There’s no other horror film quite like Blood Beat, though that’s not saying it’s a good film, just that it’s unique and strange. Nobody else has ever made such an odd slasher in the history of the sub-genre. Lofty statements, yet true. Blood Beat is a story about a family getting together for Christmas in rural Wisconsin, only for the family and one outsider to be caught in the crosshairs of supernatural vengeance by way of an undead samurai warrior brought back to violent life. Of course there’s no other film like this one. Who’d think up such a ridiculous plot? Fabrice A. Zaphiratos, that’s who. He never wrote or directed anything else again, either.
Despite the relative silliness of Blood Beat‘s plot and story there are intriguing themes right below the surface, if you can get past the absurdity of the film’s woefully disjointed narrative. Underneath the largely wooden acting and a festival of unnecessary special effects that do nothing but provide empty visual thrills, the film actually holds lessons about how Christianity has affected everything from the family unit to women and their sexuality, and the cultures of non-white people in America. Certainly a big claim. But, as usual, there’s so much implicit, and explicit, symbolism in Blood Beat itself to generate such a towering claim about what most people consider a throwaway Christmas horror film.
Something Blood Beat continually comes back to is the appropriation of non-white cultures by white Americans, ultimately speaking to the long legacy of colonialism that is the history of White America. Early on in the film there are a number of shots focusing on sculptures and artwork depicting Eastern cultures, namely Asian. The shots feature the sculptures and artwork almost looming over everything in an ominous way; not so much attempting to evoke fear of the objects themselves but to drive home that the shadow they cast over the film is one of significance. Because what eventually happens is we see a samurai’s uniform and sword—while it’s vague exactly what the connection really is, it’s somehow connected to the family matriarch, Cathy (Helen Benton), whether she owns the items or not—become symbols of vengeance that come alive to wreak havoc on Cathy and her family, a violent punishment for America’s colonialist destruction.
Due to the fact American colonialism is a focus of Blood Beat there’s also importance to the film being set in rural Wisconsin. To start, Wisconsin is home to at least eleven different Indigenous tribes. European contact forced many eastern Indigenous tribes to emigrate to Wisconsin in the back half of the 17th century, causing intertribal warfare amongst Indigenous peoples. French colonisation in places like Wisconsin brought disease to Indigenous tribes, affecting their populations. The Wisconsin tribes were particularly impacted and their numbers greatly reduced due to these factors. Blood Beat being set in Wisconsin, along with a white family hoarding the artefacts of other cultures, makes the film’s theme concerning colonisation all the more effective.
Additionally, after the samurai’s approach to Cathy’s house causes poltergeist-like activity, we see a bottle of Quaker Oats tossed violently at a white man in the chaos. The Quaker Oats label, featuring a(n obviously) white Quaker, is brimming with symbolism here as the non-white Other, the samurai, uses it to try repelling one of the colonisers. Quakers, who were Protestant Christians, are one more connection in the film to the colonisation of Indigenous land, having their own links with white supremacy, the prison system, and other toxic aspects of modern America.
As the film wears on it’s more and more obvious that the chief focus of the film is a repression of women’s sexuality in the face of Christianity, as the revenant samurai warrior gets intimately—in the most eroticised sense of the word—linked to Sarah (Claudia Peyton), the unfortunate girlfriend who goes home to Wisconsin with her boyfriend for Christmas vacation. Blood Beat works as a Freudian, self-fulfilling slasher prophecy regarding the undead samurai’s bloody, thrusting blade in multiple kill scenes which parallels the thrusting, half naked body of Sarah in her bed drawing a line between dangerous violence and women’s sexuality.
As the samurai spirit moves closer to Sarah and Cathy’s home, Sarah writhes in bed erotically, humping the air and breathing heavy, moaning. Sarah’s sexual movements and noises are eventually juxtaposed with the sword of the samurai penetrating a victim, as if the sword is her phallus. Later, a man’s shot with an arrow and again Sarah thrusts her hips like she’s doing the violent penetration herself. Blood Beat positions women’s sexuality as a destructive and violent source by paralleling the samurai’s weaponry with Sarah’s eroticism; the Asian Other in the samurai is connected to Sarah’s sexuality, making her a kind of erotic Other. The unsettling sexual politics here are capped off by Sarah and the samurai being destroyed by the family in the end.
The Christmas holiday further plays into Blood Beat‘s narrative about dangerous sexuality because of the nativity story. Jesus was born of immaculate conception, free of Christian sin; born of a ‘pure’ mother undefiled by sex. Thus, even the origin story of Christianity, and in turn Christmas itself, is tainted by a belief that human sexuality in general is a dangerous or impure thing. And it’s all just in the patriarchal nature of Christianity to blame everything, especially matters of sex, on a woman. There’s no coincidence that after Sarah and the samurai are killed the final song playing on through the credits sounds like a Christian hymn, depicting the triumph of Christian values over the dangerous woman, her sexuality, and the non-white Other.You can watch Blood Beat as a time waster, or you can just as easily draw out interesting and heavy themes behind the film’s goofy qualities. It’ll never be reassessed as a classic that people missed out on, neither is it ‘funny’ enough, intentional or not, to provide the so-good-it’s-bad aura many other 1980s horrors have benefited from over the years. Yet the film remains a thought-provoking, if not incredibly bizarre look at the ways Christianity and colonialism have terrorised various groups of people, from women to most non-white cultures on the planet. You’ve got to dig a good way before striking thematic gold in this film, but the gold’s still there.
Blood Beat‘s connection of the undead samurai warrior with Sarah yields plenty of wild stuff, pursuing the blatantly obvious link between sex and violence that often comes across through slasher films, and the fact Sarah’s vanquished, along with the samurai, shows how desperately afraid a Christian Christmas and America are of women’s sexuality.