Directed by: Robert C. Hughes (“Memorial Valley Massacre”, “Zadar! Cow From Hell”)
Starring: Clu Gulager (“Return Of The Living Dead”, “A Nightmare On Elm Street 2″)
Our story follows the father/son team of Mason and David Rand (Clu Gulager and Samuel Bottoms) as they head out to the Arkansas wilderness to do a little hunting with a few friends. After one of the hunters makes a wise crack to a waitress at a local bar, an altercation occurs with a group of backwoods inbreds (who of course don’t take too kindly to city folk). The city boys win the fight, but not the war and the hunters soon become the hunted as their peaceful vacation turns into a fight for their lives.
If we learn anything from this movie, it’s that Clu Gulager is a bonafide badass. He basically plays the Burt Reynolds role from “Deliverance” (the film that this movie borrows the most from), but he does it like only Clu Gulager can. He’s one cool motherf#%ker. The rest of the acting is average at best, besides a couple pretty good performances from Sam Bottoms and the always creepy Billy Drago (“Vamp“, “The Adventures of Brisco County Jr.”) who plays ‘Snake’, perhaps the craziest of all the rednecks.
The director (Robert C. Hughes) does a great job in that he never tries to pretend that this is anything more than what it is …a hillbilly exploitation movie. Because of that, the audience could just shut off their brains, sit back and enjoy a movie that could have just as easily been called, ‘Attack of the Killer Rednecks’.
This movie has just the right amounts of action and cheesiness to make a good 80′s exploitation movie. It’s also probably a bit more of a slasher film than most of the other films of it’s kind. I would say it’s a cross between “Deliverance” and “Wrong Turn“. It could’ve used some nudity and a little more gore, but I always seem to say that. Overall, “Hunter’s Blood” makes for a fun hour and a half.
* note: This is Billy Bob Thorton’s first role. The only problem is, if you blink you’ll probably miss him.
My Rating: 8 / 10
Okay, maybe we’ve already seen this story a hundred times before (in films like “Deliverance“, “Rituals“, etc.), but I just can’t help it …I love me some crazy rednecks. This one’s definitely worth a watch. Unfortunately, it still hasn’t been officially released on DVD in the U.S., so VHS or bootlegs seem to be your only options (not that I condone the buying or selling of bootlegs). A used VHS copy will run you about $12 on amazon.com. I’ve also seen it up on youtube now and again.
DECEMBER 17 VHS MOVIE REVIEW : HUNTERS BLOOD (1986)
When you talk about the great cinematic thrillers of the early to mid seventies it's fairly safe to say that most film buffs would agree that you simply have to talk about John Boorman's 1972 classic Deliverance. Although it's power to shock and unnerve has been somewhat diminished by the passing of time and subsequent imitation, Deliverance, with its simple tale of four coddled Atlanta businessmen running afoul of violent backwoods reprobates and iconic "duelling banjo's" scene, succeeded in capturing the imagination of both critics and audiences alike. In addition Deliverance also proved to be highly influential. Indeed, in the years that followed numerous thrillers and horror pictures would either openly imitate or attempt to put their own spin upon the simple yet frightening fish out of water type premise of Boorman's film. Notable examples include Harvey Hart's Canadian lensed thriller Shoot (1976) starring Ernest Borgnine and Henry Silva, Peter Carter's cult horror picture Rituals (1977) and Walter Hill's Southern Comfort (1980) which has since become widely regarded as a classic in its own right.
