When you set a horror film against the backdrop of World War II it instantly develops a sense of lurid sensationalism. That doesn’t necessarily guarantee the film will be good. It just means there’s an extra level of grindhouse-style fun that can be wrung out of the movie with the right script, cast, and crew. I think the filmmakers at Australia’s Wicked of Oz studio understand that and it’s why they gave their latest feature, a WWII era tale of allied soldiers trapped on a Nazi ship infested by vampires, the very on the nose title of Blood Vessel. By having such an over the top title, they’re promising that the film will be both excessive and fun. Director Justin Dix (Crawlspace), his co-writer Jordan Prosser, and their cast and crew deliver on that promise with a tale that expertly uses its period setting and some fantastic makeup effects to deliver a compelling tale of grindhouse and gothic horror.
Blood Vessel opens in the final days of World War II with the survivors of a torpedoed Allied forces hospital ship adrift in a life raft. The seven multinational castaways; British nurse Jane Prescott (Alyssa Sutherland), Australian soldier Nathan Sinclair (Nathan Phillips), American Captain Malone (Robert Taylor), American naval cooks Jimmy Bigelow (Mark Diaco) and Lydell Jackson (Christopher Kirby), Russian sniper Alexander Teplov (Alex Cooke), and the mysterious and wounded British agent Gerard Faraday (John Lloyd Fillingham) are out of rations and desperate for refuge. Unfortunately for them, they find it in the form of an adrift and seemingly deserted Nazi freighter.
The first act of Blood Vessel where we follow the castaways as they board, explore, and try to uncover what happened to the Nazi ship feels very much like a gothic horror movie. Instead of a spooky castle though we’re traversing a creepy, mysterious ship. Brian Cachia’s music is especially great and ominous in this part of the movie, and the way cinematographer Sky Davies lit and chose his shots really added to the mood. Some of the characters come off as a little abrasive and hard to take in the first act of the film, but as the story unfolded and the characters adapted to what they discovered I began to enjoy them more. Jane Prescott and Alexander Teplov ended up being my favorite of the human characters.
The second act of Blood Vessel is where we really get to know the vampire characters and it’s where the film shines both in terms of technical achievement and engaging story. That’s because Blood Vessel’s brand of Nosferatu are a monstrous and classic take on vampires that you don’t often see in film. The master vampire, credited as, The Patriarch, is my favorite character in the entire film. The make up department and costume designer Zed Dragojlovich gave him a fantastic design. He looks like a combination of Count Orlok from Nosferatu (1922) and the title character’s man-bat form from Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992). Actor Troy Larkin gave the character the perfect amount of physical menace too.
“Blood Vessel’s brand of Nosferatu are a monstrous and classic take on vampires that you don’t often see in film.”
There’s an interesting hive mind aspect to Blood Vessel’s vampires that I liked and you don’t often see in vampire films. That’s because The Patriarch can see through the eyes of the lesser vampires and use them to communicate. He can also mentally dominate lesser vampires. Plus, the master and the other vampires in his immediate family have the ability to create hypnotic illusions. It’s a classic vampire power, but not one you always see in movies. It’s also utilized really well here and adds to the arcs of the characters. So Blood Vessel’s vampires are frighting both in power and appearance.
Production designer Otello Stolfo and the art and prop department elevate the mystique of the vampires with some great items and set pieces. The look of the Patriarch’s coffin, a tome of arcane lore, and the logo and memos from the secret Nazi occult branch all add to the mood and tone of the film.
Once the vampires make their presence known Blood Vessel really kicks into high gear and becomes a whole lot of fun. It really felt like a mash-up of From Dusk Till Dawn (1996) and Overlord (2018) set on a boat. So, if you’re looking for a fun, grindhouse-style, period, horror movie definitely check out Blood Vessel which is currently available via V.O.D.