When Vinegar Syndrome released the 1982 slasher oddity, Blood Beat, with a brand-new 2k restoration on DVD and Blu-ray in October, it marked the first time Fabrice A. Zaphiratos’ French/US production has been readily available in the United States in any official format. It’s a hallucinatory film, wherein a samurai warrior attacks and magically battles a family over the Christmas holidays in rural Wisconsin.
Watching the film is like experiencing a fever dream: you’re never quite sure what’s going on, and in the rare moments when the plot hits a moment of lucidity, you can’t be sure if what’s occurring onscreen is real or a dream. There’s blood, uncomfortable nudity, and a hunting scene that still haunts me. The folks at Mondo Digital sum it up pretty neatly:
Out in the American heartland, neurotic painter Cathy (Benton) and her deer hunter husband, Gary (Brown), get ready to settle in for some awkward yuletide cheer with the arrival of their two children, Ted (Fitzgibbons) and Dolly (Day). Cathy immediately gets a strange vibe from Ted’s new girlfriend, Sarah (Peyton), and the feeling is mutual. Soon dead bodies are popping up all over the countryside, Sarah develops a strange connection with a bunch of samurai gear found in a trunk, and Cathy goes into bizarre fugue states while she’s painting. What does it all mean, and how does it all connect to the glowing, growling samurai in the vicinity? You’ll find out… or maybe not.
The VinSyn release is packed with extras, and one of the things which attracted me to it was the inclusion of a silent edit of the film by Horror Remix. This marks the first-ever official release of a Horror Remix project, and for those who have been jonesing for new material since the project stopped screening their amazingly hilarious edits several years back, this is absolutely fantastic.
Those who’ve not yet seen what Horror Remix can do will be quite impressed as to what EJ Antilla did in conjunction with Dallas post-punk synth-rock trio Nervous Curtains. It takes the film and trims it down to 28 minutes or so, and uses Nervous Curtains‘ newly-conceived original score to create a version of Blood Beat with all of the tension and weirdness, and none of the useless plot or character development. It’s so wonderful, we reached out to Horror Remix’s Antilla to talk about it, and he introduced us to Nervous Curtains’ Sean Kirkpatrick, who answered a few questions as well.
SEAN KIRKPATRICK, NERVOUS CURTAINS
The Horror Remix version of Blood Beat debuted live four years ago in Dallas. How did you end up in collaboration with EJ?
EJ came across Blood Beat while involved in extensive research for his Horror Remix presentations. In 2013, he approached me with the idea of the collaboration. I knew nothing about the film but was intrigued by the idea. He sent me his 25-minute Horror Remix edit of the film with no audio and asked me to write music for it. I wrote music to go with the visuals and developed it with the rest of the band (including drummer Robert Anderson and synthesizer player Ian Hamilton). We performed Blood Beat for the first time in front of a packed house at Alamo Drafthouse Richardson in October 2013. This was also the first time EJ heard any of our soundtrack. He was very pleased with what we had done, and the audience reaction was great. We scheduled a couple of other performances of Blood Beat in the following months in Denton and Austin, respectively.
Then, we recorded and mixed the soundtrack over 2014 and 2015 while we were working on our third album, Con. Funny enough, we can’t perform Blood Beat without watching the Horror Remix edit of the film since most of the musical cues are triggered off of scene changes and actions on the video. So we projected the film on the wall of the studio while we recorded. The engineer, Alex Bhore, thought this was pretty amusing.
What led to its inclusion on the Vinegar Syndrome release?
EJ and I then began trying to figure out how to attain the rights to release our silent version of the film. We tracked down an email address for Fabrice Zaphiratos, the filmmaker. I reached out to him, telling him about our band and the Horror Remix version of his film. He replied and was very surprised that anyone was interested in his film from 30 plus years ago. It turns out that it was the only film he’d ever made and was now working as a consultant in Paris. He gave me his blessing to use the footage from his film.