Then of course there is also the film under scrutiny here, namely the 1986 horror film Hunter's Blood. Directed by Robert C. Hughes (who later helmed the obscure latter-day eighties slasher Memorial Valley Massacre) and based upon a novel by Jere Cunningham, Hunter's Blood tells the ever so slightly familiar tale of a group of city bred males who venture into the backwoods of Arkansas on a hunting trip and soon run afoul of the local redneck reprobates. Despite boasting a reasonably decent cast which includes the late Sam Bottoms, veteran star Clu Gulager (fresh off his role in Dan O'Bannon's 1985 cult classic The Return Of The Living Dead), Joey Travolta (John Travolta's less famous elder brother) and character actors Bruce Glover and Billy Drago, Hunter's Blood was largely ignored upon its initial theatrical release and quickly took up residency on video, including here in the UK where is was released on the legendary Palace label. However, over the years positive word of mouth amongst horror fans who encountered it on VHS or television, coupled with a lack of availability on DVD, has seen the reputation of Hunter's Blood improve to the point where it is now regarded as something of a cult favourite amongst fans of backwoods horror films.
The plot of Hunter's Blood begins with jaded city slicker David Rand and his father Mason Rand joining up with their good friends and fellow high rollers Al, Ralph and Marty. Together the five friends are planning an all male weekend of hunting in the rural backwoods of Arkansas. The group set off but upon their arrival in redneck countryside their condescending attitude soon see's them run into trouble at a gas stop and bar where they get themselves involved in an ugly, violent confrontation with a hostile gang of drunken local hicks.
Escaping from this unpleasant encounter unscathed the five friends eventually set up camp in the nearby woods intent on beginning their hunting weekend in earnest. However, the area of woodland they have chosen just happens to be the hunting ground of a gang of extremely violent and ruthless hillbilly poachers. Predictably David, Mason and company soon succeed in antagonising these homicidal rednecks who respond in typically brutal and murderous fashion. Suddenly the five out of their depth amateur huntsmen find their plans for an idyllic male bonding weekend shattered as they are forced into a bloody battle for survival with the psychotic poachers who are clearly intent upon killing each and every one of their human prey.
In all fairness Hunter's Blood doesn't get off to the most auspicious of starts, opening up with a cringe inducingly cheesy scene in which David (played by top-billed Sam Bottoms) and his wife Melanie (played by the rather lovely Kim Delaney) enjoy a lengthy snogging session in the shower set to a dreadful, crooning, eighties love song. Fortunately however, things improve immeasurably once our five "city boys" hit the road and head off into redneck country. While it does take quite a long time to get to the requisite killing, to the credit of director Robert C. Hughes, his handling of the long, suspenseful build-up of the films first hour is - without any exaggeration - nothing short of masterful. While the stereotypical redneck characterisation on display does invite some chuckles, their uneasy ones at best as Hughes conjures up and maintains a constant, highly unsettling sense of impending violence.
The second our boys pull up at "Tobe's Gas Stop" (horror buffs will no doubt spot the clever in-joke) you just know their headed for trouble and as soon as you clap eyes of the locals you know David, Mason and company have wandered into an awaiting spiders web of violent miscreants who harbour a deeply entrenched hatred of anyone whose accent or demeanour gives them away as being a "Yankee" or a "city boy". The five would be hunters soon proceed to invite trouble onto themselves, delivering a series of wisecracks at the expense of rednecks and getting into an ugly confrontation with the violently inclined hicks who populate the local bar. Later when our unlucky quintet finally enter the woods Hughes succeeds in tightening the screws of tension even further as they quickly fun afoul of a gang of homicidal hillbilly poachers who make the rednecks they quarrelled with back at the bar look like The Walton's in comparison. Meanwhile additional chills are raised by a great scene in which David and Mason have a chance encounter with two nervous gun-toting game wardens who offer them a warning concerning previous hunters in those parts who have disappeared without a trace.
