WARNING: THIS REVIEW CONTAINS MINOR SPOILERS!
I’ve seen a lot of vampire films in my lifetime Vault Dwellers. From classics like NOSFERATU and DRACULA (and all the various incarnations that followed), to action-oriented entries in the BLADE and UNDERWORLD franchises, to oddball bloodsucker fare like LIFEFORCE and ROBO VAMPIRE, I feel like I’ve seen it all. And then I watched Dan Lantz’ BLOODRUNNERS and received a pleasant surprise!
Set in 1933 at the tail-end of America’s Prohibition era, the film focuses on Jack Malone (Michael McFadden), a corrupt cop with a drinking problem and a chip on his shoulder. When we first meet him, Jack’s casing a new speakeasy called Chesterfield’s that has opened up in the town of South Hampton. Along with his partner Sam (Dan McGlaughlin), Jack eventually confronts and shakes down the establishment’s owners, Victor Renfield (Peter Patrikios) and his business associate, Chesterfield (Ice-T), for a “luxury tax.”
Jack and Sam get paid with little fuss from the two scofflaws, and stroll out of the building feeling like things went way too smoothly. Clearly something bigger is going on behind the scenes and they want to know what it is. So they lean on a busboy named Willy (Chris James Boylan) and pressure him into talking. Willy grudgingly reveals that the gin joint gets shipments late at night from a truck that comes through the South end of town.
Using this information, Jack and Sam round up a few other officers, and set up a roadblock to intercept the next haul of (what they assume is) booze. But things do not go as planned, and when Chesterfield’s men prove to be uncooperative, they are gunned down by the cops. Jack, who was covering his men with a sniper rifle, gets one shot off before his weapon jams. Then, as he races through the dark to aid his fellow officers, Jack runs face-first into a tree branch and is knocked unconscious. This is why he fails to see the bootleggers return to life and massacre Sam and the others!
In retaliation, the police raid Chesterfield’s the following day and take Victor into custody. Thinking that the speakeasy is empty and unprotected, Willy attempts to sneak in and steal money from Victor’s office, so that he and his girlfriend Anna (Airen DeLaMater) can run away and start a new life. However things do not go as planned, and after a chain of events, Willy is wounded, Anna is kidnapped, and the bulk of the South Hampton PD is eradicated. Now it’s all up to Jack, Willy, and a crazy priest named Luther (Jack Hoffman) to team up and stop the vampire menace!
When it comes to independent films, I typically grade on a curve because I realize that in some cases, filmmakers do the best they can with what they have. I’ve seen instances where low budget directors have cast friends and family members, developed their own hilariously cheap (but sometimes effective) special effects, and shot in abandoned or public locations without permission. So you can imagine my shock when BLOODRUNNERS turned out to be a full blown professional production!
The trailer gave me the impression that this was going to be an ambitious film, but I had my doubts that Dan Lantz would actually pull it off. Well Dan, if you’re reading this, please accept my apologies for doubting you, because I am seriously impressed. According to the (not always reliable) IMDB, BLOODRUNNERS had a budget of roughly $180,000 and you can see where every bit of it was spent. A real effort was made to make everything look genuine in this period piece, including the clothing and cars.
The effects in the film are done with a mixture of practical makeup and CGI, though the latter is relied on for the most part. While I understand that digital effects are quicker, easier, and cheaper, I really would have liked to see more practical stuff, especially during the film’s final act when the bullets fly, and wooden stakes find their mark. There’s also some (borderline gratuitous) Zack Snyder-style slow motion sequences during the final battle between the heroes and the bloodsucking bootleggers. I understand why it was used here (to show the vampire’s inhuman speed), but I honestly could have done without it.
Surprisingly, neither the crazy attention to detail, or the effects are BLOODRUNNERS’ biggest strengths: The casting is! Rarely do you find a film that boasts as talented a roster of actors as this one does. While Ice-T (who does well in what is basically an extended cameo) might be the major draw for many viewers, it’s Michael McFadden that ends up stealing the show here. He is perfect as the hard-boiled Jack Malone, and was easily my favorite character in the movie.
Over the course of the film, Malone changes from a corrupt, cynical drunkard, to a vampire slayer that is seeking redemption. He’s been carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders ever since a life-altering incident during World War I, and wiping out nest of vamps could very well bring about his own salvation. Also worth mentioning here are Dan McGlaughlin (Sam) and Chris James Boylan (Willie), who both turn in good performances.
McGlaughlin’s Sam is a fun character that works well with McFadden’s Malone, and it sucks when he unceremoniously exits the movie at the halfway point. Chris Boylan’s Willie is a likable straight-edge “kid” who just wants to keep his nose clean, and he attempts to turn a blind eye to the strange goings-on at Chesterfield’s because he likes his job. But after one stupid mistake, he gets his gal Anna kidnapped by blood-thirsty vampires and has to man up.
The remainder of the castmembers all do a pretty good job with their roles, though Jack Hoffman (Luther) and Peter Patrikios (Victor Renfield) definitely stand out. Hoffman’s Luther is a raving religious zealot that is eager to do battle with the vampires, while Victor is Chesterfield’s human liaison at the speakeasy. Both prove to be great characters, and I found myself wishing they each had slightly larger roles in the film.
BLOODRUNNERS is a well-made independent feature that properly balances its elements of horror, action, and comedy. It has a unique setting (unless I’m mistaken, I think this is the first ever Prohibition era vampire movie), a stellar cast, and I sincerely hope it finds an audience. (Mainly because I’d like to see a sequel!) Though it has some flaws (e.g. a few sub-par CG effects shots and a somewhat anticlimactic ending) , I was pretty happy with the film overall and have decided to give it a rating of: