Friday, April 9, 2010

On the Celluloid Chopping Block: Mats Helge's BLOOD TRACKS (1985)

For those who need an introduction, Sweden has a couple of internationally famous (or infamous) exploitation directors, none more prevalent in America than Mats Helge. If you’ve spent any time scouring video stores for cool low-budget movies in the ‘80s you will no doubt have stumbled across a film from New Line Cinema’s Smart Egg production company titled BLOOD TRACKS. Released in the US in 1985 it was marketed so as to make audiences think that it had something in common with Wes Craven’s 1984 hit A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET. Of course the only thing they had in common was a genre and a distributor, but they wouldn't have had to worry about that lame tie in if they had used the full poster art which featured a hair band and a lesbian make-out session. Oh wait, that's a dude on the bottom. Ah, the 80's when tough guys on a Monday morning spent more time in the bathroom than their girlfriends on a Friday night.

BLOOD TRACKS is easily Helge’s most ambitious and big budgeted work, a fact that will sadly be lost on first time viewers. The plot is classic fromage: A metal band named Solid Gold has come to an unidentified, presumably American mountain town in the middle of winter searching for the best spot to shoot a scene for the video to their new single “Blood Tracks”. Unbeknownst to them, the abandoned factory where they plan to shoot is home to a group of brothers and sisters who have been living there for over 40 years. Of course the band and their crew trespassing on their land doesn’t go unpunished and the body-count is pretty impressive. Clearly influenced by Wes Craven’s 1977 hit THE HILLS HAVE EYES, I actually enjoy this one more. While Craven was happy to hit one note and stick with it, Helge takes the idea and runs with it. Why have a family encounter this regressed family of savages, when you could have a rock group? Not only is a rock group more entertaining but they have hot chicks! Why have them be simply a group of savages when they could have a back-story about spousal abuse and be obsessed with Christianity? Granted, Craven’s film is more serious and disturbing, but Helge’s riff is infinitely more entertaining and rewatchable. Yeah, I said it. I'll take Helge over Craven any day of the week.

The once popular Swedish band Easy Action is credited with being the first Swedish glam metal band and after being formed in 1982 cut two albums, appeared in BLOOD TRACKS and broke up in 1986 when founding member Kee Marcello signed on with Europe. Seemingly modeled in sight and sound on Philadelphia glam rockers Cinderella, they actually preceded them. In '82 the band allegedly stole their name from another established Swedish band at the time and were sued in ‘83 by Poison, who claimed they plagiarized the chorus of their song “I Want Action” for their establishing hit single titled “We Go Rockin’.”

Unlike many films that try to use a band as a central focus for the plot, Easy Action is actually really entertaining in their cheesiness. The title song, which ranks right up there with the title song from Robert Ginty’s WHITE FIRE, is actually seriously catchy and will get stuck in your head every time you see the words "blood tracks".

The biggest problem with BLOOD TRACKS is that it appears to be one of those movies that got brutally censored every time it passed into someone’s hands. At present there is no known completely uncut print that I am aware of. If you know differently don’t hesitate to contact me. Until recently I thought it was hopeless to find even so much as a scrap of extra footage for this film.

The American release which was rated “R” is cut to ribbons. What is really surprising is that it’s not gore that our censors decided had to go! Mainly because most of the gore was already cut.
All I had ever heard and read was that there was no “uncut” version of BLOOD TRACKS on video and technically that still may be true. I had also read that the Japanese VHS was not “uncut”, this is technically true, but the interesting thing is that it is quite literally 3 minutes longer and contains three minutes of extra footage (I’ll save my diatribe on the illusion of video running times for another day). Looking at the video box covers is a clear metaphor for what is actually in the film versions.

Be it the '80s or modern day US censors prefer to delete violence. Now since the legendary American Morality Czar, the vile Jack Valenti has stepped down, we have had much less censorship in cinema, but it's still there. In the ‘80s above the waist nudity was acceptable and even copious in horror movies. Interestingly the US version deletes almost all of the nudity in the film and even goes to the extreme of having the two scenes of nudity that are left in panned and scanned to crop nudity out of the frame!

In the scene with the couple who are trapped in a car after the car is buried by an avalanche the girl is naked when they pull her out. Why is that? That’s because in the full scene the girl takes off her clothes while making out with the band member that includes a brief dialogue exchange. This is actually intercut with some dialogue that takes place between the sound guy and the cameraman in the house. That is deleted also. And amazingly when the girl is being pulled out the car, the US release pan and scans most of her bare ass out of the frame! During a scene where two topless girls are being groped and attacked with a squirt-bottle, the US version pan and scans so that the door takes up most of the frame and most of the nudity is cropped off screen.

There are actually several other scenes at various points in the film where the band members are making out and getting naked that are completely cut out along with any scenes that are intercut with the extended nude scene (if that makes sense).

The only bit of violence that is extended in the Japanese version is where the director “Bob” shoots the dwarf "Sonny" who is wielding nothing but a squeak toy. In the US version he shoots him once off-camera, cutting to a shot of the dwarf already slumped over dead, then another off-camera shot. In the Japanese version Bob shoots him on-camera, chambers another round and shoots him a total of five times while asking why they killed his friends, showing the bullet hits for each shot. The dwarf slumps over and the same off-camera shot is heard as in the US version. Clearly New Line felt the killing of a defenseless, mentally-retarded dwarf was considered to be too brutal for an R-rated American crowd!

Unfortunately no matter which version you watch there’s still a bunch of gore missing. Linda’s death (the girl tied to the wall with the counter-weights) is still a complete mystery. I’m guessing she was torn in half (the two counter-weights appeared to be attached by cables to her wrists, and there is a quick close-up of blood pouring down the middle of her face), but sadly it’s the same in both prints. The bit where the Police Chief (Mats Helge regular Frederick Offrein) shoots the one of the last brothers at the end still looks like it’s missing the coupe de grace. Plus there’s a moment where it looks like something happens to John right after one of the girls gets impaled with a pick-axe. He looks like he’s stunned by something painful and then limps through what’s left of his screen time. Whether that is censored or just an editing kerfuffle, I can’t say.

Interestingly the US version contains an extra shot of the girl who gets impaled on a section of rebar. Even though the initial shot of her impaling is shorter by a few frames, after cutting to a reaction shot of her attacker, the camera cuts back to a wide overhead shot of her bloody body, a shot that is missing from the Japanese. Also the severed arm gag in the US version is panned and scanned so you can see the bloody stump and the hand opening up, where as the Japanese version stays almost dead center cropping off the bloody stump, ruining the effect entirely.

The really bad news is that the Japanese tape looks like crap. Even after I adjusted the colors and contrast with my video processor it’s still just a muddy as hell transfer and the tape is old so it’s really grainy and has lots of drop-outs at the end, resulting in a lot of scenes where it’s difficult to see what’s going on.

The man, the myth, the legend,
back when making a cheap movie still took a helluva lot of effort.

If anyone has any other info on this or any of Mats Helge films, or hell, if you have his e-mail address, drop me a line and let me know.

Easy Action reformed last year and their website has a funny as hell band's-eye-view of making BLOOD TRACKS as written by one of the band memebers.

Thanks to the super-Swede, NinjaDixon, for uploading a super-rare clip of the uncut girl-split-in-two scene!

1 Reactions:

  1. Hey! Excellent article, it was big help in identifying the differences in the most uncut version I've seen so far + seem to have ALL the gore :) Check it out, including a video clip from it:


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