VHS MOVIE REVIEW : BLOOD TRACKS 1985 SWEDEN
"THE MOUNTAINS ECHOED WITH THE SCREAMS OF TERROR"
directed by: Mats Helge, Mike Jackson
starring: Jeff Harding, Naomi Kaneda, Michael Fitzpatrick (II), Brad Powell, Peter Merrill, Harriet Robinson, Tina Shaw, Frances Kelly, Karina Lee, Helena Jacks
(back of video blurb): "A blood bath of terrifying violence is created when a group of rock musicians and their film crew venture deep into the snowy mountains to shoot scenes for their latest video. The group are left stranded after being cut off by a series of avalanches, and are forced to take refuge in a remote mountain cabin. The crew decide on a nearby disused power station, as the next shooting location, but soon discover that they are not alone as they and the group fall into the clutches of the wild, mutant like creatures that inhabit the power station. Fearing that their territory and existence is being threatened they unleash a bloody reign of terror upon their unsuspecting victims. "
choice dialogue: "You moron! You drag us up a mountain, practically get us all killed- and >>then<< you throw a party!" - a model gives it some lip
Have you ever wondered what a remake of THE HILLS HAVE EYES would look like if it starred those poodle haired rockers of yesteryear, POISIN? No, neither had I - until I saw this film…
This Swedish horror flick (trying to pass itself off as an American one) kicks off with a drunken bozo returning home to bully his downtrodden wife out of the last of her house keeping. As their small sons watch in horror they fight, he slashes her throat (resulting in a nonfatal wound), and she manages to plant the knife in his back as he stumbles out of the door. A fat bearded man turns up and barks "murderer!" at her, she grabs her kids and disappears into the icy night with the shouts of the man wringing in her ears….
Cut forward to a snowy waste in 1985 and we are brought up to date with a solemn sounding voice-over "For the next 40 years the family hid out in the middle of nowhere … now intruders are on their way." Who are these intruders you may well ask? Well, none other than a prancing, preening poodle rock band 'Solid Gold' and their entourage which includes a group of big haired chicken dancin' models! … Now, I have a big soft spot for horror flicks that pit models against the unknown - as pure trash aesthetics go it don't get much better. I adore Amando de Osorio's HORROR OF THE ZOMBIES (1974), where models in cha-cha heels stumble around a ghost galleon; and DAWN OF THE MUMMY (1981), where models in over sized sunglasses are chased amongst the sand dunes by perky Egyptian zombies! It's cheese heaven- pure and simple. So, naturally I was delighted to see that BLOOD TRACKS had a whole gaggle of teased hair beauties bouncing around the snowdrifts, as the group stumble across a deserted picturesque snowy mountain spot during the search for the location for the band's new rock video. … I was also delighted that the models got a whole scene to themselves when, in the back of the trailers they squeeze into spandex leotards and backcomb their hair to frightening heights. One of them, as she pulls on her costume, squeals to the seamstress "Hey! …This is torn!", the seamstress replies, "No, it's supposed to be like that- what d'ya think designers get paid for?!". … Then, shivering in their skimpy costumes, one of them complains to the shoot's director, "I'm going to freeze my tits off!", to which he quips back, " Who told you snow was warm, baby?!" ... (Hey, hey- I'm in trash heaven here!) … They then get to gyrate and pout as the band warble through a rawk atrocity called 'Rat-trap'. … I guess I could describe what the band look like but, as the saying goes, a picture speaks a thousand words. Put it this way, if you lived through the mid-late 80's you'll be, like me, haunted by the frightening flashbacks the mere whiff of hairspray can bring on. If you don't recall the period then just count yourself lucky. As for their thespian abilities, well, as with all the usual rock acts trying their hand at a little acting it's all they can do to hit their spots and not look straight at the camera!
Anyway, it can't all be model antics (more's the pity). Bob, the shoot's director (played by a phenomenally bad actor giving perhaps one of the funniest performances in >>all<< horrordom) had earlier spotted a deserted building. John, the hunky seemingly ironically dubbed helicopter pilot (who's along for the ride), says, "..looks good from here but up close its just a factory". However, Bob in an unlikely rhapsody, enthuses, "It's gorgeous- it's just what we want!". … We'll, wouldn't you have known it, but housed in that particular building is the runaway Mother and her sons who have, in a somewhat unlikely plot move devolved into a group of oatmeal faced mutants ALA a certain Wes Craven movie, and have already slaughtered a workman who encroached on their territory and it's clear they won't be any friendlier to this new bunch of hairspray infidels- "they deserve no better", mutters the mutant matriarch, "...look at their women!".
