When it comes to my preferred style of film criticism, I try to avoid making it sound like a mathematical equation as much as possible.
After all, your evaluation of a particular movie can’t always be summed up by the simple listing of its pros and cons.
Instead, you sometimes have to just go with your gut and write about how a piece of art makes you feel, even if it flies in the face of a much more empirical form of analysis.
With that being said, weighing a movie’s strengths and weaknesses like you are trying to balance a scale is sometimes your best option, especially if that movie is Richard Jefferies’ Blood Tide (1982).
Because while this low-budget creature feature has a lot of admirable qualities — like a consistently creepy mood, attractive cinematography, and at least one stand-out performance — it is held back by one glaring flaw.
And unfortunately, that one major shortcoming is the creature itself, which is hilariously fake and barely shows up on screen.
But if you can look past that laughable rubber suit you’ll find that Blood Tide still has a lot to offer fans of the folk horror genre, particularly for those same people who are also fond of James Earl Jones’ unique over-the-top acting.
The plot of Blood Tide follows Neil and Sherry Grice (Martin Kove and Mary Louise Weller), an American couple who travel to an isolated Greek island to find the former’s missing sister.
Shortly after the Grices arrive at their destination, they discover that the sister (Deborah Shelton) is hanging out with a middle-aged archeologist (Jones), since the pair are obsessed with a mythological legend surrounding the island.
However, as these tourists continue to dig deeper into the island’s secrets, they run afoul of some hostile locals on land and a serpentine beast in the sea, turning this Mediterranean vacation into a real bummer.
Now, before I go on to bash how lame the monster costume is in Blood Tide, I have to commend the filmmakers for at least creating and maintaining a menacing atmosphere throughout the movie’s 92-minute runtime.
One of the hallmarks of the folk horror genre (The Wicker Man, Midsommar, etc.) is making the viewer feel isolated and paranoid, which is usually accomplished through trapping the main characters in a remote geographic location that is populated with sinister, cultish people.
While Blood Tide contains all the plot elements needed to check this box, Jefferies and his team crank up that looming sense of dread using every tool within their limited budget.
Cinematographer Aris Stavrou definitely pulls his weight by providing the viewer with wide, lingering shots of the island and the surrounding ocean, highlighting how alone the main characters really are.
In terms of audio, the film is populated with a bunch of quality music and sound effects that keep you slightly on edge, whether that is water dripping off a cave wall or a synth score that intentionally undercuts all those beautiful Greek vistas.
It also doesn’t hurt that most of the acting on display is pretty solid, with James Earl Jones being a particular standout.
His treasure hunter character easily steals every scene he’s in, with Jones chomping through chunks of scenery as he liberally quotes Shakespeare, handles explosives while drunk, and punches watermelons before eating them.
Even though this kind of zany acting style is very hit or miss for me, Jones brings just enough gravitas to the table so that you can take his character seriously, while also leaving room for some off-the-wall antics.
Unfortunately, a lot of this good will gets squandered by the time the monster shows up.
While I’m sure the filmmakers were trying to make this thing look like some kind of primordial underwater beast, it comes across as being more of a giant muscular seahorse with leprosy.
And I have a sneaking suspicion that the director knew that his main selling point looked like crap, because it barely shows up in the movie.
If you were to clock it, I would say that the monster in Blood Tide has less than 30 seconds of screen time, with a lot of its movement being hidden by quick, incomprehensible cuts.
As a result, most of the creature’s menace has to be conveyed through first-person POV shots, which are sometimes ripped right out of Steven Spielberg’s Jaws (1975).
But unlike Jaws, there’s no big payoff at the climax of Blood Tide, where the viewer’s patience is rewarded with a clear view of the monster that’s been lurking in the depths this entire time.
Instead, [SPOILERS] all you get is a blink-and-you-miss-it confrontation between Jones and the creature that caps off the story on a real sour note.
Another unfortunate byproduct of the cheap effects is that the pace of the movie can sometimes drag, since the filmmakers can’t rely on shots of the monster to fill up time.
As a result, Jefferies and his team try to compensate by shooting a lot of scenes involving the main cast lounging around in their bathing suits, hoping that the constant presence of sex will override the severe lack of violence.
Even though this strategy works in the beginning, it grows stale as the movie moves forward, especially when the story reaches its rather lame climax.
With that being said, I never found myself truly bored watching Blood Tide, since its eerie mood and likable cast kept my attention throughout (even though it didn’t pay off in the end).
If the filmmakers had been given a bigger budget, it’s entirely possible that this project could have become a genuine folk horror classic, rather than just a cult curiosity that randomly features a heavy-weight actor like Jones.
But as it stands, I think the filmmakers should receive some recognition for working within their limitations and creating something that has managed to lodge itself in my mind.
Of course, one of my biggest takeaways from watching Blood Tide is that we desperately need more B-horror movies set in Greece, since that part of the world seems like an untapped market for combining scantily clad women and mythological beasts.
Corner store companion:
Liberté Greek yogurt (because it’s the closest I’m getting to a Greek vacation this summer)
-Release date: Sept. 24, 1982
-Throughout his career, Blood Tide director Richard Jefferies only helmed one other major project, the 2008 Syfy Channel original movie Living Hell.
-In the movie, Deborah Shelton makes reference to the fact that James Earl Jones’ character played Othello once in college and “never quite got over it.” In real life, Jones has portrayed the Shakespearean character multiple times on stage, including a 1981 Broadway revival alongside Christopher Plummer as Iago.
–Blood Tide can currently be watched in its entirety on YouTube (although the picture quality is quite poor and nothing compared to the recent Blu Ray release from Arrow Video).
-The song that plays over the movie’s end credits is sung by actor Deborah Shelton herself.