March 29, 2011
Dan Ellis as Donald Q. Cardini
Sindy Faraguna as Riversa Red
Nathan Durec as Luke the Director
Erindera Farga as Sienna
Nick Windebank as The Lodgeboy
Don Cardini (Ellis) is a grizzled, unstable driver on indie movie sets. Every day, he packs prima donna actors and egotistical directors into his red van and drives them to their film sets. On this particular movie, though, he discovers that his favorite Scream Queen, Riversa Red (Faraguna), is working on the film under an assumed name because of a stalker. Overjoyed by this, he sets it up so that he’s her personal driver and promises to protect her from the stalker, should he appear. Meanwhile, the director, Luke (Durec), has begun losing control of his set and is continually at odds with Cardini who feels he could write and direct a better movie with his own encyclopedic horror film knowledge. One day, after Riversa inadvertently reads some of Don’s lines from a script he’d given her in a scene, Luke and Don come to blows, causing Don to be fired. You can’t get rid of Don that easily, though, and he’ll do anything to protect Riversa and get his vision seen by the masses. Perhaps he’d even kill?
I have not seen either one of Canadian director Ryan Nicholson’s more cult-famous works in the genre, Gutterballs or Hanger. After seeing Bleading Lady (aka Star Vehicle), however, I’m seriously interested in what else Nicholson’s done. The script he’s written is bitingly funny commentary on the state of indie horror filmmaking. This is particularly seen in the film’s movie-within-the-movie, a hilariously awful slasher filled with purposely bad performances and a director who’s just a hair away from completely losing his mind. He also manages to avoid the ever too common pitfall of low-budget filmmaking: dreadful sound design. The dialogue matches up with the actors on screen, and the score by Gianni Rossi and Ben Weinman perfectly nails the feel of 80s camp that the movie so effectively is pays homage to.
It is probably Nicholson’s casting of Dan Ellis that elevates this movie most. Ellis, who has the look of Joe Spinell in Maniac or Tom Savini (I don’t think the similar sounding name is a coincidence), manages to be spectacularly entertaining and likeable. Having him as the star really helpsBleading Lady along because it gives hard core horror fans someone they can relate to. Sindy Faraguna as Riversa also benefits the film greatly with her counterbalance to Dan’s opinions about the genre, seen brilliantly in a scene where they discuss the idea of “judging” an actress for doing nude scenes. She is also a far better actress than the rest of the cast, making her more believable as a legendary Scream Queen.
Unfortunately, there are some significant issues that hold Bleading Lady back from being truly great. First, the storytelling structure is a little slow-moving, particularly in the first third. While the smart script does make this bearable it doesn’t completely remove this issue. Secondly, and far more importantly, the film’s ending is surprisingly dark and significantly drawn out. While that might work in other films, here it comes off as out-of-place and truly feels like its punishing us for our opinions of certain characters. The ending also switches filmmaking styles from the rest of the film in a visual way, mostly being shot from a handheld cam. While, again, that can work, here it initially makes rather little sense and isn’t very stable camerawork. Given the contrast between this and Bleading Lady’s typically good technical style, this just doesn’t work.
Overall, Bleading Lady is entertaining, funny, and smart. It’s not perfect, though. It seems to move a little slowly early on and takes such a starkly dark, less-polished turn in its ending that it might turn some viewers off. However, if you can handle its sudden twist and slow burn, there’s still a decent amount to like.