As the second World War nears conclusion, the Atlantic infestation of German U-boats are ordered to sink and destroy any and all allied ships, including the vulnerable hospital ships. The survivors of a torpedoed hospital vessel has been adrift for days, if not weeks, on an inflatable raft running on fumes with food and drinkable water. All seems hopeless until a ship, hoisting the Nazi flag, cuts through the thick fog, providing life sustaining optimism even if in the hands of the merciless Germans, but when they board the ship, the motley of allied survivors discover the vessel has seemingly been abandoned yet none of the deliberately sabotaged lifeboats are missing and the bridge helm is tamper-proofed into place. The discovery of mutilated German sailors send an ominous threat down their spines that the rescue ship holds a terrible secret, a Nazi occult secret isolated to run rampant within and on the decks of a ship heading for populated land.
Set sail with the best Nazi-themed horror from the last decade aboard the “Blood Vessel,” a densely packed, 80’s stimulated, Nosferatu-inspired thriller with an ensemble cast of character who not only have to survive the Axis enemy and the horrors of war, but also a terrifying night on a deadly ghost ship run amok with a family a starving, ancient vampires. The ambitious sophomore feature from writer-director Justin Dix (“Crawlspace”) is an all ahead full, exceptional terror-vision on the high seas surrounding the Nazi’s obsession with titling the war into their favor with utilizing the occult. The Australian produced film is co-written alongside Jordan Prosser in his first feature length film credit and shot in Williamstown, Melbourne, Victoria on an actual, fully restored, World War II Bathurst Class corvette, the HMS Castlemaine. Adding hands-on molds and prosthetics to his own work, Dix is also a special effects stud, credited on a pair of “Star Wars” film as well as his work on “The Babadook,” who applies his own effects and production company, Wicked of Oz Studios (“100 Bloody Acres”), to coproduce next to Storm Vision Entertainment (“Better Watch Out”) to bang out a diligently-detailed horror from down under.
Dix and Prosser channel a passion for bygone horror through the decades with an ensemble cast representing a sundry of Allied nationalities as survivors of a U-boat attack. A pair of American cooks, played by Christopher Kirby, returning to the authoritarian centric and eccentric genre from his lead role in 2012’s “Iron Sky,” and Mark Diaco (“Vessel”), an Australian swinging for the fences with an Italian-Americano New Yorker, and their Captain, “Meg’s” Robert Taylor, bookend the amalgamated survivors with their military ranks, but it’s the two cooks who have a more intriguing bubble dynamic bred from molded disparity of a time period of American segregation with Kirby as a black man secondary to Diaco’s character on their former ship’s galley but when aboard the Nazi cruiser, the social and Naval hierarchy crumbles under the pressures of survival, buoying them toward a boiling point of who still commands who. Two British nationals, a hospital ship’s nurse and a communications codebreaker, anchor down the group with courage and cowardice. Alyssa Sutherland (“The Mist” television series) is the nurse cherub of reason, unafraid to face challenges head on with a passion to heal the wounded, while desk jockey codebreaker from John Lloyd Fillingham will do anything in his sniveling turncoat powers to survive at the expense of his fellow stranded. The lone Australian soldier actually played by an Australian, Nathan Phillips (“Snakes on a Plane,” “Wolf Creek”), whittles down into being a co-principle character alongside a wounded and disparaged Russia soldier played by Alex Cooke. Cooke does a fine job keeping the Russian sharpshooter’s communism sheathed being a soldier who has seen more than his fair share of combat and torture while paralleling his closed off humanity with anecdotal melancholia about losing his family to the Germans. Ruby Isobel Hall, Vivienne Perry, and Troy Larkin round out the cast by putting the “blood” in “Blood Vessel” as a dynasty of archaic and supernatural vampires hangry upon awakening.
“Blood Vessel” might seem like another pun-driven Naziploitation that might be brimming with crassly barked Heil Hitlers and preach about the cleansing of the master race while skating out on pinpointing historical accuracies, such as the warship corvette being nowhere near the layout of German naval engineering, but don’t be hoodwinked by the knockoff Swastikas as Justin Dix steers “Blood vessel” far from being another, run-of-the-mill Naziploitation once-over. Instead, there are no Nazis. Well, there’s only one frantic and alarmed Nazi whose only on screen for maybe couple minutes before being a stepping stone, focusing on the nonexclusive group of harried and battered survivors’ stories that dabble into backgrounds of each chucked to the Davy Jones’ Locker soul. Speaking about emerging out of the depths of the blackness, the Wicked of Oz Studios’ work on the look of the Patriarch and Matriarch vampires pays a tremendous homage to the likes of Nosferatu with the oversized ears, elongated frontal fangs, and glowing eyes. The overall package, with Troy Larkin and Vivienne Perry underneath all that latex pale skin, is more bat-esque and is unapologetic in doing so as actor and mold become one with Larkin’s heavy weight performance commanding the Patriarch’s Dark Ages semblance. We should also give a big shout out to the youngest actress, Ruby Isobel Hall, who was able to learn and speak Romanian, along with Larkin, to fulfill a sense of fiendish family vernacular. Story comes first as “Blood Vessel’s” vehicle to separate itself from the fascist film pack, building up mysterious circumstances surrounding a ghoulishly-splayed ship that will float into our nightmares.
“Blood Vessel” is the best thing to happen to b-side horror in awhile and it didn’t have to a gaudy, cult-stroked, once-in-a-lifetime, white whale tale that solidified a place in genre fandom history before it’s conception and, now, “Blood Vessel” has pulled into port on a region B Blu-ray home video courtesy of Umbrella Entertainment. The full high-definition, 1080p presentation is exhibited in a widescreen, 2.35:1 aspect ratio, of Martin Gubbins dark and grubby cinematography and I mean as the sincerest compliment. Gubbins showcases ship cramped quarters without feeling claustrophobic and can make models seem genuinely bona fide and seamless with simplistic effort, adding a scary pretense that isn’t obviously unknown to cinema, but must be a crime for being this good. The English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio earshot illuminates every clank, clunk, and uninflected hum of a steel, diesel vessel dredging through the waves. Dialogue is not as robust as hoped, losing a bit sharpness through the thick range of ambient sound. Special features include an audio commentary from Justin Dix and cast as well as Dix and editor Dave Redman, “Blood Vessel” production diary, an extensive and thorough making of featurette that dives in the genesis and entire stretch of “Blood Vessel’s” journey, an interview with Troy Larkin as the Patriarch vampire, the Nazi newsreel that almost wasn’t a part of the narrative, a visual effects breakdown reel, animated shorts from John Lloyd Fillingham to boost moral, online promos, and theatrical trailer. Sink your teeth into “Blood Vessel’s” arteries and imbibe the metallic taste of a warm novelty vampire bracer.