A group of Italian immigrant winemakers struggle to keep possession of land, family and traditions as a ruthless industrialist attempts to buy up all the land in order to bring a railroad into the region. When one family in particular resists all efforts, more deadly forces come into play. Starring Dennis Hopper, Eric Roberts, Giancarlo Giannini, Burt Young, Michael Madsen, Elias Koteas, and Aldo Ray.
When you build something of your own you take pride in it. It could be grueling work that requires years of blood, sweat and tears to create, but when it’s done, you’ll have something worth taking pride in and passing on to the next generation. And, very naturally if something or someone was to threaten what you’ve spent a lifetime building, you would do everything you had to in order to protect it. ‘Blood Red’ plays with this incredible concept, but the film ultimately ends up feeling like an incomplete mixture of ’Pale Rider’ meets ‘The Milagro Beanfield War’ with a dash of ‘Legends of the Fall’ for some rousing epic scenery.
Collegero family patriarch Sebastian, Giancarlo Giannini has worked hard to clear a swath of land and cultivate a thriving vineyard, just like the one he came from in Sicily. The only dream he has left is to pass his years of hard work and labor onto his son Marco, Eric Roberts. The only problem is that Marco doesn’t want the life of toil. He’s a modern young man who knows that he can be anyone or do anything he wishes.
Enter Irish industrialist William Bradford Berrigan, Dennis Hopper, who aims to build a railroad through California linking the fertile cattle grazing lands to the slaughter houses east. To accomplish his dream, he must build the rail line right through the Collegero family and the neighboring farmers’ lands. Some take their thirty pieces of silver and clear out, but not Sebastian. Uniting the remaining farmers, they form a posse that drives out the men hired to force people off their land. After an initial victory, things go terribly wrong when Bradford brings in gun-for-hire Andrews, Burt Young and his enforcers to remove these people from their homes - by any and all means necessary.
Sighted as the instigator of the insurrection, Sebastian is targeted out right. When he’s killed by Andrews and his gang, Marco vows vengeance, not only for his father, but for everyone who was forced to give up everything they fought so hard to build. With a little help, Marco wages a gorilla war that sees the destruction of Berrigan’s rail lines and the killing of several of his hired guns. Marco is faced with deciding how far his retribution must go in order to avenge his father while avoiding an all out war that there would be no turing back from.
‘Blood Red’ is one of those movies that on paper should have been great. Instead it’s only mediocre. While this movie is a pretty good bit of entertainment, it doesn’t help knowing that other movies did this story better. The cast is good in their own right, but things feel a bit off at times. Part of that is due to the casting of Eric Roberts. While he plays the tough guy well, he’s just too clean and neat and sports a mane of feathered hair that belongs on the cover of a romance novel. Then there’s Burt Young, who just feels like he’s going through the motions, biding his time between ‘Rocky’ sequels rather than attempting to be even remotely threatening. Perhaps the worst performance comes from the late great Dennis Hopper himself. A man who can instill fear with a glance of his wild eyes is brought down by an absolutely terrible and distractingly bad Irish accent. There’s just no reason for it to be there. This isn’t a film about the Irish Immigrants VS the Italian Immigrants. Beyond those complaints there is a lot to admire in the production design and the scale the filmmakers tried to achieve on a modest budget.
This isn’t to say ‘Blood Red’ isn’t entertaining. It is, in that “I saw it late at night on cable” sort of way. While convoluted, the story is pretty good and the action sequences can be fairly thrilling. Also worth noting are the early appearances of actors Elias Koteas, Michael Madsen, Al Ruscio, Joseph Runningfox, Marc Lawrence and some young actress I doubt people will even notice or remember by the name of Julia Roberts.
‘Blood Red’ sports a beautiful 1.85:1 1080P HD transfer. This may not be a fresh restoration effort, but that’s okay. The print is in fine shape with the only evidence of any print damage appearing in tiny nicks and scratches during the opening credits - but those are so slight you’d really need to be paying attention to notice. Since this movie is a period piece, colors have a natural glow to them. Outdoor greens, browns, and blue sky are rich and vibrant. Flesh tones are pretty good, if a tad pink at times and black levels are spot on. A lot of the movie takes place in the dark or shadows and there appears to little or no instances of crush letting the image look nice and sport a fantastic sense of depth.
Detail is also thankfully very robust. There is the thinest appearance of film grain leading me to believe that little if any noise reduction was employed - and it’s a good thing. From the fine details of the costuming to the period architecture - it all comes through in terrific detail. In particular look for details in the women’s dresses and then the scenes in the wilderness actually kind of make you appreciate tree bark! Kudos to Olive Films for delivering the goods here.
’Blood Red’ comes with a robust DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track. 80’s films to me have always had an odd soundtrack to them. That’s mostly due to the sound effects like punches and gunshots feeling out of place and fake - but that isn’t a fault of this particular track - that comes from the source and it can throw off imaging. While normally the film sounds fantastic, from voices to the sound of galloping horses moving across channels - the imaging is strong and stable. It’s just when guns are fired or someone is taking a punch to the gut that it just sounds off and flat.
The amazing score by Carmine Coppola is rousing and beautiful and thankfully can be fully appreciated, even in the depths of a loud action sequence lending to solid audio levels. You shouldn’t have to adjust your volume to accommodate the audio ranges. In the end this is a pretty solid track that should’t disappoint.
Grand sweeping frontier epics are a hard genre to work in. They require a great amount of time, care, and craft to pull off. Some rise, some fall, others hover right around the middle. ‘Blood Red’ is one of those middle movies. It isn’t a bad movie, but it isn’t a great movie either. It’s worth taking a look at, if only to appreciate the technical aspects of the film. It sports some beautiful production design, fine cinematography, and if you’re a film score aficionado like I am, drink in the Carmine Coppola music. Worth a rent or if you’re already a fan go ahead and add it to the collection.