Thus began a long process of trying to get him to provide me with a direct transfer of the film, which was stored in the French archives. The only version of the film that was available in North America at the time was extremely low-quality. After over a year of me bugging Fabrice via email and long periods of silence, Fabrice finally sent us files of the film which had been transferred from the masters by a company in France. EJ looked at the video files he was sending us and was terribly disappointed. The French company had done a poor job with the transfer, and the new version of the video wasn’t any better than the low quality version that had previously been floating around. So there we were, back at square one after a couple of years invested in this project.
EJ was a big fan of Vinegar Syndrome; he knew they did high quality restoration work and that Blood Beat was in their wheelhouse, artistically and aesthetically. He sent them an unsolicited email, asking them if they were familiar with the film, telling them about our project and asking them if they would like to get involved. Ryan Emerson with Vinegar Syndrome replied; he said he loved the movie and was very interested. So we connected him with Fabrice and they arranged for the film to be shipped to North America for restoration. This all took another couple of years. Fabrice is very busy with his professional and family life, and Vinegar Syndrome already had a full roster of upcoming releases planned. In the meantime, we sent Ryan a copy of the Horror Remix/Nervous Curtains silent version using the old footage and asked if he’d be willing to include it as a bonus feature on the upcoming Blood Beat BluRay/DVD reissue. He had no problem with this; he was extremely grateful to us for bringing this project his way. The feeling was mutual.
Once the film had been restored, Ryan arranged for it to be sent to EJ. EJ then cut a new version of the Horror Remix edit, using the beautifully restored footage. It looked like a whole new film compared to the way were used to seeing it. He basically replicated the previous version of the Horror Remix edit but was able to tighten up and improve some of the sequences and get things to really sync with the music masterfully.
It’s kind of surreal that this has finally been released after four long years and many setbacks. A vinyl LP version of the soundtrack is now in the works, and we will have an official announcement regarding that soon! We plan to do some more live performances of Blood Beat to coincide with that release.
Nervous Curtains’ next show is Sunday, December 31 at the Texas Theatre in Dallas. It’s a Studio 54-inspired party with them, Midnight Opera, and Texas Burlesque Peepshow. More details and tickets are available here.
EJ ANTILLA, HORROR REMIX
When did you first encounter Blood Beat?
I read a review on the website bleedingskull.com (the review was later published in the book BLEEDING SKULL! A 1980s Trash-Horror Odyssey in 2013, the same year we premiered our live event). The review mentions that Blood Beat is a “semi-slasher” that takes place during Christmas. Obviously, I needed this movie! So I tracked down a used VHS copy.
What’s the appeal to the film solo — in that it didn’t get mixed in with other films on one of your shows?
If you’ve seen Blood Beat, you know it’s not a crowd-pleaser flick. It’s not a silly, fun slasher which is the formula that works for Horror Remix. However, I did have a cool idea. Because the movie is so quirky and visual, but lacking traditional narrative, I thought I could edit out all the dialogue and still have a film that was interesting.
The last original Horror Remix was called “Variety Show” which was made up of really great shorts that I’d created over the years, but never fit into any of our previous themes. I thought in the true nature of a variety show, I’d ask Nervous Curtains to play in the theater with Blood Beat‘s Silent Version projection behind them. Their sound is dark and they use lots of analog synths, so I knew it would work. But not until they played live, did I realize they had written a score and were hitting all the beats, really making the movie flow beautifully. I thought they were just gonna play a few Nervous Curtains songs. It was honestly one of my favorite movie or music experiences of my live. Nervous Curtains’ score is fantastic and I can’t wait for the vinyl release.
Any plans for a future return to remixing, or is that just in the past?
When we started Horror Remix a majority of the films had only a VHS release, but so much has changed in the past 10 years. You can get Blood Rage, Killer Workout, Hack-O-Lantern, and many others on Blu-ray now. I feel like we did our part keeping these films alive and getting a definitive physical release.
If nothing else, do Cheesecake and Thunderclap return?
They’ll be back.
Blood Beat is available as a DVD/Blu-ray combo release from Vinegar Syndrome.