BLOOD MACHINES is a very strange, kinda psychedelic retro-sci-fi thing that’s new on Shudder. I thought it was gonna be a movie but they list it as season 1, which almost scared me off. Turns out it’s only three episodes of around 20 minutes each, so it’s less of a time commitment than a movie.
If I had to describe it with a formula of existing movies I would say it’s DARK STAR meets MANDY with the TRON: LEGACY soundtrack. It drops you into a world straight out of Heavy Metal magazine (but with a score by French “synthwave” dude Carpenter Brut, not Sammy Hagar and shit) where an A.I.-controlled warship called the Mima crashes on a barren planet. A ship crewed by two men – arrogant captain Vascan (Anders Heinrichsen, “Police Officer,” VALERIAN AND THE CITY OF A THOUSAND PLANETS) and friendly old mechanic Lago (Christian Erickson, HITMAN) – shot it down, but when they try to salvage it they’re blocked by the all-female inhabitants of the planet, who see it as an injured being they must help.
I’ve always liked these stories of lonely blue collar space survival, and I think about them more during this coronavirus lockdown, as I try to live a good life in the confines of my apartment and stretch resources between supply runs. I like how these two guys are very different but kind of tolerate each other as co-workers and roommates. They’ve probly been doing this for a long time and they have the routine down. Lago is very familiar with his equipment, its limitations and hiccups. Some people humanize their vehicles, but his actually has a personality. Her name is Tracy, with the voice of Noemie Stevens (“Girl at Cafe,” Jackie Collins’ PARIS CONNECTIONS) and face of a golden robot statue, kind of like Maria from METROPOLIS but stationary in the cockpit, with a cool, spinning split head and a big pregnant belly.
Tracy has been malfunctioning, it seems, not coming online – little do they know that the presence of Mima has caused her consciousness to appear elsewhere, in the flesh. I think. This is a weird movie. The conflict between rapist Vascan and all the women of the universe (human and machine) quickly escalates to lightbeams and gore and a flying naked woman (the ghost of the murdered spaceship?) with a glowing inverted cross from her belly to her lady parts. The climax of ANNIHILATION, but danceable.
Part of the appeal is a type of design that differs from what you get in the major sci-fi franchise products. The ships are complex, but colorful, kind of insect-like. The u-shape of their ship at first looks a little like the derelict from ALIEN but then it spins around and it looks like shark teeth or a bear trap on the inside. And Vascan’s gun looks almost like a space heater with rows of horizontal slits that fire a wide beam that arcs and leaves a solid trail like a TRON light cycle. The spacescapes can have oily blobs of color like in BARBARELLA, while the inside of the Mima looks more like some weird occult chamber.
I think this qualifies as a certain type of meta we have now. But that’s not quite the right word. Maybe there’s a better one I should learn. Speculative pastiche, maybe? It’s not specific references like “hey, that’s a spinner from BLADE RUNNER in the background” but broad allusions: the style of European sci-fi/fantasy comics, heavy metal album cover imagery, a Euro-sleaze sort of glorification of a certain type of beautiful woman with an aggressive sexuality. I would pinpoint most of the aesthetic influence as being around 1978-1982, but because it all takes place in space it feels timeless. Done on a low budget, it clearly makes use of modern FX technology: digitally animated space ships, limited sets with lots of green screening. But they put a little bit film scratches and dust over it, a little blur, a little flicker, as if it’s old, shot on film, in pretty good, not great condition and presentation.
That’s where the something-like-meta comes in. It’s like putting quotation marks around the whole movie. Instead of here is a new movie I made in the tradition of some old stuff you and I enjoy it seems to say wouldn’t it be cool if there was an old movie like this? It would be, so, I’m okay with that, but if you’re the sort of person annoyed by that posture, this is your warning.
I think it’s relevant to mention now that KUNG FURY director David Sandberg is an executive producer on this one. It started as a crowdfunding thing and then he came along to help.
The presence of those quotation marks makes more sense when you realize this is kind of an overgrown Carpenter Brut video. I’d heard that name before and thought it was a band whose name meant John Carpenter + the band Art Brut. Research tells me it’s one guy making a pun on Charpentier Brut champagne. He did the driving synth score, which becomes very prominent beginning with the second chapter, and kind of defines the feel of the whole thing. But it turns out it the movie/show is was made as a sequel to a video they did called “Turbo Killer.” It’s credited to the same director, Seth Ickerman, which it turns out is two people, Raphael Hernandez and Savitri-Joly Gonfard. Ickerman is/are also credited with VFX and dialogue and numerous other things.
“Turbo Killer” has a style and some imagery that continue into the movie, but of course in a music video you can imply a story that won’t fully come across to the viewer, and doesn’t need to. BLOOD MACHINES is at a pretty good in-between place where it does have more of a story and characters you can follow at times, but also leaves room for sequences that are more abstract, shooting your eyeballs with style and mood and leaving everything up to interpretation. Like animated album covers. On the negative side, it left me feeling I didn’t quite have a full movie’s worth of storytelling. On the positive side, it felt quick and to the point, when this sort of stuff can often be overlong and tiring, even at the length of a song.
Anyway, pretty good sci-fi television show, similar to Quantum Leap or Seaquest DSV but with more boobs and glowing cooches