When the time finally does come for the much anticipated killing to commence, Hunter's Blood certainly doesn't disappoint, Hughes orchestrating the action with a ruthless, brutal effectiveness. A nail-biting tension is sustained throughout the films final half hour as a life or death game of cat and house ensues between the psychotic, vengeful rednecks and the five clearly terrified weekend hunters. The only misstep proves to be the decision to introduce an unnecessary subplot which sees David's wife Melanie follow her husband to redneck country and inevitably get sucked into the life and death struggle. While this does slightly undercut the otherwise expertly maintained suspense, Hughes compensates for this error by delivering enough brutality in the films concluding third to satisfy all but the most discerningly bloodthirsty of viewers. Game wardens are mercilessly gunned down and one of their mutilated corpses is left hanging from a tree as a macabre warning, knives are gorily driven into throats and one hillbilly miscreants is even fatally gored in the back with a handy pair of deer antlers. The gore highlight however comes in the shape of a memorably nasty moment in which one unfortunate protagonist gets his head blown off with a shotgun at point blank range. leading to two lingering aftermath shots of the still twitching corpse, the head literally burst open like a smashed watermelon. Given that the BBFC tended to take a pretty dim view of violent horror pictures back in the mid eighties it is therefore perhaps a little surprising that the board passed Hunter's Blood fully uncut for both it's UK cinema run and subsequent video release back in 1986. There were certainly far more innocuous horror film which came in for much harsher treatment back then.
In most critical reviews Hunter's Blood has received over the years it has tended to attract criticism for it's supposed weak characterisation citing the films five main protagonists as being too unsympathetic. While it is true that Hunter's Blood does feature it's fair share of cheesy, bad dialogue (Al's oft-quoted "A man's gotta feel his balls" line being easily the worst offender) I personally feel that their good natured wisecracking and camaraderie far from rendering them unsympathetic, actually creates a realistic and highly engaging sense of five city dwellers escaping the daily grind in order to cut loose and enjoy a weekend of shamelessly macho mail bonding. To their credit all five of the principal cast members acquit themselves well as the out of their depth weekend hunters. In particular the underrated Sam Bottoms and veteran Clu Gulager establish a fine chemistry as father and son duo David and Mason. Surprisingly the other real stand out proves to be none other than Joey Travolta who enters a really terrific performance as the groups resident clown Marty who memorably degenerates into a snivelling, sobbing nervous wreck when he realises that homicidal poachers are out for their blood. While he may be the butt of many a joke about famous actors' less famous siblings, he certainly shows he is no slouch in the acting stakes himself here. Lovers of useless movie trivia may also be interested to learn that Hunter's Blood also marked the screen debut of a pre-stardom Billy Bob Thornton who appears in a minor role as one of the violently inclined rednecks.
It may sound like I'm pushing it a little bit , but all in all I really am willing to stick my neck out by saying that for my money Hunter's Blood is without doubt one of the true hidden gems that the mid-eighties horror genre has to offer. While it does admittedly recycle just about every post-Deliverance "hillbilly horror" cliche you can think of, it is a testament to how well director Robert C. Hughes puts them all together that Hunter's Blood never outstays its welcome and ultimately stands as a really quite terrific film in its own right. Indeed, Hunter's Blood makes for an intense, absorbing and, above all, immensely entertaining tale of redneck hostility which not only achieves a masterful, nail-biting sense of mounting tension, but also rounds out the package with top notch central performances and a healthy dollop of nasty violence. So in conclusion Hunter's Blood may be a highly derivative horror film, but it also happens to be a highly effective one. You may well have seen it all before, but when it's done this well there's certainly no harm in seeing it again.
To date Hunter's Blood has unfortunately yet to be given an official DVD release anywhere in the world. Personally I feel this is actually a crying shame as Hunter's Blood is right at the top of my list of films I would love to see presented nicely on the shiny disc format. Why Hunter's Blood has not been released is an absolute mystery to me. If nothing else at least both the uncut UK VHS tape from Palace and the US NTSC tape on the Embassy label are not especially difficult to get hold of, although you can probably expect to pay around £10 - £15 for either online. For what it's worth the Palace tape does actually contain a fairly decent looking picture by eighties VHS standards. In addition Hunter's Blood has also been quite heavily bootlegged over the years and DVD-R's presumably ripped from either the Palace or Embassy VHS editions quite regularly turn up on both E-Bay and the usual website's. However, this is obviously no compensation for the criminal lack of an official DVD release.