After what seems like an endless stream of avalanche stock footage (which gives rise to this classic dialogue- "Avalanches? Isn't that a little dangerous?" inquires a twitchy model, "Well, yeah - it could muss up your hair a little." replies one of the rockers laconically) the whole fast living group find themselves cut off from the rest of the world- and in a memorable scene they have to dig out one of the rockers and a naked groupie from a buried car (which is even better than it sounds due to the fact that said naked groupie throws a hissy-fit for no apparent reason when a floppy eared bunny rabbit twitches its nose at her).
Unconcerned by their predicament everyone gets down to some serious partying in an adjoining cabin, whilst a few of the group go to check out tomorrow's new location- the (not so) abandoned power station. This is enough to tip the mutants, who had previously been content to goggle at the hip gyrating models (as you would), right over the edge. All hell breaks loose. It's an all out battle of the wits (unfortunately neither group came armed), between the kareoke Craven mutant family and the glam rock/model coalition. Who would you put your money on?
BLOOD TRACKS should be an absolute blast. I won't give away the ending but it pretty much goes exactly where you think it will- one by one, or in small groups, they venture into the derelict power station where they are picked off by lurking monsters and by their elaborate booby traps (I've never seen so much mangled spandex and studded leather in my whole life). Every SCOOBY-DOO'ish cliché is followed to the letter- right down to one character saying to another, "This place is too big- let's split up!" as they explore the mutant's lair. If you noticed I said the film >>should<< be a blast, much of it is, but the print is way too dark (making it difficult to see what's happening during much of the time), plus the version I saw looked like it had much of its gore cut out making some of the scenes choppy and fairly indecipherable (especially given that there are eighteen (count 'em!) deaths in the movie). Now, the makers can't be blamed for snip happy censors or bad video transfers, but the film suffers from inconsistent pacing and lazy plotting, and I couldn't quite shake off the feeling that some of the cheesiness was a little contrived...
Still, with all said and done, there's enough here to heartily recommend BLOOD TRACKS to any true aficionado of bad horror movies- especially if you can track down an uncut copy (let me know if you do). And, as for me, the scene, where a billowing haired model tries to escape from the marauding mutants on a snow mobile, alone was worth the few quid I shelled out for it and the film now sits proudly next to my copies of DAWN OF THE MUMMY and HORROR OF THE ZOMBIES. The world needs more models vs. monsters movies- and that's an order!
BODY COUNT: 18 (female: 6 / male: 12)
1) Male stabbed in back
2) Male stabbed in back
3) Male has neck grabbed and broken
4) Male decapitated (head seen rolling)
5) Male set on fire
6) Female ripped apart by boobytrap
7) Female impaled on spike
8) Male has throat cut
9) Female killed (method unseen)
10) Male has eye bitten out (!)
11) Female killed (method unseen)
12) Male run through with knife
13) Male shot to death
14) Male gets an axe in his head and falls to his death
15) Female burns to death
16) Female impaled on booby trap
17) Male shot and falls to his death
18) Male shot dead
VHS TECHNICAL DETAILS : VIDEOTAPE FORMAT WAR
The first home VCR to become widely available was the Philips Video Cassette Recording system, released in 1972. However, the first system to be successful with consumers was Sony's Betamax in 1975. This was quickly followed by the competing VHS (Video Home System) format from JVC, and later by Video 2000 from Philips. Subsequently, the Betamax-VHS format war began in earnest. Other competitors, such as Sanyo's V-Cord and Quasar's "Great Time Machine" quickly disappeared.
Sony had demonstrated a prototype videotape recording system they called "Beta" to the other electronics manufacturers in 1974, and expected that they would back a single format for the good of all. But JVC in particular decided to go with its own format (despite Sony's appeal to the Japanese Ministry of Trade and Industry) thus beginning the format war.
