So many things could have gone wrong with Joel Schumacher's Blood Creek. It's a revenge tale rooted in a possible alternate history, except it happens in modern times. Nazis and the esoteric and the Appalachian backwoods all intersect to make quite possibly Schumacher's most visually compelling film since Falling Down. But does it hold a candle to the director's previous work? Or better yet, is it superior to the drivel that Schumacher has wrought upon filmdom over the last decade?
I have to admit a weak spot for esoteric lore involving the 3rd Reich and their strange preoccupation with the occult, as well as self-proclaimed historans claims to the validity of the reports we see specials for on the History Channel or Discovery. But nonetheless it makes compelling storytelling. In that regard, Blood Creek exceeds exceptionally.
A family of German immigrants living in rural West Virginia receives an official letter from someone within the 3rd Reich advising that a historian who is a well regarded member of the party will be coming to stay in America with the family, and that such business is key to the potential long term victory of the Nazi party. As well, they are offered a substantial monthly payment and they barely blink before agreeing to house the foreign visitor, played here by a supremely sly Michael Fassbender, who chews up his every scene with awesome relish. Immediately inquiring about a peculiar stone the family found when putting up the barn's foundation, he dispells the myth of norse invaders that came to America hundreds of years before the Spanish, leaving these mystical stones behind when they fled the continent. His purpose there is to unlock the tru power of the stone underneath the barn.
I know, it sounds preposterous, but Fassbender's Richard Wirth makes you believe the scenario and better yet, compels you to follow the unraveling of the tale. It abruptly switches gears to Evan Marshall (played by Henry Cavill), an EMT whose brother (Dominic Purcell) was lost during a hunting trip down the river, still coming to grips with the disappearance of his war hero brother and scorned by his father who only regrets it wasn't Evan to go missing in the first place. No sooner is that background revealed than Purcell's Victor reappears and frantically urges Evan to follow him down the river to the same farmhouse where the movie began, bent on revenge for the time spent imprisoned there, but not giving any backstory to Evan at all.
I don't want to ruin the film, really, and while it's not wholly original it is enormously enjoyable. Shumacher riffs on films as varied as the first Hellboy, Night of the Living Dead, and even some of the new wave of French Horror a'la Frontier(s) as well as equal parts Southern Hospitality and Deliverance. I realize that seems a little insane, but surprisingly it works rather well, helped immensely by the cast who clearly dig on the fact that they're doing a straight up gorefest that never hit theaters. Fassbender is epecially zany as the Nazi MD, having cursed the family hosting him and himself become a living thinking zombie, he never insults the audience by treating the material like the camp that it is. Purcell and Cavill also work exceptionally well together and play off their natural chemistry making their bond believable. There's some good support from Shea Whigham, as well, who blew me away in Splinter and clearly enjoys being an emotionally torn zombie whose purpose is simply to increase the body count.
The story itself works as well, because it's fun and campy but tackled in dead serious mode, something that can actually work against lesser pictures. I hate to give Schumacher credit here, of course he didn't write it so no need to. But the subject matter is equally scary and boundlessly interesting considering how wrapped up in occult matters the 3rd Reich really were, especially toward the end of the war when their loss was all but imminent. What ultimately works for Blood Creek is really a combination of all the contributing elements, be it the writing (even direction), the acting, the mish-mash of homage to better movies both recent and old, and the concept of the story as well. Clearly this isn't high art, but for splatterhouse exploitation, it's right up there with some of the best stuff of recent years.