| March 7, 2017

The independent horror landscape is glutted with far too many similar productions. Slasher and zombie movies, done as cheaply as possible, are the most common. Ambition is sorely lacking in most of these films, which at best seem like earnest labors of love hampered by resources and inexperience and at worst seem like cynical attempts to cash in on an assumption that horror fans are willing to overlook poor quality in exchange for base thrills. In that respect, films like Bloodrunners are a pleasant respite from the legions of no-budget horrors constantly popping up on VOD. There’s certainly no lack of ambition in writer/director Dan Lantz’s tale of Prohibition-era vampires, and that’s something to be thankful for. The final product, however, leaves something to be desired.

Chesterfield (Ice-T) is the bandleader at a new restaurant and jazz club in a small town, and business is booming. This is thanks to the fact that the club is also selling liquor. Crooked cop Jack Malone (Michael McFadden) has been casing the joint to find a way in to squeeze the owners for money to look the other way, and he’s discovered that Chesterfield actually owns the club although the “manager” is another gentlemen by the name of Renfield (Peter Patrikios). Jack and his partner hassle busboy Willie (Chris Boylan) and come to an agreement with Chesterfield, but the relative ease with which they reach an understanding has Jack wondering if there’s not something bigger than just some bootlegging. Before he knows it, Malone is in way over his head and a war between the cops and a powerful supernatural evil seems imminent.

Again, Bloodrunners cannot be faulted for a lack of ambition. It’s a full-on period piece, complete with period-appropriate vehicles and some nice (if only intermittently convincing) production and costume design. The movie has a slick digital look that sometimes feels at odds with its period trappings. The biggest problem with the film is that its characters and story are never quite compelling enough to draw attention away from its technical issues. There are a number of shots where the camera is jostled, at least one shot where the focus is being fiddled with mid-take, another with an odd visual glitch, and a few inexplicable choices of shooting angles that block speaking characters’ faces. It may be that these issues are more noticeable because of the film’s clean look and solid sound mix–it looks like a much more expensive production that it probably was, but these smaller technical problems add up to betray that production value.

All that said, there are plenty of things to admire about Bloodrunners. There’s some bloody action (with the requisite cheap CG effects, thankfully used sparingly), but much of the film concerns relationships between side characters. The cast is solid and everyone does a good job of fleshing out their characters even though they almost all feel like off-the-shelf parts. Despite Ice-T being the biggest name in the cast the standout performance here is Kerry McGann as Rosie, proprietor of the local brothel. She’s tough and funny, making Rosie memorable in defiance of the undeniably cliche nature of her character as a “hooker with a heart of gold.” Some of the interpersonal drama could have been jettisoned to slim down the film’s running time, but the pace never feels like it’s dragging too much. In the end, Bloodrunners is mostly notable for what it tries to do rather than what it actually accomplishes, but there are worse ways to spend 90 minutes. Take that as you will.

Speakeasy Pictures released Bloodrunners¬†( in a Blu-ray/DVD combo on 7 March 2017. Special features include a commentary by writer/director Dan Lantz, deleted and extended scenes, a “gag reel,” and trailer.

About the Author:

Jason Coffman is a film writer living in Chicago. He is author of "The Unrepentant Cinephile," and a regular contributor to Daily Grindhouse and Film Monthly as well as a member of the Chicago Independent Film Critics Circle. He is co-director of the Chicago Cinema Society and proud owner of 35mm prints of Andy Milligan's "Guru, the Mad Monk." Follow his long-form film writing on Medium:

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