Much has been speculated regarding Nazism’s possible relationship with the occult. It’s been a source of creative inspiration for many since World War II’s end, with its fascination rearing itself in recent years in the horror genre with projects like Overlord and this year’s Ghosts of War. Now, taking these two fascinating elements, director and co-writer Justin Dix takes us aboard an abandoned Nazi ship in his latest film BLOOD VESSEL, where U-boats quickly become less of a concern for a gang of survivors once they realize the ancient evil that lies in wait onboard. While the film itself adds something new to the Nazi occultism horror genre, but the film faces limitations in its archetypal characters and all-too-familiar vampire creature.
We are introduced to our gang of survivors somewhere in the North Atlantic in late 1945. Adrift at sea with the knowledge that there are U-boats out there specifically hunting down survivors and that they lack the means for longtime survival, all hope seems lost. However, an abandoned Nazi minesweeper provides some semblance of hope, providing these people with their only opportunity to potentially get out of the ocean alive. We learn quickly that anyone can die at any moment in BLOOD VESSEL as we watch these survivors try to pull themselves up onto the ship. However, once they are on deck, it becomes quickly clear that there is something seriously off. No one seems to be on board.
As the mystery deepens, it becomes clear that something really strange happened to the entire crew, with hardly any survivors until the gang runs into the lone girl, Mya (Ruby Isobel Hall). The girl, who will prove later to be the key to quite a few answers, leads the survivors through the corridors to find her family. This leads to the discovery that occult artifacts are onboard, including caskets that are practically screaming, “Hey. Let’s not open these things because nothing good can come from this.” Once greed takes ahold of one of the survivors, though, everyone remaining learns the hard way that something ancient and evil resided in those caskets. And it’s not long before former refuge becomes a hellscape.
There is a lot to like in this latest addition to the Nazi occultism horror subgenre. In a plot that seems to be the spawn of John Carpenter’s The Thing and Dracula dressed in World War II garb, BLOOD VESSEL will find a comfortable home in some viewers’ hearts. The practical monster effects that pay homage to Nosferatu are a standout, reminding us that vampires are actually supposed to be frightening. Director Justin Dix‘s practical effects background comes in handy here. The color palette utilized in the film is also memorable, with the cool blues and greens serving as a contrast against the blood reds, which highlights the vessel the survivors are on. This palette also gives off a supernaturally tinged vibe, which emphasizes the occultist-like elements that make up a good chunk of the backstory.
Another highlight of BLOOD VESSEL is the cast. It’s difficult to find much wrong, especially given how well the cast’s chemistry was with one another. Nathan Phillips, Alex Cooke, and Alyssa Sutherland stand out the most among the pack. All three of their characters carry the wounds of war with them, regardless of their nationality or allegiance, and this gets used to great effect by the vampires in the film’s final act. Though, to add my comment regarding the diversity of the cast, I thought it was a great touch considering how barriers between nationalities crossed during the time period. One item of note, though, is whether due to constraints as to expectations of women in the time period, Alyssa Sutherland’s Jane Prescott slides into the archetype of the grieving mother as the film progresses. It makes certain decisions that occur with Prescott in the film ring a bit hollow. This seems to be more of a problem within the script itself rather than the acting or direction.
However, there are areas where BLOOD VESSEL runs thin. Exploring the historic ship used in the film has its perks, especially when amplifying the creepy, confiding corridors. However, while the ship provides a creepy ambiance, it takes much too long in too limited of a setting to get to the vampiric reveal, even with the gradual discovery of various bodies. And, even when the vampires are revealed, it becomes clear that they are limited by how much damage they can actually do. This in spite of the cool addition of how the vampiric infection spreads, which enables the vampires to control any human survivors. This highlights two issues. The spacial limitations imposed by what is, quite frankly, a cool set via the HMAS Castlemaine and also, how far can one go to play up the danger of the confined vampires when the environment can only lend itself to danger so much. Another issue, which just might be a personal preference, is the fear factor of the vampire reduces slightly by having the creature speak. Evoking further vibes of Willem Dafoe in Shadow of the Vampire, I couldn’t help wondering if there might have been a benefit to having the creature not speak.
Overall, BLOOD VESSEL is a refreshingly ambitious venture into a subgenre of horror that continues to draw curiosity and interest. The decision to focus the story within the confines of an actual ship is a bold choice that carries with it pros and cons. The tight corridors and dark spaces create a sense of eeriness and creep factor that can’t be replicated. However, working with that setting may or may not have had an impact on how the execution of the story was told. This combined with the usage of the familiar vampire may or may not have reduced the impact of how mindblowing the film could have been. But the strong cast, the set design, concept, and practical effects really come together to create something special. Flaws and all!
BLOOD VESSEL is now available on VOD and On-Demand platforms. You can purchase the film on iTunes now.