Column: Cthulhu Eats the Movies: Bleeders (1997)

By Brian M. Sammons

Bleeders (1997). Director: Peter Svatek. Cast: Gillian Ferrabee, Roy Dupuis and Rutger Hauer.

If you walked down the horror aisle of your local video store…Ha ha ha ha, sorry, I can’t continue with that. I mean, video stores, are they still around anymore? Okay, in this made-up, gumdrop world where video stores still exist, if you did walk down the horror aisle, you would no doubt see a lot of titles that begin with “H.P. Lovecraft’s” or, at the very least, have a huge tagline, saying that the flick was based off of a story by Lovecraft. But if you’ve been reading Cthulhu Eats the Movies for any length of time, then you’ll know that, sadly, that is often not the case. Now I’m not talking about the films that are based off of HPL that are just plain bad. No, I mean the movies that have absolutely nothing to do with anything that Lovecraft ever wrote, yet still pimp out his name. Yes, I’m looking at you, H P Lovecraft’s The Tomb. In this world of crass marketing, if a movie could put Lovecraft’s name on the cover of the DVD box to bump up sales, rightfully or not, they’re going to. Or so you would think. But then comes along this 1997 movie, with the ridiculous title of “Bleeders”. This film is an adaptation of one of Lovecraft’s most filmed short stories, “The Lurking Fear”, and yet, no mention of HPL can be found anywhere in it. Not in the title cards, not in the credits, and the names of characters from the story has been changed (not for the better), and yet, no mention of the gentleman from Providence. I’ve got to wonder why this decision was made, as Lovecraft’s stories are in the public domain, so why not cash in on his name? But no, Bleeders decided to make it or not on its own merits. I guess that’s commendable, not to mention a good thing for Lovecraft, because I doubt he’d want to be associated in any way with this one. Now, let me tell you why.

The story of Bleeders begins in 17th-century Holland, where Lovecraft’s deformed Martense clan has been renamed the “Van Daams”. It would have been awesome if they were the Van Dammes, because then maybe, just maybe, we might have had Jean-Claude show up as the most ass-kicking mutant ever, but oh, well, that’s not the worst misstep this movie makes. Well, the king of Holland gets sick of the aristocratic Van Daams’ incestuous ways – which have led to the whole family being severely hermaphroditic and thus, the link to this flick’s title – and boots them out of the land of windmills and wooden shoes. With nowhere else to go, the “very close” family movies to a small island off the coast of Maine.

A few hundred years later and a sickly man named “John” comes to the island with his doting wife, looking for his long-lost relatives in the hopes that they can get some answers to the man’s strange blood ailments. If you can guess whom he’s related to, then you’re way ahead of this movie. Anyway, the couple meets the local boozy doctor, a criminally underused Rutger Hauer. Rutger, the man who is so cool that he should have been both the Vampire Lestat and Randall Flagg (so says both of those characters’ creators) really doesn’t do or say much here, other than point the couple to the oldest lady on the island for further info. There, the crusty woman has a heck of a tale to tell.

When the creepy Van Daams family came to the island, they started to rub everyone the wrong way with their secretive inbreeding and whatnot. Naturally, the townsfolk did the only logical thing they could think of: They burnt the Van Daams’ mansion down and caused all the survivors to flee underground, where they continued to get busy with themselves and survived over the centuries off of eating corpses from the nearby cemetery. Well, wouldn’t you know it, but the reason John is so sickly is because he’s the last “normal” descendant of the Van Daams. Now, once you see the other members of John’s estranged family, you’ll know how amazing it is that John looks as good as he does. Oh, and don’t worry; you’ll get your chance to get a good look at a bunch of the inbred mutants because they are getting very hungry.

Why are the Muppety-looking mutants’ (more on that in a second) bellies rumbling? Because all the bodies in the island’s extra-large graveyard are gone. They’ve either already been all ate up, or they are being dug up and moved to the mainland after a scandal with the local undertaker skimping on some of the coffins. This causes the Van Daams to come out at night like the freaks they are, in search of other things to eat. Yep, that means people and this leads to one of the most unintentionally funny climaxes that I can remember and, while I won’t give the exact ending away, I feel it does need to be highlighted.

Picture all the normal people on the island heading over to the lighthouse for their last stand against the lurking Van Daams, because they have discovered that the hungry mutants have a strong aversion to light. There are about a dozen or so townsfolk and, while they aren’t armed to the teeth, they do have a nice collection of weapons, including rifles, shotguns, and even an assault rifle or two. Will the pretty-well-armed, and very-well-illuminated, people in a fortified position on high ground with a large killing field all around them be able to defend themselves against the horrors of the vile Van Daams?

YES! The answer should be a big fat yes! The Van Daams have degenerated to such a state that most don’t have arms, legs, or both. That means they must crawl, slither, or wobble vvveeerrryyy slowly towards their target. Sure, they look all messed up, more like ugly Muppets with somewhat bat-like faces than anything once related to man, but they’re just not frightening in any way other than “Ewww, you sure are ugly.. If I were locked in a room with a bunch of these hungry, hideous quadriplegics, I wouldn’t be scared in the slightest. Just give me a broom. I’d just beat them with it, or, if I were in a charitable mood, I’d use it to push them away when they rolled in my general direction. You add to that the fact that anything brighter than candlelight causes them screaming fits and that, if any of the mutants actually have arms, then their choice of weapons runs from a sharp stick to a slightly-less-sharp-but-longer stick, and it’s not scary; it’s just sad. These are the most pathetic monsters in any movie, ever, and that includes the bunnies in Night of the Lepus.

Final Verdict: Bleeders is a confusing mess saddled with a plodding pace. It’s not scary in the slightest, has some of the silliest and nonthreatening baddies ever captured on film, the makeup effects are questionable at best, and the characters are cardboard cutouts you never for a moment care about. Not even a far-too-brief appearance by Rutger Hauer, or a script partially written by Dan O’Bannon, who’s done much better Lovecraftian work with Alien, Life Force and The Resurrected, can save this movie from itself. That said, it is surprisingly faithful to the uncredited HPL story it’s cribbed from. While names and places have been changed, the basic story of an old family with weird practices, being shunned and hounded to such a degree that they must flee below the earth where their rampant inbreeding makes them something far less than human, remains. So, while it’s not a good movie, Bleeders is Lovecraftian and is worth a watch for that reason alone.

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About Brian M. Sammons

Brian M. Sammons has been critiquing all things horror, science fiction, dark, or just plain icky for over a decade. His reviews and columns can currently be found in the pages of these magazines: Cemetery Dance, Shock Totem and Dark Discoveries, and on these websites: Horror World, The Black Glove and now here. Not being satisfied at being a humble and handsome critic, Brian has penned a few tales himself. They have appeared in the magazines Bare Bone, Cthulhu Sex, Dark Animus, and Horror Carousel, and in the anthologies Arkham Tales, Cthulhu Unbound Vol. 2, Horrors Beyond, and Twisted Legends, among others. He has also written extensively for the Call of Cthulhu role playing game, in an attempt to corrupt as many new, young minds as possible. Despite all this, Brian is often described by his neighbours as "such a nice, quiet man", and he loves animals.

Brian M. SammonsColumn: Cthulhu Eats the Movies: Bleeders (1997)