Intriguingly labelled as a Space Opera, Blood Machines is a 3-part science fiction mini-series exclusive to the streaming service Shudder and features a spacecraft with a soul, lasers, nudity and a huge dose of 80’s aesthetic.
It begins with an interstellar chase scene resulting in a damaged ship crash-landing on a strange planet and the huge pursuing craft piloted by two men landing to inspect the wreckage. The captain of the ship, Vascan (Anders Heinrichson), ventures out to inspect the wreckage only to be met with a party of ‘scrapper’ women. They argue that there is more to the ship than it seems and perform what only can be described as a ‘fuel ritual’, a naked female figure then escapes from the physical body of the ship and flies slowly (to the fantastic synth beats of Carpenter Brut’s gloriously 80’s score) into space.
What follows is part chase and part sci-fi action with a rather large quantity of sexual and gender subtext all presented in a 1980’s visual package that, if it weren’t for the rather excellent special effects, you would be hard to convince that it wasn’t directly from that decade.
Comprising of three 20-minute mini episodes, Blood Machines acts as pseudo-sequel of sorts to Seth Ickerman and Carpenter Brut’s collaborative music video, Turbo Killer. That was a four-minute synth infused car chase set in a dystopian city back drop. Taking the dialogue-free sumptuous 80’s visuals from their first effort and moving the narrative into outer space, the duo offer a sharp hit of nostalgia as well as a genuinely compelling, if not extremely strange, concept. This time complete with speaking parts and featuring a fittingly janky 80’s tone and hammy delivery.
As we are introduced to the men piloting the huge and wonderfully detailed chasing craft that is dripping fluids from entering the planet’s atmosphere, it resembles a giant bio-mechanical being, full of teeth glistening with viscosity, it even features a port that when opened to allow its inhabitants to exit, resembles a beast’s gaping maw. The visuals are truly stunning, and for a low budget production such as this, it is a massive achievement. The world displayed is strangely believable and lived in, all oxidized metals and sinewy electrical cables. The production design and effects really do defy the low budget of the piece. Though, if there were any glaringly apparent flaws, they have been hidden within the grainy VHS style presentation, appearing more grindhouse than HD with its constant screen-scratches and peppering of blemishes. This effect is of course intentional in adding to that 80’s feel, but is also an ingenious way of hiding both budget constraints and confinements to set design.
The captain of the ship, Vascan, is presented as an extremely unlikable character from the offset. A male chauvinist of the highest order, he confesses to sleeping with female robots and takes one of the women responsible for the strange resurrection hostage, and he confesses that he plans on raping her when she is imprisoned. There is a strong subtext of female strength and worth as a backbone of the plot. Ships that are phallic in design shoot even more phallic looking projectiles that penetrate spaceships that are clearly representative of female genitalia. There is little subtlety to be had here and the message is hammered home instead of cleverly crafted into the narrative. In the world of the Blood Machines, men are assholes and women are a mysterious and wonderful oddity.
Blood Machines is a strange beast, an obscure and original (for these times at least) concept that harks back to the days of 20-minute music videos such as Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker. It is fun and beautifully put together. You don’t have to understand everything that is going on, as it can be enjoyed as a sensory experience. For example, while a space-set fight scene takes place, the action is mirrored with a choreographed dance scene to the beats and synth of the fantastic score and it is hard not to feel a slight rush of adrenaline as the tempo begins to build. Unfortunately, this scene is short lived and loses momentum early on. The sudden blast of intense action, which is welcome following a long build up, is over far too soon.
As a 60-minute, 80’s infused, sci-fi space opera with a kick-ass score, Blood Machines is exactly as described and is an example of what current talented directors can do with a small budget, and a lot of creativity.
Directed by: Seth Ickerman
Written by: Seth Ickerman, Paul La Farge
Cast: Elisa Lasowski, Anders Heinrichsen, Christian Erickson