Blood Trail

BLOOD TRAIL. 1997

Director: Barry Tubb

Reviewed by Paghat the Ratgirl



The opening sequence behind credits was simple & awesome, a very skilled jazz dancer recreating the spookiest Indian ghost-dance imaginable. It was so stunning in its beauty & weirdness that I immediately expected Blood Trail was going to turn out to be some kind of masterpiece.

Well, the great impression made by the eerie beauty of the ghost dancer didn't last, being soon replaced by barely adequate actors pretending to be in the Wild West, & cinematography that was at best merely average. Strangely enough the script was better than the performances, it wasn't a matter of bad actors with bad lines; I think a copy of the script would've given the impression of a much better film than was actually shot.

It is for all its flaws a middlin' fair entertaining Weird Western. The story is uncomplicated. A couple cowboys attempt to rob an Indian sacred burial ground & one of them becomes possessd by the spirit of Bloody Hand, who a generation before (which was apparently before the arrival of whites in that region) had torn a savage path through the Indian population until Indians figured out how to capture it on sacred ground. Now Bloody Hand is back & is killing everyone he encounters.

One problem with the script is that it is told from some unlikeable cowboys' point of view & they are redneck racists who refer to Indians as "blanket asses" & suchlike. At the same time the script wants to show that it is the Indians who are the only ones with even a distant chance in hell of stopping the supernatural Bloody Hand's rampage, yet without giving Indian characters much to do. This "vertically divided ego" of racist dialogue of the characters & the the Noble Savage romanticism at the script's edges makes for a jarring experience.

Also related to race issues was the all too brief inclusion of two black cowboys. In fact in the west there was a very large black population, especially after the Civil War when freed slaves & the Buffalo Soldiers went west pursuing the same dreams as immigrating whites. And westerns that assume the west was lily-white except for the Indians are dead wrong. Amusingly or sadly, one critic who hated Blood Trail listed all its easily spotted weaknesses, but unfortunately added the false criticism that there were no black folks in the wild west. If such film critics want to get the whole of their knowledge of the west from movies, I would recommend to them Mario Van Peebles' Posse (1993); a few other films, including the Lonesome Dove series (1989) & Silverado (1985), have attempted to reflect this greater reality of the old west. Anyhoo, it was nice to see the screenwriter for Blood Trail wanted to give a nod to this aspect of history, but it was unfortunate the script gave the black cowboys nothing to do but ride by in a hurry, nothin' but cowardly negros turning in their deputy badges to hightail it out of there.

Just about every cowboy in this story carried a badge & the script never quite explained why this territory in the middle of nowhere had a dozen marshals, in at least three clusters, crossing paths at every turn in the bloody trail. Two of them were out there to harrass a stereotyped Irishman who was selling firewater to the Indians, but why there were marshalls all over a place devoid of settlers or towns, well, it really didn't make any sense. The film was additionally limited by it all of it taking place in the woods because there was no budget for a standing set. Even the costuming appeared to have been done at Value Village.

Still & all, though I'm sure pointing at the flaws makes it sound just awful, it does have saving graces. Granny Artemis & I watched it like a double-bill along with the slickly produced, well-budgeted, better-acted, yet pretty awful Darkness (2002). For all its better budget for sets & actors & higher production values, Darkness was a stinky dullard of a film with nonsensical script & just not entertaining to watch. By contrast, even with its weakness, we got plenty of enjoyment from Blood Trail.

copyright by Paghat the Ratgirl



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