In the grand tradition of Deliverance (1972), Rituals (‘77), and Up the Creek (1984) comes Hunter’s Blood (’86), a backwoods hicksploitation actioner that more than gets by with a cast handpicked by the B movie gods and a script wittier than it has to be. Who says the outdoors hold no charm? (Well, normally that would be me.)
Based on the novel by Jere Cunningham (who later wrote the story for Judgment Night, which is just the urban version of the same tale), Hunter’s Blood was released by Palace Pictures in the U.K. in September, and picked up by Roger Corman’s Concorde Pictures for release stateside in January of ’87, where soon after it was destined to languish on home video shelves, with store clerks puzzled as to where it should be stocked. (By the by, I always saw it in the Horror section, where I think it rightfully belonged.) Hard to classify but easy to like, Hunter’s Blood plays like Deliverance’s eager to please younger sibling who turns out smarter than he looks.
Five city slickers head to the woods for some deer hunting, and run afoul of a group of sub-literate, illegal poachers who lay claim to the land and will do anything to protect it, by any means possible. *Checks notes* That’s about it, folks.
With Hunter’s Blood it’s not what it’s about, but rather how; this is an old story made even more ancient by its thisclose proximity to Boorman’s classic and the stop gag at Peter Carter’s kinetic Kanadian Rituals, the most viscerally horrifying of the three (although there is something to be said for the porcine l’amour of Ned Beatty). Hunter’s Blood stakes no claim to originality, instead relying on a satirical look at chest beating and male virility to pull the viewer through. (Not to mention some decent bloodshed and a fast paced back half.)
Our five protagonists (Sam Bottoms, Clu Gulager, Ken Swofford, Joey Travolta, and the gloriously named Mayf Nutter) swing their dicks as soon as they arrive at a redneck bar on their way to the woods; stirring up trouble with the locals (led by Halloween’s Charles Cyphers), it’s Bottoms’ dad Gulager who steps in with some startling hand to hand (or is that peen to peen?) combat before hightailing it away in their Bronco (everything here is a symbol of member measurement) and fleeing to what they feel is their sanctuary. However, the locals only follow so far, knowing full well their territorial limits. They may be simple, but they sure ain’t stupid.
No, that’s reserved for our heroes, who would have been ensconced back in their suburban beds if they had any semblance of common sense after their first encounter with the pine and skunk scented villains. It’s very clear after their initial encounter that they’re outnumbered, outflanked, and overpowered, but they need to bag that deer, right? It’s this clamouring for tribalism that blinds them to the dangers ahead; well that, and a need to drive the narrative in Emmett Alston (New Year’s Evil)’s script beyond the half way point when our weekend warriors decide to flee for their lives.
But it’s the points in between the carnage that sets Hunter’s Blood apart from a typical revenge/survivalist thriller; there is mucho macho talk of being at one with nature, the sanctity of the kill, and being in tune with the male spirit that is presented so solemnly that it can’t be taken as anything but satire. I mean it could, but chances are if these are your real views on weaponry and male/female relationships we probably won’t be going out for beers together. However, if Clu Gulager is your idea of an action hero, the first round is on me.
Director Robert C. Hughes (who would go on to helm the stoopidly fun Memorial Valley Massacre) keeps things moving even before the attacks; the bar scene with Cyphers is righteous, and the puffed up philosophizing is more than entertaining to an audience unconcerned with the phallic dimensions of rifles. (Or maybe you like both! I’m not here to judge. But the answer we’re looking for? Long and girthy. Long and girthy.) There’s a nasty shotgun blast to the head, a dead ranger tied to a tree like a gutted deer, and several rounds of knife play to satiate the bloodlust rampaging through every action and horror fan. (Yes, we like to keep it fake and on the screen, thank you very much.)
A film like this is only as strong as its villain, and Hunter’s Blood is a veritable Rogues Gallery of B Baddies. Just look at this lineup: Lee de Broux (RoboCop)! Bruce Glover (Walking Tall)! Bryan Rasmussen (American Horror Story)! Mickey Jones (Tin Cup)! and as required by movie law, Billy Drago (The Untouchables)! The best part is they are all given comical names like One Eye, Wash Pot, Snake, Purty Boy, and Red Beard that a) makes them easily identifiable, and b) forms a complete set in my imaginary NECA Boggy Bad Guys Collection. (Get ‘em all!)
Let’s not give our Flab Five short thrift though; Bottoms (Up from the Depths) is as always earnest and dependable, Travolta (Hollywood Vice Squad) whips up petulance like it’s nobody’s business, Nutter (Stay Hungry) has the best name, and Swofford (Black Roses) is a reliable blowhard. But let’s face it, as soon as Clu does his first takedown there’s no question where your eyes are planted. Oh, and Kim Delaney (Mission to Mars) is aboard as Bottom’s wife who naturally becomes third act bait (and sadly, not much else) when she sets out to find her husband.
Hunter’s Blood very much deserves to sit on a shelf next to Rituals and Just Before Dawn (which I’ve Dusted Off here) as a stellar backwoods horror; the ending alone has a delicious punchline (pun intended) that every horror fan will love. Deliverance may sit alone and apart as an ‘elevated’ thriller, but honestly I’d rather crawl through the brushes any weekend to watch Clu Gulager kick ass. My kind of hero has rolls, y’all.
Hunter’s Blood is only available on DVD as a Region 2 German import. May the boutique label gods be listenin’.