As is my sworn duty, I’m here once again to sing the praises of 1990’s BLOOD SALVAGE. Thanks to annoying ownership issues, writer/director TUCKER JOHNSTON‘s solidly offbeat dumpster dive into madcap depravity has still not been released on DVD and Blu-ray and that’s a shame for lovers of horror. It should at least deserve the positive notoriety most elusive fright flicks receive but instead, I find it’s still not mentioned enough. No soldier as eccentrically gruesome, darkly humorous, genuinely unnerving and strangely melancholy as this should ever be left behind, especially when it features performances by legends like JOHN SAXON, RAY WALTSON and I kid you not, EVANDER HOLYFIELD. If you’re looking for the missing link between TOBE HOOPER‘s THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (1974) and ROB ZOMBIE‘s HOUSE OF 1,OOO CORPSES (2003) look no further than TUCKER JOHNSTON‘s BLOOD SALVAGE. It has aged like fine moonshine! It boasts a familial bouquet akin to WES CRAVEN‘s THE HILLS HAVE EYES (1977) the tart crispness of MOTEL HELL (1980) the toasty acidity of AMERICAN GOTHIC (1988) and the gritty aroma of MOTHER’S DAY (1980). Why isn’t every horror fan gulping this fine brew down?
In BLOOD SALVAGE we are introduced to the Evans family who travel in a handsome Winnebago into questionable territories so that their teenage daughter April can compete in carnival-set beauty pageants. When we first meet April, she appears to be the haloed darling of the competition, admired for her bravery and pluck due to her requiring a wheelchair. Interestingly though, rather than ride the typical course of presenting her as a one-note virtuous saint, we soon learn she’s actually bitter about being treated like a “charity case.” Moreover, she’s revealed to be testy, bratty, snobby and downright ornery. She’s such a hellion that she ends up being one of the most unique horror heroines out there. She doesn’t transform when in danger; she simply takes off her mask of sweetness and reveals her true colors. She’s kind of a cross between the petulant, trouble-inviting Amy Harper (ELIZABETH BERRIDGE) in THE FUNHOUSE (1981) and the obstinate, trash-talking Vanessa Lutz (REESE WITHERSPOON) in FREEWAY (1996), what’s not to love? Even more fascinating is the way April has no qualms slipping back into her “butter wouldn’t melt” persona when it better serves her than snarling. I could go on and on about April all day. She’d probably hate the term “final girl” as much as I do.
On a collision course with the Evans family is the Pruitt clan. Patriarch Jake (DANNY NELSON) has been creepily following April’s career and since he and his two dim-witted yokel sons are already taking part in devious shenanigans, abducting April isn’t much of a stretch. You see, the Pruitt’s have a salvage yard but it’s actually a front for their more lucrative business of kidnapping people, putting them through horrendous medical experiments and then selling their body parts on the black market. It’s somehow even more disturbing then it sounds, almost difficult to watch at times and yet also cartoon-y and unrealistic enough to not leave too bad of a taste in your psyche. Although sons Hiram and Roy (CHRISTAIN HESLER, RALPH PRUIT VAUGHN) are kind of cookie-cutter horror numbskulls (see MOTHER’S DAY or OF MICE AND MEN) daddy Jake is handled as deftly as April and stands as a worthy and equally complex adversary. He too is bitter about the cards fate has handed him and covets April as a placeholder for his deceased daughter. Religious zealots are nothing new in the annals of horror but there’s something pitiable about how Jake uses his self-righteousness as a salve against his deep pain for not being wealthy enough to save his cherished child. Forever broken, he becomes what destroyed him, placing the value of money over that of human life. Sure, he’s a raving psychotic but in a way, he’s only mirroring his own experience with a greedy and apathetic medical industry. He eradicates self-doubt with fire and brimstone verse and his projection is so fierce he’s even trained his torture victims to chime, “Amen”.
BLOOD SALVAGE has its flaws but most of them lean toward budgetary issues and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Its limited location and unpolished, lived-in environment add so much flavor that would be impossible to duplicate on a similar scale today. As much as I enjoy how it salutes a litany of other rural psycho family flicks, there’s no denying that it carves its own path moving adamantly against knee jerk expectations. People who you’d assume would survive don’t and the most dramatic demise is handled with chilling indifference. The climax is a wonderfully executed funhouse crawl with trapdoor after trapdoor all the while balancing the grueling and the amusing in equal measure. I know I’m at risk of over-selling at this point but hey, somebody has to. There’s really no reason that this consistently entertaining trek through the bowels of insanity isn’t a horror staple by now. Nope, it’s not on DVD but it is currently on Amazon Prime in an adequate though not ideal (too dark) presentation that will leave your peepers begging for a better edition. Someday somebody will be a hero and release this bad boy in the respectful way that it deserves. ‘Till then, I’ll be over here carrying this torch. Oh geez, I forgot to mention the Pruitt’s lovable pet alligator! How could I do that? Be good and spread the holy word. Amen.