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Within the first two minutes of BLEED, a cross-dressing corporate drunk gets sliced open, groin to gullet. He slides down to the ground and he doesn't stop bleeding, at least not until we cut to one of the most gratuitous topless scenes in recent memory. It's hard not to admire a low-budget film that comes out with guns blazing. BLEED is indeed low-budget and it does try it's hardest to be memorable... with varying degrees of success.

This is one of the latest productions of Shadow Entertainment, formerly Full Moon. Charlie Band and company have had more than a few troubles as of late. It may seem hard to believe, but in the early nineties, there wasn't a more consistently entertaining B-movie company out there. They brought some degree of legitimacy to the straight-to-video market by tackling their projects (and especially their merchandise) with amazing gusto.

Over the last few years, that has changed somewhat. The running times began to shrink, the effects looked even cheaper and the marketing ploys began to get more and more shameless. Worse yet, even Full Moon diehards began noticing. Recently, no one has cared much about the latest doll-sized monsters or "urban horror" films. They've even had a hard time securing the rights to their own back catalog. Time for a change in direction.

So it looks as though they've gone into the next wave of American exploitation with not one Romanian in sight. Micro-budget horror has been on the rise in the last few years. People have been taking out their Mini-DV cameras, shooting their own cheapie productions and some have even received some cult notoriety because of it. Trying to tap into the next exploitation boom? Hey, if it worked for Troma....

We've even got the queen of micro-budget cinema, Debbie Rochon. Now in her early thirties, Rochon has raked up nearly one hundred roles so far. That's the kind of prolific output that makes even Jess Franco do a double take.

Here, Rochon plays Maddy, who is starting work at a corporate office. Almost immediately, she hits it off with her boss (Danny Wolske), who invites her to a party to meet his friends. Those Californians, this is one decadent party. Everyone is disrobing and jumping in the pool without a batted eyelash. She's naturally a bit uncomfortable at first but soon takes a liking to them. That night, while winding down in the hot tub, they tell her about the Murder Club.

They each claim to have killed multiple people, typically people no one would miss, but no one they know. They're very casual about the whole thing, telling her it's just a hobby,. Strange as it sounds, they don't hold her to any pressure to join the Club, but naturally ask her not to tell anyone. "It's not like they would believe me anyway," she tells them.

Bringing up murder in a casual discussion is probably a big mistake. We learn early on that Maddy may not be wrapped too tight. Her family seems nonexistent and she is haunted by horrible dreams. Also, a nagging voice in her head keeps repeating, "Murderer... murderer...." until she can stand it no longer. In fact, a few more scenes of that and I may have snapped too. Soon, Maddy is brought into the club, by her own design or someone else's I won't say. But that's when this film stops being formulaic and takes a very interesting turn.

Why is Rochon such a powerful force in this underground film movement? It's not simply the number of productions she's in. No, it seems to be a combination of things. For one thing, she seems willing to try anything. In the past two years, she has: bared it all in EROTIC SURVIVOR, provided simple voice work CREMAINS, played deranged murderess in AMERICAN NIGHTMARE and has even donned primate makeup in the off-beat and surprisingly hilarious PLAYMATE OF THE APES, which she also co-wrote. My kinda gal!

She seems to have a great relationship with her fans, not only appearing at conventions and constantly keeping tabs at her website, but striking up a real rapport with them. Also, she seems to have learned from some of the masters in the genre. As Maddy, Rochon is very convincing. She never plays it for a goof and tries to give the most earnest and convincing performance possible, even in some of the more contrived scenes. In short, she has respect for a genre that gets no respect, often not even from their own people. She does an admirable job here, no doubt enough to keep fans coming back for more.

Of course, she can only do so much and BLEED is far from perfect. The film does what it can with it's budget, but it also suffers greatly because of it. Sometimes, the constraints are charming. There seem to be a very limited number of people in this office building, which just happens to have Full Moon posters lining it's walls (Old habits did hard, eh Charles?). When people drink wine, everyone makes darn sure it's from the same red paper cups. No long-stemmed crystal in this budget, sparky.

Some things don't work so well. They could have used a couple days of second unit work. Often, we're plunged into a scene without getting a good idea of what our surroundings are. Also, while Devin Hamilton and Dennis Petersen try for style in their direction, they need some lessons in the editing suite (interesting since Petersen has numerous editing credits). There are numerous continuity errors in the film, where characters will walk out of frame, only to reappear wearing a new set of clothes. Devin Hamilton also could have filled in some of the lingering plot holes in his script.

Two person directing teams don't work well together, some of the famous "brother" teams being a major exception. Petersen and Hamilton do jibe well together, but not in every spot. It's frustrating to see some amazing plot twists and character development, only to be followed by some bimbo too vacant to run when a masked killer approaches her. Cliche's we don't need, especially since much of the film seems to break them, right down to well-delivered ending.

The acting is a problem too, with some of the cast just showing a lack of care or skill in their parts. Many cast members give a standard monotone delivery that just doesn't work when compared to people who really seem to be giving their all. Allen Nabors falls somewhere in the middle of this. Nabors plays the obnoxious best friend as someone who is too egregiously arrogant but who seems to grow into the part later on. Better late than never? Maybe, but still a chore to adjust to.

True to its title, there's a lot of blood to be seen here, and a lot of skin too. BLEED also offers something extra for the ladies. The entire male cast seems to be hired on their hunkiness factor, and all of them lose their shirts and sometimes their pants. The nudity is gratuitous and frequent on both sides.

We get a number of cameos (not really surprises since their names appear on the box) from low-budget luminaries. Julie Strain, Brinke Stevens and best of all, Lloyd Kaufman all lend their support to the production. Always great to see 'ol Lloyd but cameos can bring one out of the story.

BLEED is not a great movie, but it's miles better than what it's generic marketing would suggest. At times, it falls into some of the great traps of slashers and low-budgeters past. But sometimes, this film surprises, giving an aggressive and powerful little freak show, capable of turning the mundane world on it's ear.

Reviewed by Scott W. Davis