Review first appeared in S&S Mar 2012.
Synopsis: America, near future. With petrol prices exorbitant, nobody drives. Archie Andrews – kindergarten teacher, vegan and amateur inventor – hopes to run a prototype engine on wheatgrass, and makes daily purchases of wheatgrass juice from adoring vegan vendor Lorraine. Archie accidentally discovers that only blood will power the motor. Fuelled with his own blood, the car draws the amorous attentions of man-eating meat vendor Denise. Secretly observed by government agents, Archie attaches rotor blades to the motor. The blood of animals reluctantly killed by Archie fails to get the engine running, but the corpse of his recently deceased neighbour makes it roar. As infatuated with Denise as she is with his car, Archie goes to ever greater lengths to keep his tank filled, even resorting to the murder of strangers. Two agents abduct Archie, intending to shoot him and take the car – but Archie kills them and escapes.
Another two agents are killed trying to steal the car, and Archie, now blood-spattered and crazed, spends a carnivorous night with Denise, before remembering his priorities and returning to his classroom. There, he is arrested. Agent Donald Watkins reveals that agents have crashed Archie’s car while stealing it again, and that Archie must rebuild the blood engine as his patriotic duty; in return, he will get a new life and whatever he wants. As Archie agrees, agents execute everyone from his past. Finally, a smiling Archie, suited like an agent, is seen tossing a black baby into the engine of a new car.
Review: “It’s the future – like, two weeks from now,” deadpans the suited Agent direct to camera in the opening scene, eating crisps like a cinemagoer as he introduces “a story about a man… about his invention… about society… about you.”
So, with this flagrant breach of both chronological logic and the fourth wall, Blood Car immediately establishes its absurdist tone. Alex Orr’s feature debut was in fact completed in 2007, winning acclaim and awards at various festivals before going straight-to-DVD in the US – but in the half a decade that it has since taken to get its theatrical release in the UK, the film has left its influence on Quentin Dupieux’s similarly left-field ‘road movie’ Rubber (2010) and Dean Francis’ more conventional highway horror Road Train (2010) – the former featuring another paradoxical narrator/character and a killer car part, the latter boasting another carnivorous engine. The idea of a blood-fueled vehicle can be traced back to Ferat Vampire (Upír z Feratu, 1981, featuring Dagmar Veškrnová, future wife of Czech President Václav Havel, in a nude role) – but Orr, co-writing with Adam Piney, inventively use this trope to satirise the ethical, social, ecological and geopolitical exhaust left by America’s all-consuming love affair with the car, that great symbol of status and mobility, in a world that is increasingly running on empty. If “two weeks from now” has since become more like ‘several years ago’, and Blood Car‘s specific barbs at the Bush administration’s willingness to engage in war and ‘patriotic’ murder over its dwindling oil supply have lost some of their sting, there is still ongoing relevance, and indeed prescience, in the film’s allegorical commentary on America’s addiction to a lifestyle fueled by precious, limited and destructive resources.
When vegan kindergarten teacher and amateur inventor Archie Andrews (Mike Brune) discovers that his prototype engine, like some vehicular Audrey II in a Little (Car) Shop of Horrors, requires human blood to work, he is quick to abandon his every principle to keep the motor ticking over so that his new girlfriend, the auto-obsessed, man-eating meat vendor Denise (Katie Rowlett), will continue fueling his carnal desires. The result is a mordant, raunchy and at times gory trip into the dark heart of the American Dream, as everyman Archie’s drive to stay on the road becomes a Faustian pact, with the price for his full tank being others’ lives and his own soul.
Making the most of his low budget and fully embracing a B-picture sensibility, Orr loads his film with broad caricatures, low humour and hilariously surreal (and politically incorrect) digressions – but this is an exploitation movie about exploitation, and its disarming goofiness and transgressive vulgarity eventually give way to images of state execution and infanticide (all in the name of the American Dream) that are shockingly serious, if still played for uncomfortable laughs. A speech of frankly insane justification delivered by another government agent (Matt Hutchinson) near the film’s end evokes Dr Strangelove – and indeed Blood Car is similarly apocalyptic in its lampooning of post-millenial anxieties, with a gleefully cynical finale pointing to a dead-end future for all but a self-serving political élite. A couple more weeks down the road, Blood Car will be a cult classic.