Studio: Midnight Releasing
Director: Jeremiah Buckhalt
Writer: Chad Coop, Ian H. Davis
Producer: Chad Coop
Stars: Danielle Lilley, Brandon Kyle Peters, Christopher de Padua, Jose Miguel Vasquez, Kelly Kilgore, Emily Cutting, Phillip Marunowski, Gabrielle Henry
A couple having a party with their friends are stalked by a masked killer after moving next door to a mysterious abandoned house.
Have you ever gone on a weekend getaway with a group of friends and suddenly decided to go back home or somewhere else entirely without telling anyone that you were leaving? Of course not, no one has. So why is it that whenever a morning head count reveals someone disappeared during the night in a horror film, the rationalization is that the person must have purposefully gone off unexpectedly, has likely spent the last 14 hours in presumed safety, and merely forgot to leave a note or call? I’m not advocating that deranged serial killer should be the first conclusion jumped to, but haven’t these people ever seen a slasher movie before?
First time feature filmmaker Jeremiah Buckhalt certainly has. “Blood Widow” takes the typical tropes of friends partying at a secluded home with no cell phone reception, a masked maniac with a tortured past, and comes up with a predictable premise of gruesome one at a time murders until only a Final Girl remains. Yes, Buckhalt’s movie is a formula slasher through and through, although what it lacks in originality, it partially makes up for with a sincere spirit behind the camera.
Six friends throw a housewarming party at the central couple’s newly purchased home. The mostly inexperienced actors and actresses do not play teenagers, but their characters certainly act like them. Curiosity naturally leads to trespassing, and when four of the six friends find an abandoned house next door, they cannot help themselves but to smash out windows, pee through the floorboards, and otherwise cause as much unnecessary damage as possible purely for juvenile kicks. Little do they know that a psychopath in a porcelain doll mask is stalking them from the shadows of the abandoned home’s basement. And she is none too pleased about her inconsiderate new neighbors.
Surprisingly, “Blood Widow” boasts two screenwriters, a separate “story by” credit, and goes on to thank the entire cast for their contributions to the script. That is a lot of names to come up with a simple setup about a silent stalker and her hapless victims. You might think that with that many imaginations coming together, someone would have had a better idea than the old blade-wielder spoils a weekend get-together chestnut. As is, “Blood Widow” breezes through a tunnel vision tale meant mainly for routine, yet sufficiently splattery kills.
“Blood Widow” has two very strong things going for it, and luckily, they happen to be two of the most important elements for a quick and dirty indie slasher flick. One is creative depictions of various horrific demises. The other is a genuinely memorable villain.
Box covers for these types of movies often like to proclaim “a new horror icon” with an exclamation point, as if their bearded hillbilly in a plain trenchcoat is actually going to displace Freddy Krueger or Pinhead. Or they go in the other direction by loading up their maniac with ridiculous attire and accessories in a desperate attempt to force a distinctive silhouette, no matter how impractical the killer’s loadout might be.
The Blood Widow is a slick-looking killer with a very sleek and highly eerie appearance. Masks bearing expressionless faces have been seen before, and yet the Blood Widow’s still feels unique. Her outfit has a hint of S&M bondage influence, but is restrained enough to read as a realistic creation that she might have assembled herself, as opposed to a costume designer thinking solely about what “looks cool.”
If only she had a backstory as developed as her physicality, “Blood Widow” might have knocked the leather off the ball. Two other reviews I’ve read mentioned a scene in a boarding school that shaped the Blood Widow’s past. This scene was not in the version I screened, so my assumption is that it was cut. In its place are a pair of stumbled upon photographs and a journal read out loud that briefly teases a thread of childhood abuse. Unfortunately, not much else is revealed about “Tiffany.”
It is a letdown that the movie misses going the full nine yards in fleshing out one of the few female slashers the genre has. It also overlooks what could have been a clever gender switch angle by casting its killer as female, yet still having her strip down the Final Girl to shirt and panties before tying her up somewhat suggestively. But maybe that is crediting “Blood Widow” for having deeper ambitions in its DNA than its straightforward agenda ever intended.
“Blood Widow” plays its story seriously, but its kills are intentionally over the top. The almost campy tone to the bloody brutality somehow works, even though it strikes a different chord than how the rest of the film is themed. Impossible decapitations and rapidly uncoiling innards are just some of the physics-defying deaths on display in all their gory glory. Lauding a film for having entertaining kills is lowbrow praise, but let’s be frank, expectations for horror movies with budgets this low and inexperience this high have an expectation bar where visceral thrill satisfaction can earn a lot of goodwill.
The trick to enjoying “Blood Widow” is to not look at everything that is missing. Wonder how the killer can seemingly be in multiple places at once or question the dubious explanation for a serendipitous supply of 2x4’s and you’ll be caught rolling eyes at the most basic and derivative framework a horror movie can have without resorting to “found footage.” But Jeremiah Buckhalt and company draw attention in other ways. “Blood Widow” at least knows its limitations, and keeps its minimal goals manageable, even if it can be classified as easily digestible junk food entertainment.
Review Score: 50