Color, 1981, 87 mins. 19 secs.
Directed by Richard Jefferies
Starring James Earl Jones, José Ferrer, Lila Kedrova, Mary Louise Weller, Martin Kove, Deborah Shelton, Lydia Cornell Arrow Video (Blu-ray) (US/UK R0 HD) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)
If VHS horror movies were snakes, you couldn't walk through the horror section of a video store in the '80s without being bitten by Blood Tide, whose oversized Continental Video box seemed to stare out at you no matter where you went. Since then this Greek-lensed oddity with an insanely overqualified cast (including two Oscar winners!) has largely been relegated to cheapie gray market releases, though the folks at Arrow Video have managed to revive it with a spectacular restoration that easily outclasses the grungy prints originally circulated by 21st Century Film Corporation throughout 1982 on a handful of screens. Though directing and co-writing duties are handled by Richard Jefferies, who went on to write such cult faves as Scarecrows and The Vagrant, there are two other names in the credits that will seem more familiar: producer and co-writer Nico Mastorakis (in the middle of his long gap betweenIsland of Death and Blind Date), and Brian Trenchard-Smith, the great cinematic madman behind Stunt Rock and Turkey Shoot, who also co-wrote and gets a credit here as "creative consultant." The actual film is strangely subdued considering the era it was made, avoiding any outrageous splatter effects or sleaze elements in favor of a monster story in keeping with the '50s drive-in style of keeping its main beast under wraps until the very end.
After a young woman is prepared for an apparent nocturnal sacrifice and sent floating into an ancient watery cave, our story proper involves newlyweds Sherry (Weller) and shirt-allergic Neil (Kove) arriving at an island village whose mayor (Ferrer) seems to have something to hide. They're in search of his sister, Madeline (Shelton, pre-Body Doublebut post-Dangerous Cargo despite her "introducing" credit here), and end up crossing paths with a treasure hunter, Frye (Jones), and his girlfriend, Barbara (Cornell), who seem to have awakened an ancient evil on the premises. Also on hand is a mysterious order of nuns (led by Lila Kedrova, who was probably on set for two days max), who know more than a bit about the dark rituals behind the monstrous secret lurking nearby.
Complete with loads of sunny travelogue footage, beach calisthenics, and wonky mythology, Blood Tide is still something of a curio as it repeatedly refuses to really go for the cheap thrills that the material seems to demand in favor of a self-termed "classy" approach. That said, there's a certain hang-out fun to be had with Jones as a Bard-loving adventurer and a rare leading man role for Kove, a veteran from such diverse indies as Last House on the Left, Women in Revolt, and Death Race 2000, who would soon hit the mainstream with The Karate Kid and Cagney & Lacey. Take it as a star-studded update of a poverty row monster movie and it all clicks a bit more, with a modest charm that would pair it up well with something like Up from the Depths or Demon of Paradise.
Blighted by truly terrible video transfers since that initial VHS, Blood Tide has looked awful on all of the unauthorized DVD and streaming options out there pulled from that pale, mushy-looking tape but with a lot of added compression to make things even worse. The Arrow release truly feels like a whole different film courtesy of a new 4K scan of the original camera negative; it's in immaculate shape and makes for quite the visual feast with all of that beach scenery and the moody cave scenes illuminated by flickering firelight. The LPCM English mono audio (with optional English SDH subtitles) is also in pristine shape. A new audio commentary with Jefferies in conversation with Michael Felsher offers quite a bit of context for the film including his writing gigs around this time, his transition to becoming a director courtesy of Mastorakis, the logistics of the shoot, and his rapport with that wild cast. "Swept by the Tide" (28m58s) is a new video interview with Mastorakis (credited as "director, producer, novelist, script writer, DJ, TV host, lyricist, editor, reporter") conducted by "actor / voice over genius" Ari Gerontakis about his view of being a horror director, the state of his career in Athens at the end of the '70s, a random anecdote about "illiterate" Don Simpson and John Carpenter, the "survival" reason behind the making of this film, and his positive experience with the first-time director. In the funniest moment, he addresses the supposed public domain status of the film (it ain't) and even shows off the legal paperwork to dare anyone to even try pirating this new release. The original trailer and a 2020 reissue version are also included, and the package comes with reversible art options including a new design by Graham Humphreys.