Color, 1986, 110 mins. 59 secs.
Directed by James Mallon
Starring Mark Jacobs, Lisa Todd, Don Winters, Patrick Danz, Sara Hauser, Christopher Whiting
Vinegar Syndrome (Blu-ray & DVD) (US R0 HD/NTSC) / WS (1.66:1) (16:9), Troma (DVD) (US R1 NTSC)
A truly goofy slasher film from the waning days of the golden age, Blood Hook is a regional 16mm project shot in Wisconsin by Minneapolis-based director James Mallon. Most viewers came across it via the videotape and DVD releases from Troma, which clocked in just under 90 minutes and featured the usual cartoony cover art in the studio's typical style. It isn't quite an outright comedy though, despite some silly fishing gags scattered around (especially the slap happy opening third) like a character wearing a fishing lure for an earring. Against all odds, the film was snapped up for a restored Blu-ray and DVD from Vinegar Syndrome, and in unexpected news, it's also much, much longer -- 20 minutes longer, in fact -- which certainly makes it more coherent as well as a very differently paced feature.
Years after the sinister disappearance of his grandfather at a lake, Peter (Jacobs) organizes a getaway with some friends to the family home that now belongs to him. The big town event going on, Muskie Madness (the film's original title), has everyone distracted from the fact that anyone who goes fishing -- or even floating around in boat or on an inflatable raft -- disappears thanks to a maniac equipped with a monstrous fishing lure. It also seems to have something to do with the deafening sound of cicadas at night, though how and why isn't revealed for quite some time. After several locals and visitors get split open and hauled off around the water, Peter eventually has to confront the culprit but possibly at a great personal cost.
Not exactly a critical favorite, Blood Hook feels like more of a novelty film made to appeal to an audience that was almost entirely stumbling across titles like this on VHS. It's easy to see why Troma wanted to streamline it down to a more reasonable running time, but it's fascinating now to see it run at what amounts to an epic for a slasher film (and, according to the director, was originally scripted at an epic length that would have been more appropriate for a miniseries). Whether it's better now is up to the viewer's personal taste, but it's definitely unique and, when it does settle down to become a straight-up horror film, delivers some truly grotesque and inventive sequences like a rope-tethered collection of severed heads floating in the water and the undeniably wild climax, a showdown completely unlike anything else in the history of cinema.
Boasting a new 2K scan of the 16mm camera negative, Blood Hook looks vastly superior here compared to the Troma release. That's not much of a shock, obviously, but it truly is surreal to see it looking so fresh and vibrant; the 1.66:1 framing choice appears to be a wise one as anything tighter would have lopped off some of the '80s hairstyles. No issues with the English DTS-HD MA mono track or the optional English SDH subtitles either, though the loud, frequent cicada sounds will have you doing some serious volume control.
In "Hook, Line and Sinker"(30m1s), director James Mallon explains the intricate origins of the film (including a Laugh-In connection, incredibly), his entry into filmmaking, the process of making the film from Minnesota to Wisconsin, and the strange path that ultimately led to Mystery Science Theater 3000 (and not in the way you would think). “First Blood Hook!!” (18m42s) features lead actress Lisa Todd chatting about her Iowa acting background, the family feel of the shoot, the audition process involving screaming and swimsuits, and the comparatively luxurious nature of the production compared to some other indies. Special effects artist and self-described "monster kid" Jim Suthers turns up next for “What’s in the Tacklebox?” (23n11s), a fun tour through everything from Bill Rebane and his Wisconsin experiences ("I got to blow up Ralph Meeker's head") to the process of putting together many of the effects for this film including some of the fake heads during the last stretch of shooting when he came on set. Expect to hear plenty about blood pumps, mishaps involving fake body parts, and MPAA threats, too. Finally, an audio-only interview with cinematographer and editor Marsha Kahm (29m28s), conducted via phone by Vinegar Syndrome's Joe Rubin, encompasses her film career starting out in Nebraska and moving through her first gig on this film, the Madison-based PBS crew that formed a large part of the film's roster, and the evolution of performing double duty on this film with cinematography remaining her primary love. A silly theatrical trailer is included along with a photo gallery (48s), which is brief but fascinating as it features some makeup Polaroids, shots of the original Muskie Madness script, and other odds and ends.
Reviewed on April 21, 2018.