Blood Games ★★

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

I thought I'd take a chance on Paul Clark's White Elephant Blogathon this year. This is how it turned out.

Note that my assignment and the copy of the film I watched was entitled Blood Games, not the more descriptive but misleadingly amusing title listed by Letterboxd.

I suspect I don't have the proper grounding to accurately situate something like Blood Games; this ostensible product of the year 1990 feels particularly slippery to me, both temporally and otherwise. Seemingly oblivious to the preceding decade's mainstreaming of strong, tough women as action and horror leads, the film appears to draw inspiration instead from 70's jiggle by favouring girlish forms decked out in hot pants. Likewise, the film's redneck rapists and villainous good ol' boy posses would seem to fall in line with that decade's tropes. Surely its rough-hewn (the uncharitable might say unfinished) style wouldn't have been out of place on the drive-in circuit. Only an overdone synth score and red-on-black title sequence even hint at something as modern as the 1980's.

But what do I really know about such things apart from vague generalities? It's entirely possible that there exists a garage sale worth of product just like this one, films made cheaply on the promise of video boom dollars, crafted with equal parts professionalism and ineptitude in the shadows of the more polished wares we've come to associate with the times in which they were made, a counter-catalogue that would upend our notions of stylistic, narrative and thematic trends were they only wider known.

All I can definitively state is that this film concerns itself with the fate of a baseball team comprised of buxom babes who count on their keen abilities being underestimated by their opponents. Whether playing a heated exhibition game against a band of swaggering hayseeds, collecting their winnings from sore losers or just trying to escape a godforsaken backwoods hell, they butt heads with more-prideful-than-capable men, fueling bitterness that raises the stakes of their next encounter.

That description might make the film sound like it's populated with clearly defined good guys and bad guys, but it doesn't account for the film's strange knack for undercutting its heroines and making excuses for its villains. Possibly it does so out of a misguided desire to make its caricatures more complex, although I suspect it's just as likely an artifact of plot mechanics gone awry. When Collins, the town patriarch and chief misogynist, reneges on the money he owes the team, their manager's response is to beat and humiliate the man, an act that both gives him a reason for revenge and casts him in an unfortunately sympathetic light. Left uninformed of the true story behind his son's death, Collins' subsequent vendetta might even seem to himself and his men like the pursuit of justice. Alas, we know the truth, that the boy was run down by the very bus he was shooting at after failing in his attempt to rape one of its passengers. Before long, women so capable at foiling men on the ball field are driving their bus down a narrow dead-end road into an obvious trap deep in the woods.

Nowhere is this tendency for the film to put its foot wrong muddying waters so evident as in its attempts to titillate. The film never passes up a chance to ogle naked female flesh, no matter how inappropriate the scenario. Locker room nudity is halfheartedly countered with the humiliation of a male character caught enjoying the same sight offered to the audience, a moment that is itself sexually charged. Scenes of rape and attempted rape are goosed with the frisson of exposed body parts. Violent acts during the forest chase culminate in lingering shots of shapely forms covered in blood. Is this a film about women successfully fighting gender oppression or one that gets off watching beautiful bodies put through the wringer?

The answer appears to be both, the film managing the dubious feat of being politically correct and incorrect at the same time. Of course, horror cinema has a long history of wading into such charged waters, but seldom are the gender lines so clear-cut and the aims of the narrative so conflicted. Is it a misogynist's date movie? A feminist's rape fantasy? Perhaps running counter to accepted trends of the moment consign films such as Blood Games to the dustbin of cinema history, although surely its inconsistent level of craft has a lot to do with that as well. Ultimately, its out-of-time qualities serve it well. A modern remake would surely push the distasteful elements into realms so 'extreme' as to be nauseating.

Report this review