Monday, November 15, 2021

“Misery Comes in Lots of Different Forms. It’s All Miserable.” - Bloody Murder (2000) - Film #217

Connoisseurs of the summer camp slasher film were in for a treat in 2000, approximately 20 years after the heyday of that illustrious subgenre, when Bloody Murder was released to an indeterminate amount of fanfare.  

Reviewer cindy24_3 writes fashionably, " It was a waste of 4 bucks!! And to beat it all, the murderer wasn't even dressed like a real murderer. His outfit was too clean!! DON'T rent this movie!!!! Waste of your money!!" Reviewer Zantara Xenophobe writes helpfully, "My advice to anyone stupid enough to see this movie would be to give yourself extra time to watch it. You'll need it for the numerous times you have to stop the movie to beat your head against the wall." And reviewer gila_film writes incoherently, "Bloody Murder is definetely a so-called slasher movie. This movie is accurately below-average that makes it so underrated. There's no gore, scare, decent twist or blood."

Read on for the truth about Bloody Murder...

A car rolls slowly along a road through the middle of a forest, finally sputtering to a stop. The occupants, a young man and a young woman, reason that the car is out of gas, even though it was just filled up, so without a word the young man takes a gas can and starts walking back toward the gas station. When he sees a pickup truck, and the man with a hockey mask and chainsaw standing next to it, the young man says, “It’s really fortunate I ran into you.”

The young man is incorrect. The masked man starts the chainsaw and chases him through the forest. The young man has a habit of falling down while running, which allows the killer to drive the chainsaw into his chest when he is on the ground, though the film cuts before showing any gore.

Later, a group of young people drive along the same road discussing the legend of Trevor Moorehouse, a killer whose left hand is attached to a chainsaw. The car drives into Camp Placid Pines, where they are met by Patrick, who in a startlingly original idea is renovating the camp in order to reopen it. Unfortunately, conflict among the various camp counselors begins immediately as Brad and Jason reveal they were rivals at track and field until Jason broke his knee. (This fact is mentioned offhandedly later in the film, but not by Jason or Brad, and it plays no role in the story.)

Tobe, the comedian of the group who packed a hockey mask to scare the others, helps set up with Whitney and Julie. He complains, “It frightens me to think that my diet of the next eight weeks will consist primarily of creamed spinach and Mrs. Pete’s tater tots.”

Whitney replies, “Not me. I’m sticking with what I know. Ritz crackers and peanut butter. Basic building blocks of a well-rounded eating disorder.”

The three counselors discover that the kitchen has a large supply of knives, but little else. In a suspenseful sequence, Tobe locks himself and Julie in a freezer, though Whitney opens the door almost immediately.

The first day’s work consists of dropping canoes into the lake and introducing the many, many counselors to each other. Afterward,  counselors Julie and Drew walk through the woods, where Julie (finally) encounters a crazy man with a warning who had been waiting for her on a trail: “There’s danger in these woods. Nelson’s come back…for revenge.” The man simply wanders away, having delivered his warning.

At night, Julie and Drew get to know each other. Julie tells Drew her mother died recently, so Drew says, “Wow. I’m sorry. I lost one of my parents, too.”



This heartwarming, detailed exchange that is remarkably short on details is interrupted by another counselor scaring Julie and Drew with a hockey mask, then inviting them to the lake. “The lake,” of course, turns out to be a campfire, where, instead of telling scary stories, Jason suggests a game of “Bloody Murder,” which is essentially hide-and-seek where only the player designated “it” hides. The counselors agree to play, so the filmmakers show various young adults walking through the woods accompanied by suspenseful music. The game climaxes when one of the counselors with a blood-stained shirt stumbles toward Brad and says, “Brad, could you yell ‘bloody murder’ for me?” The counselor falls to the ground.

Brad, unsure if the death is a joke, then stumbles upon an axe-wielding  man with a hockey mask, but it does all turn out to be a practical joke…until the group disperses and a figure stalks two of the counselors making love in the woods.

The next day, Julie looks for her boyfriend Jason, who has disappeared (and who was one of the counselors making love the previous night…but to Whitney, not Julie). Also, counselor Dean confronts Whitney, who cannot swim, on a canoe about her infidelity with Jason. He knocks Whitney into the water, but then rescues her.

At night, while many campers watch a slasher movie (identified as Sleepover Camp Massacre 14 but actually director Ralph Portillo’s previous film, the Corey Haim vehicle Fever Lake from 1997), in a cabin, Whitney is murdered by a man with a knife wearing a hockey mask. In the film’s most striking image, we see the killer reflected in a pool of blood seeping into some generic-brand crackers and peanut butter.

The next day, Tobe elaborates on his theory to the local sheriff that Dean killed Whitney, so the sheriff takes Dean in for questioning. Later, Julie and her roommate Drew share a joint (which they call “Guam cigarettes") on a mountainside while talking about the disappearances. Drew says wisely, “Misery comes in lots of different forms. It’s all miserable.”

The sheriff holds Dean overnight at the sheriff’s station, despite having zero evidence that Dean did anything. Back at camp, Julie is again accosted by the crazy man, who works as a janitor at the camp, and again the man says something about Nelson. He also mentions Julie’s father’s name, implying she is more involved in the story than we realized. And at night, finally, the counselors talk about Trevor Moorehouse, though Tobe says dismissively, “What is this, six degrees of mutilation? There’s no such person as Trevor Moorehouse.” They give no details about Moorehouse, just that there were disappearances blamed on the person who might or might not exist. Some kind of murderer exists, however, as we see counselor Brad murdered bloodlessly with two archery arrows. Breaking from slasher film tradition, this occurs in broad daylight, but in keeping with slasher film tradition, the body disappears almost immediately.

