Muskie Madness. That’s the moniker for the locals’ fishing contest set as the background for a group of city slicker friends looking to unwind and do a little fishing themselves. 17 years earlier, Peter van Clease witnesses his grandfather suddenly fall into the lake and disappears without a trace. Present day, Peter returns to his grandfather’s cabin with his friends but is still haunted by the memory from his childhood. When locals and tourists engage in the contest for who can catch the biggest Muskie, a maniacal fisher casts his giant fishhook lure into the flesh of unexpected contestants on the lake and on the shore, dragging them violently into water and never to be heard from again. The disappearances send Peter into not only an investigation of those currently missing but also into the cold case of grandfather’s demise whose fate was eerily similar.
On the calm, glossy surface, “Blood Hook” resembles the quintessential severed tongue-and-cheek comedy and horror of Troma’s outrageously independent repertoire. Tossed around as a crude idea about opulent society diluting the quality and the quietness of quaint lake resorts during their extravagant vacations outside city life, “Blood Hook,” once under the working title of “Muskie Madness,” is the first, if not the only that I can recall, American fisher-slasher from the unique imagination and vision stemmed from director Jim Mallon (producer, writer, and director of the “Mystery Science Theater 3000” series and movie) and producer David Herbert’s childhoods growing up in the summers of small town Wayward, Wisconsin. Larry Edgerton and John Galligan were brought in to spruce up the script as the official screenwriters, adding bits of dry humor to an already unorthodox slasher in this catch-and-released in 1986 B-movie produced by Golden Charges and Spider Lake Films Ltd.
Like a Kleenex, the young cast falls into the fresh for one-use category of being mainly known for their role in “Blood Hook” and I hate to use that analogy because there are some really campy, genre-perfection talented acts here for a relatively large cast of a small, independent production about a killer fisherman. Granted, a handful of the talent were able to snag up minor roles in bigger films, such as with Mark Jacobs (“Goodfellas) in the principal lead of Peter van Clease. Jacobs, who is a dead ringer for David Schwimmer appearances and mannerisms, castrates van Clease’s manhood with extreme meekness more so than the character’s wishy-washy stance on his university music studies, romantic connections, and confronting homicidal maniacs when his abducted woman is in danger of becoming grinded up minnow chow. What is more vexing about van Clease is the fact he essentially woes 2/3 of the principal ladies without even casting a line. Beyond the frustrating namby-pamby, all other characters are depicted, in every sense of the term, more in accordance with those who portray them. There is a side relationship building between van Clease’s friend Finner (Christopher Whiting), an enthusiastic fisherman who is new to the group of city friends, and Bev D. (Sandy Meuwissen), a single local with a toddler, that the audience can get invested in and takes an interesting turn when Bev D. plays the fishing rod at both ends, dipping her toes in another man’s lake with fellow local, and crazed military nut, Evelyn Duerst (Bill Lowrie). Evelyn’s father, and yes Evelyn is a grown man with a beard, is played by Paul as the van Clease estate caretaker and a real stern pit for local purity. A fan favorite will be the salty-looking bait shack owner Leroy Leudke complimenting his lovable persona, thick Minnesotan accent, and overall mysterious allure (with a lure) from Don Winters. The cast rounds out with Lisa Jane Todd (“Playback”), Sara Hauser, Patrick Danz, Dale Dunham, Paul Heckman, Bonnie Lee, Don Cosgrove, Dana Remker, and Donald Franke.
Blood Hook” trawls through the familiarity of the 80’s slasher genre with an obscured hunter, a high body count, and a copiously campy campsite of carnage, but this peculiar fillet is sliced from a different kind of fish. While casted under darkness, the killer flings a cast of nylon fishing line with a large, sharp-hooked Suick lure distinguish itself as a unique weapon of choice that fills the icy blood cooler. There’s comedy in that diabolical device, largely so when making too much noise on the water that can scare fish away from patient fishers as Mallon hyperbolizes the idea of outsiders raising a ruckus amongst the sanctity of the local waters while paralleling a message about the aftereffect horrors of war; however, where we should be laughing at the idea of a fisher hooking a 150lb prize human, we’re only barely smirking at the irony as much of the dark comedy doesn’t precisely translate well from paper to screen. “Blood Hook” is about as big as the hook going into the gut as it’s no ordinary jonboat film as Mallon’s film looks serious, feels serious, and acts like a contender up against the iconic slasher-mega yachts of the time with a disconcerting sound design by Thomas Naunas of deafening cicada tymbal clicks all too familiar during summer days coupled with an eerie gelled and moody cinematography from Marsha Kahn that sets the slasher narrative as such. Both Naunas and Kahn exhibit perfect harmony in a disharmonious narrative context as a pair of feature film greenhorns looking for a launching point in their careers.
Muskie Madness turns into a Muskie Massacre. “Blood Hook” is the cinematic catch that almost got away, but Troma reels this trophy cult film back aboard onto a new 2-disc Blu-ray release distributed by MVD Visual. Presented in 16:9, “Blood Hook” holds up even to today’s standards against scrappy independent productions with a slight soft, yet noticeably clean presentation from the Super 16mm stock blown up to 35mm. Some frames appear cropped and stretched on faces in extreme closeups, losing a bit of textural definition that leans more into a softer picture, but the contrasting is balanced which is unusual for a Troma film, the coloring is richer around the lush outdoor vistas without breaking stride of other color appropriate opportunities, like the vibrant red blood, and no evidence of any damage transferred over from the negative. No formal mention of audio specifics on the back cover, but I suspect the track to be DTS-HD Master Audio Mono that’s clear but has issues with projecting low-talk dialogue. Thomas Naunas’s soundtrack introduces a repetitive looming synth score kept well in check around more less-than-major problematic dialogue scenes. Naunas’s sound design as a whole is paramount to “Blook Hook’s” envisioned success with an incessant cicada clicking combined, on the regular, with discord tones to jar the audio senses in relationship to an imminent threat. First disc contains the feature plus scene selection menu. The second disc is all special features clunkily arranged around the rehashing of Vinegar Syndrome produced interviews from their 2018 Blu-ray release with director Jim Mallon, actress Lisa Jane Todd, special effect artist Jim Suthers, and an audio interview with cinematographer/editor Marsha Kahm. Along with the theatrical trailer, there’s also the usual Troma promos that accompany their re-release such as for Troma Now, Radiation March against pollution, and the Return of Gizzard Face 2 to promote Troma NOW’s streaming service. The 2020 Metal + Hitchcock “Blood Stab” short, starring Lloyd Kaufman, finds its way onto the release too. “Blood Hook” is a tackle box of slasher tropes and anti-war and PTSD undertones though slightly dragged down by its weighted comedy; however, a killer sound design and a topnotch killer makes “Blood Hook” a perfect poster film for Troma heads.