Blood Machines

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

This entry was posted on Tuesday, June 9th, 2020 at 11:02 am and is filed under Reviews, Science Fiction and Space Shit. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

20 Responses to “Blood Machines”

  1. The Winchester

    June 9th, 2020 at 2:43 pm

    I was wondering about what this was. Sounds like it might be up my alley, aesthetically speaking.

    Might be time to bite the bullet and get Shudder

  2. It’s a long form music video crossed with an episode of LEXX. Nowt wrong with that! It would been even better if they had the guts to use subtitles instead of making the actors have to plough through stilted English dialogue. But, as it is, it’s still a great way to spend 45 minutes.

  3. Hey Vern that reminds me, have you seen METAL HURLANT CHRONICLES, based on stories from Heavy Metal? Scott Adkins stars in 3 episodes, and Michael Jai White and Darren Shahlavi in 2 episodes (including 1 with Adkins). Rutger Hauer also has one. Anyway, it’s not a great show but there’s worse ways to spend 12 x 20 minutes.

  4. I was in the mood for a style over substance film and this film/video trilogy perfectly scratched my itch. Great visuals, and the music picks up nicely in the second chapter.
    Speaking of Carpenter pastiche, I’d recommend “The Void” by a couple of the Astron-6 guys. Great creature effects. Clearly inspired by Carpenter and Cronenberg. Not quite as out there as Mandy but surprisingly similar in a lot of ways.
    And if you haven’t had your fill of neon demons after that, go with Nekrotronic. Great art design, props and special effects. And Monica Bellucci.

  5. I thought this one sounded cool but then balked when it said it was a TV series. I’d have watched it in a heartbeat if I’d known it was only an hour long. What’s up with calling three 20-minute segments a season of TV? The British don’t even do that.

  6. The Winchester

    June 9th, 2020 at 6:32 pm

    I second The Void recommendation. Fun flick!

  7. I love Carpenter Brut. I need to watch this ASAP.

  8. I wish they trusted their effects more in The Void because they did not use lights.

  9. Just watched this on Shudder. I too was a bit put off by the “Season 1” thing. Not sure why they did that. Seems like it should be in their shorts section if anything!!

    Anyway, I loved it. Way out there. very “stoner metal” in it’s aesthetic. Kind of half the bad sci-fi movies I rented as a kid (Corman STAR WARS rip-offs and random DTV Cyberpunk) and half HEAVY METAL magazine brought to life.

  10. Whoa, this was incredible. Design is amazing and inspired across the board. Definitely a feminist thing that I don’t fully understand, but it’s powerful and evocative. I like the reversal where the male lead, who is clearly in the vein of an 80s Han Solo/Indiana Jones type, except he is kind of a dork and a creeper and mostly unlikable yet still has those identifiable Han/Indy-type characteristics. It’s like all our beloved George Lucas films give us the male lens of of this guy, celebrating his coolness, and then this film gives us the same essential character, but with more of a feminist take, showing us what a legend-in-his-own-mind rapey dork this guy actually is from more of a non-dude-bro perspective.

    Speaking of which, it was funny, I saw some review I saw on Rotten Tomatoes talks about this having too strong of a “male gaze,” and it’s like, of course, but I feel like this film is totally celebrating female-ness, the female body, female strength and wit and intelligence and, when necessary, guile and out-maneuvering. Like, this is the opposite of a Skinemax male fantasy movie, it’s total female empowerment, or at least I think it can be. I guess it can play on both levels: If you’re looking to ogle a beautiful nude woman for 60 minutes, then this film is for you; if you’re looking to see a dumbass pervy dude (and all male characters in general) get pwned by women of superior intelligence and beauty, this film also is for you.

  11. Ah but Sternshein, how can you be so certain the effects looked great with the lights on?

    I really like the creature work on The Void. This one friend of mine hated it because the creatures were more of a jumble and the camera didn’t look at them great and it was dark, but to me it’s supposed to also be evocative like Lovecraft. You need to see a weird monster and it not make coherent sense, not stare at a rubber suit with a dude in it for five minutes.

  12. I kinda hated THE VOID. It’s not just that they went to all the trouble of making these creatures just to shoot them all in the same empty room lit by the same single red bulb. It’s also just a dreary, one-note experience, all yelling and intensity. It’s like somebody with no sense of humor tried to make a Stuart Gordon movie.

  13. I guesssss…but a lot of movies are one note, one could easily say The Thing is one note.

  14. Yeah, but that one note is fucking awesome.

  15. Hmm maybe I will get Shudder so I can see this, if they have other stuff I wanna see.

    This seems a little like the other THE VOID which is a horror anthology from 2016 which I tried watching and it was just terrible. I barely remember most of it, but one segment had two creepy guys lured into an abandoned looking house by a sexy but clearly creepy young woman… and she kills them. That’s it. No surprises, nothing.

    Did anybody watch LOVE DEATH & ROBOTS on Netflix? I thought it was just okay, with a couple decent episodes but most were just dull and tragically “hip”. When there are 15 episodes and you only moderately enjoy a couple that is not a good thing.

  16. I got Shudder for a month to watch this and BLISS. I did not like BLISS as much as this, though it was interesting. I also watched some found footage thing called HELL HOUSE LLC, which was okay. Honestly, I’m not sure there’s much there I care to watch right now. I started watching HORROR NOIRE (which I think is maybe free right now), and what I watched of it was good. I enjoyed the first few episodes of CREEPSHOW (Vern apparently did not, which shocked me). HAUNT is pretty good, if you haven’t seen it.

    I am a big fan of CREEP and CREEP 2, which are not on Shudder I don’t think, but both have been on Netflix in the US forever. I don’t think Vern has ever reviewed either.

    NIGHTMARE CINEMA was only good, not great, and I don’t remember if that’s on Shudder or if I saw that somewhere else. SOUTHLAND is another anthology that I thought was just okay.

  17. It sounds like your month isn’t up yet, so – I still haven’t reviewed it, but COLD HELL is the best Shudder exclusive I’ve seen so far. And you may have seen my reviews for BLOOD QUANTUM and SEOUL STATION. Maybe I’ll try Creepshow again, but honestly I don’t even like the movie much, and that was genuine George Romero with way better production value!

  18. Awesome, I will try them! Yeah, I think your instinct is right. I would say that CREEPSHOW is trying to ape the George Romero style of the original films (and mostly succeeding in doing so), so, if that wasn’t your thing, then this definitely will not be your thing!

  19. COLD HELL was really good. Awesome protagonist, interesting cross-cultural/immigrant dynamics, Bourne-esque actiony goodness, some grisly shit, and all kinds of interesting backstory and plot developments and random supporting characters (including not one but two interesting aging grandpa characters!). A ton happens in a short amount of time, but none of it seems superfluous, and it’s paced pretty well … nothing much I can think of feels like it drags or gets short shrift. Thanks for the recommendation!

  20. Oh man, I love Carpenter Brut and have been following the short films leading up to this for so long (Turbo Killer et al), how did I miss seeing this article until now?

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