After a meeting between Patrick and Tobe where Tobe jumps to the conclusion that Jason must be the killer because of his name (a nod to the self-awareness of the Scream films, perhaps), Julie walks about twelve miles toward the lake, unaware she is being followed by someone wearing a mask and jumpsuit and carrying a gardening claw. When the killer shows himself, Julie breaks into a run and eventually finds a dirt road, where Dean nearly hits her in his car. Somehow, his quick stop results in a flat tire. As Julie walks away after turning down a ride back to camp, Dean says wittily, “Everyone’s whacked at this place.” Minutes later, Dean finds himself “whacked.” With a knife.

Julie, meanwhile, breaks into the old man’s cabin and finds a picture of her father when he was a counselor standing next to a camper named Nelson Hammond. Julie emails her father to find out more, and then talks to the sheriff, who based on circumstantial evidence believes Julie’s missing boyfriend Jason must be the killer (even though no bodies have been found). Profoundly, the sheriff says, “It always helps to know who you’re lookin’ for.”

Doing some research on the internet of the year 2000, Julie quickly discovers that Nelson Hammond was a 12-year boy who nearly drowned in the lake during a game of Bloody Murder, and who was later locked up in the Carpenter County Medical Institution for the murder of a camp counselor (who, incidentally, had a pregnant wife). 

Shockingly, Jason returns, and not so shockingly, Julie turns him in to the sheriff, who says, “Well, that should be the end of trouble in Camp Placid Pines for a while.”

In one of the slasher genre’s most convoluted and least cinematic attempted murders, Julie test-runs an obstacle course but falls when trying to climb up the side of a building because her rope has been cut. Terrifyingly, Julie is mildly inconvenienced by the short fall.

At the same time, another counselor is murdered with a lawn dart; unfortunately for him, the camp did not observe the U.S. ban on lawn darts established in 1988. Of course, his body is not discovered, so the remaining counselors continue fixing up the camp, whose kitchen remains unstocked despite the upcoming camper season. Also, Julie’s father shows up unexpectedly at camp.

Julie abandons her father to check some camp records and finds out her roommate Drew is the daughter of the counselor that Nelson murdered in the 1980s. Jumping to the conclusion that Drew is responsible for all the disappearances, Julie discovers one of the dead counselor’s bodies, but then she runs into Tobe, who tells her Drew and her father are walking toward the lake. She runs after them.

The sheriff arrives at camp and tells Tobe, perhaps prematurely, that the camp is closed for the summer due to the disappearances. Meanwhile, somebody hits Julie’s father on the back with a canoe paddle, sending him into the lake, where he floats, unconscious.

Julie finds Drew and confronts her, telling her that Drew’s father was killed so Drew is killing everyone for revenge, even though the real killer appears from the boathouse behind Julie.

The two women escape. The killer punches Drew, then runs after Julie. After a few seconds, she runs into Patrick, her boss. He admits he is the killer, having killed Julie’s father and Drew (apparently by punching her). In an amazing coincidence, they are standing under a tree where the real Patrick’s body is hanging, something nobody noticed before.

“You’re Nelson Hammond,” Julie says.

“Very good,” he says. “You kids today, you think your computers and your telephones and your email can keep you safe in the woods?”

A counselor nearly rescues Julie, but he is subdued when a group of dead bodies hanging in the tree fall on top of him, presumably a frequent occurrence in the forest.

Julie runs, eventually reaching camp, where Patrick confronts all of the counselors before being shot by Drew, who was not in fact killed by Patrick’s punch.

When it is all over, half the counselors are put on stretchers to be taken to the hospital. Julie talks to Drew, apparently still woozy from the punch. Drew says, “It’s weird, but I think I’m all right. I mean, I came up here to deal with some unresolved issues about my father’s death, and in a weird way I guess you could say I did. I guess I just didn’t expect it to be so literal.”

In a twist, the still-alive, though shot, Patrick admits he didn’t kill one of the counselors, Doug. “Must have been…Trevor Moorehouse,” Patrick says, grinning.

In a coda, Julie breaks up with Jason to be with Tobe, for some reason. As they drive away, Jason walks through the forest, only to be confronted by a man in a mask carrying a chainsaw — the real Trevor Moorehouse!

The critics who write that Bloody Murder is made up of a series of cliches obviously miss the point of a summer camp slasher film, which is to repeat the cliches over and over. Bloody Murder is something of an experiment, as it strips away nearly everything from the summer camp slasher film except the complicated backstory. Unlike some other slasher films, Bloody Murder has a flat visual style, workmanlike editing, merely adequate acting, and perfunctory murder scenes. Eliminating these distractions allows its murder mystery to take up most of the screen time, a decision perhaps inspired by the success of Scream (1996). Bloody Murder offers the legend of the killer Trevor Moorehouse (though it fails to explain most of this killer's story, a gap filled by 2003's Bloody Murder 2: Closing Camp) as well as the actual killer Nelson Hammond, two young men who had terrible experiences at Camp Placid Pines. Adding mysterious family relationships to most of the camp counselors takes up a good deal of the film's running time and allows the film to have a surprise ending in which Trevor Moorehouse is more than a campfire story. The only thing missing, really, is a twist (Tobe, for example, could have been the real Trevor Moorehouse, but he remains the humorous eventual love interest to Julie until the end of the film). The bare bones of the summer camp slasher movie are laid bare in Bloody Murder and the audience is allowed to enjoy it on its own terms. What more could one want from a film called Bloody Murder? (I suppose the correct answer is blood, but let us not be pedantic, as there is murder, so half the title is correct -- a respectable average.)