significantly less dialogue in Cold Blood
than in many other similar films, and the Dolby 5.1 Surround track included here properly presents the film’s eerie sound design, which is so essential to carrying it when people aren’t talking. In terms of channel and speaker use it’s not an especially inventive soundtrack, but an effective one nonetheless. There is generally no distortion or background noise, and dialogue is crisp and easy to hear.
Optional English and French subtitles are provided.
The surprisingly large selection of extras gives this release a lot of extra value. The biggest supplement is a running commentary track with directed Brian Avenet-Bradley, his wife Laurence, and star Barnes Walker III. The two men seem to love listening to themselves talk, and although they spend more time patting each other (and everyone else involved in the production) on the back than I liked, they nonetheless kept my attention and provided a lot of information on how the film was put together, as well as quite a few funny stories from their location shooting at the farmhouse, where rednecks broke in and stole some stuff, then destroyed the water pipelines.
The next feature is an above-average “making-of” featurette running fourteen minutes. It features interviews with the director and his wife, with other members of the crew, with cast members and the film’s special effects technicians. It’s that last group which prevents the short from being a complete fluff piece, as they have on hand numerous examples of the make-up effects they created, demonstrating their construction and how they were made to look authentic on the actors. The result is an engaging short piece that could have been a lot worse.
Next up are two useless deleted scenes that add nothing to the plot and were wisely chopped off the finished product. After that we have “The Music Behind the Story”, a selection of music tracks that were originally intended to be used on the soundtrack of the finished film. They were all composed when it was intended to be a dark comedy, which was well before the final script was finished. As the tone of the piece became more and more serious the songs – which were intended to complement the humor – became less and less relevant, and none of them appear in the finished cut. There are five songs total, but there are six tracks since we get two different cuts of the ridiculous “Baseball Bat Blues”.
A brief theatrical trailer is also included, as well as cast and crew biographies for all the principals involved in the production.
The back cover lists there being “6 easter eggs” on this release, but don’t get excited. All six are snippets of video, and none run longer than twenty seconds. Two of them are pieces of footage that appear in the film on TV screens, the others are black and white flashback footage of J.M.’s wife that didn’t make the finished film. The first two are accessible from the main menu screen. For the first one, select the special features button and then use your remote to click right. The arm sticking out of the cooler will turn red. Click on it. For the second one, select the subtitles button and click right. The freezer’s thermostat will turn red.
The third is in the subtitles sub-menu. Select the English subtitles button and click left. Barnes Walker III’s arm will turn red. The fourth and fifth are on the special features sub-menu. Select the trailer and click up, and the light bulb will turn red. For the next select “making of” and click left, and the cooler’s lock will turn red. The sixth and final Easter Egg is accessible from the cast and crew bios sub-menu. Select Laurence Avenet-Bradley’s name and right-click, and the face of the corpse will turn red.
With so many other films competing for the attention of fans, it’s hard to see Cold Blood
is ever going to make much of a dent in the marketplace. It’s not a bad movie so much as it’s an unexceptional one. This DVD gives it an unexceptional presentation, with the decent sound mix and extras weighed down by the only average transfer. Even at $19.95 it seems a little bit overpriced, and not necessarily worth a purchase without a rental first.
Movie – C+
Image Quality – B-
Sound – B+
Supplements – B+
- Running Time – 1 hour 21 minutes
- Not rated
- 1 Disc
- Chapter Stops
- English 5.1 Surround
- French subtitles
- English subtitles
- Commentary track with Brian and Laurence Avenet-Bradley, and star Barnes Walker III
- Making-of featurette
- Deleted scenes
- Unused soundtrack selections
- Cast and crew bios
- Easter Eggs