Manufacturers also introduced other systems such as needle-based, record-style discs (RCA's Capacitance Electronic Disc, JVC's Video High Density disc) and Philips' LaserDisc. None of these disc formats gained much ground as none were capable of home recording; however, they did hold small niche markets. CED's inexpensive record-like format (using a fine keel-shaped stylus to read an electronic signal rather than mechanical vibrations) made it attractive to low-income families during the 1980s, and LaserDisc's 5 megahertz/420 line resolution made it popular with discerning videophiles until circa 1997 (when DVD-Video became the new standard for high-quality)
According to James Lardner's 1987 book Fast Forward: Hollywood, the Japanese, and the VCR Wars, Sony had met with Matsushita executives sometime in late 1974/early 1975 to discuss the forthcoming home video market. Both had previously cooperated in the development and marketing of the "U" format video cassette, with Sony marketing under the U-Matic brand. Sony brought along a Betamax prototype for Matsushita's engineers to evaluate. Sony at the time was unaware of JVC's work. At a later meeting, Matsushita, with JVC management in attendance, showed Sony a VHS prototype, and advised them it was not too late to embrace VHS "for the good of the industry" but Sony management felt they were too close to production to compromise.
While VHS machines' lower retail price was a major factor, the principal battleground proved to be recording time. The original Sony Betamax video recorder for the NTSC television system could only record for 60 minutes, identical to the previous U-matic format, which had been sufficient for use in television studios. JVC's VHS could manage 120 minutes, followed by RCA's entrance into the market with a 240 minute recorder. These challenges sparked a mini-war to see who could achieve the longest recording time.
RCA had initially planned a home video format around 1974, to be called "SelectaVision MagTape," but canceled it after hearing rumors about Sony's Betamax format, and was considering Sony as an OEM for an RCA-branded VCR. RCA had discussions with Sony, but RCA felt the recording time was too short, insisting that they needed at least a 4-hour recording time (reportedly because that was the length of an average televised U.S. football game). Sony engineers knew that the technology available to manufacture video heads wasn't up to the task yet, but halving the tape speed and track width was a possibility. Unfortunately, the picture quality would be degraded severely, and at that time Sony engineers felt the compromise was not worthwhile.
Soon after, RCA met with execs with the Victor Corporation of Japan (JVC), who had created their own video format christened "VHS" (which stood for "Video Home System"). But JVC also refused to compromise the picture quality of their format by allowing a 4-hour mode. Ironically, their parent corporation, Matsushita, later met with RCA, and agreed to manufacture a 4-hour-capable VHS machine for RCA, much to JVC's chagrin.
RCA would go on to market "4 hours, $999", forcing a price war and also a "tape length" war. Betamax eventually achieved 5 hours at Beta-III speed on an ultra-thin L-830 cassette, and VHS eventually squeezed 10.6 hours with SLP/EP speed on a T-210 cassette. Slower tape speeds meant a degradation in picture quality, but the consumer didn't seem to mind. From the consumer perspective, buying a single 10-hour VHS tape was cheaper than buying two 5-hour Betamax tapes.
When Betamax was introduced in Japan and the United States in 1975 its Beta-I speed ( 1.5"/second ) offered a slightly higher horizontal resolution (250 lines vs 240 lines horizontal NTSC), lower video noise, and less luma/chroma crosstalk than VHS and was later marketed as providing pictures superior to VHS' playback. However the introduction of B-II speed, 0.8"/sec (2-hour mode), to compete with VHS's 2-hour Standard Play mode ( 1.3"/sec ) reduced Betamax's horizontal resolution to 240 lines. The extension of VHS to VHS HQ increased the apparent resolution to 250 lines so that overall a Betamax/VHS user could expect virtually identical luma resolution and chroma resolution (~30 lines) wherein the actual picture performance depended on other factors including the condition and quality of the videotape and the specific video recorder machine model. For most consumers the difference as seen on the average television was negligible.
Another improvement would be SuperBeta (sometimes called High Band Beta) in 1985. SuperBeta allowed for a gain of 20% to 290 lines in horizontal resolution and some mechanical changes to reduce video noise but Betamax's American and European share had already dropped to less than 10% of the market.
For PAL versions time was less of an issue. Betamax's longest tape (L-830) could record for 3 hours and 35 minutes, compared to VHS's 4 hours. For the European markets the issue was one of cost, since VHS had already gained dominance in the United States (70% of the market), and the large economy of scale allowed VHS units to be sold at a far lower cost than the rarer Betamax units. (See market share below.)
In the mid-to-late 80s, both formats were extended to Super Betamax and Super VHS. Super Betamax offered a slight improvement from 250 to 290 lines horizontally, which could make near-identical copies of broadcast or cable television. Super VHS offered up to 420 lines horizontal (in modern digital terms, 560 pixels edge-to-edge) that surpassed broadcast-quality and matched the quality of laserdiscs. However, the "super" standards remained expensive niche products for a small minority of videophiles and camcorder hobbyists.