Blood Tide (1982) review- come for the monster, stay for the bikinis

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)

Fun facts:

-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.

King of the Zombies (1941) review-possibly the worst Oscar contender of all time

To properly gauge the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ historic distain for the horror genre, one need only consider the curious case of Jean Yarbrough’s King of the Zombies (1941).

As it stands, this low-budget film is, according to IMDB, the only zombie-related property to ever be nominated for an Oscar, with Edward Kay getting the nod for Best Original Score for a Dramatic Picture.

Now, there’s a lot wrong with that scenario, the most obvious gripe being the fact that King of the Zombies actually bills itself as a comedy and features truly forgettable music.

But the bigger problem emerges once you realize how bad this 1941 shit-fest actually is in comparison to all the other great horror cinema that came along after it, only a small fraction of which got any attention from the Academy Awards.

The plot of King of the Zombies, if you can call it that, revolves around three travellers (a pilot, a passenger and his manservant) who crash land on a mysterious Caribbean island that’s inhabited by a mad scientist.

After a lot of haunted house hijinks transpire, the trio eventually discover that their host has enslaved the native population and turned them into mindless zombies, hoping to use their voodoo magic to extract military secrets from a captured US Admiral.

As zany and madcap as that plot recap sounds, it’s incredible how dull and devoid of life (pun intended) King of the Zombies actually is for most of its runtime.

Most scenes just involve the film’s principle characters standing in the middle a static shot and spouting off one-liners, like they are rehearsing for a high school play.

Even when zombies finally enter the picture, at least two out of three leads treat this situation way too casually and do a really poor job of conveying the fact that anything remotely supernatural is happening.

The filmmakers also put next to no effort into establishing a macabre or spooky atmosphere, as most of the props and sets seem like they were recycled from a patchwork of other, better movies.

Of course, as I’ve mentioned in the past, most of these cinematic shortcomings can be forgiven if a comedy manages to bring the laughs on a consistent basis.

Unfortunately, King of the Zombies only has one big comedic trump card in the form of Mantan Moreland, who plays the befuddled manservant Jeff.

On one hand, Moreland is the most endearing character in the movie, since he reacts appropriately to the existence of shambling corpses, as opposed to his fellow co-stars who might as well be replaced with cardboard cutouts.

The actor also manages to score some of the movie’s only genuine laughs through his natural comedic timing, something that he probably developed through years of performing vaudeville.

But it’s impossible to talk about Moreland’s performance without tackling the style of comedy that he employs, which is heavily influenced by southern minstrel shows.

Now, I don’t usually like to bash older movies for containing elements that [inset current year] audiences might find distasteful. But when it comes to King of the Zombies, the filmmakers’ over reliance on Moreland’s bugged-out eyes and dull-witted enunciation gets old quickly, especially when you realize that the movie has nothing else to offer in terms of comedy.

It also doesn’t help that Moreland’s Jeff is constantly put in a position to try and convince the other characters that they are in danger, even though his concerns are regularly swatted away like he is an over-imaginative child.

Racial stereotypes aside, the biggest acting sin on display in King of the Zombies actually belongs to Henry Victor, who plays the mad scientist Dr. Miklos Sangre.

Reportedly, Victor was a last-minute replacement for a role that was designed for two other actors and it really shows.

Outside of being of horribly miscast as a villain, Victor also can’t seem to remember his lines half the time, resulting in a bunch of awkward scenes that should have been relegated to a blooper reel.

Even though the film’s two remaining leads (Dick Purcell and John Archer) can at least deliver their dialogue confidently, the pair still have very little personality or charisma to speak of.

This leaves Moreland to carry the entire movie on his back almost single-handedly, even though its screenwriter (and broader society at the time) didn’t view him as anything more than a cheap comedy sidekick.

As a result, King of the Zombies’ biggest failing, outside of its piss-poor production values, is the fact that it doesn’t provide the audience with any emotional weight to anchor all of the supernatural shenanigans.

And it’s not like this is a tough formula to crack. Around that same time, actors like Bob Hope, Bud Abbott and Lou Costello found a lot of success mixing comedy and horror through projects like The Ghost Breakers (1940) and Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948).

But King of the Zombies probably didn’t have a hope of being good at its conception, since it was produced by Monogram Pictures.

Unlike Universal Studios or any other big-time operation in Hollywood, Monogram employed a “fast and dirty” approach to film production that emphasized speed over quality, resulting in movies that managed to turn a profit despite not getting a lot of attention from critics.

But even with this reputation, King of the Zombies still managed to snag a historic Oscar nomination in 1941, which is either the result of an insider bet gone wrong or someone working at Monogram knowing how to play the system.

Either way, this movie remains an interesting footnote in the Academy Awards’ storied history, serving as a small exception to the organization’s traditional disdain for horror filmmaking.

It’s just a shame that such a historically significant film is the cinematic equivalent of watching paint dry.  



Corner store companion:

Twizzlers (because you deserve to enjoy something tasty while watching this dreck)

Fun facts:

-Release date: May 14, 1941

King of the Zombies ultimately did not take home the Oscar for Best Original Score for a Dramatic Picture at the 1942 Academy Awards. That honour went to Bernard Herrmann for his work on All That Money Can Buy.

-Both Bela Lugosi and Peter Lorre were considered for the role of the film’s mad scientist, but a deal could not be reached in time for either actor.

-While horror movies routinely get snubbed at the Academy Awards, some films have managed to break through that barrier and actually bring home a gold statue. These movies include: Rosemary’s Baby (Best Supporting Actress-Ruth Gordon), The Exorcist (Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Sound), The Omen (Best Original Music), Misery (Best Actress-Kathy Bates), Black Swan (Best Actress-Natalie Portman), Get Out (Best Original Screenplay) and Silence of the Lambs (Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Actor-Anthony Hopkins and Best Actress-Jodie Foster).

-Monogram Pictures operated in Hollywood from 1931 to 1953 before transitioning to the name Allied Artists Pictures Corporation. Monogram/Allied ultimately filed for bankruptcy and dissolved in 1979.

– Mantan Moreland reprised his role as Jeff in the film’s sequel Revenge of the Zombies, which was released in 1943.

King of the Zombies is currently in the public domain and can be watched in its entirety on YouTube.