A couple of recent-ish horror films – Resolution, the Evil Dead remake – have had addicts wrestle with their demons (and other demons) in cabins in the woods, exploring the horrors that go with attempted cold turkey rehab. Dry Blood, directed by Kelton Jones and written by Clint Carney – who both take substantial acting roles – also fits in with this tiny cycle, and an overlapping group of films about men losing their grip on reality (They Look Like People, Pod, Another Evil, Diane) as their subjective worldviews start to run on paranoid horror movie lines. It’s a small-scale, intimate nightmare, and not exactly comfortable viewing – and works up to a (much) more horrific finish than expected.
Brian Barnes (Carney) – a boozer and a druggie – wakes up in his stalled car and determines to get straight – though even he knows he’s failed to conquer his dependencies before, and will almost certainly flounder again. He heads to a mountain holiday cabin he owns with his ex-wife (Rin Ehlers) and calls up his caring friend Anna (Jaymie Valentine) to help him through the inevitable rough patch … but his troubles start even before he settles in, as he has a brush at the local store with a smiling, threatening cop (Jones), who doesn’t have much to do in the off-season and idly perpetrates a persistent, passive-aggressive campaign of not-quite harassment that frays Brian’s last nerves. As he holes up in the cabin, Brian starts to find odd items – a yellow dress – he can’t explain, and starts to see spectres in the corners of rooms. The film seesaws unnervingly between bits in which Brian takes what he sees as terrifyingly real and is convinced he’s hallucinating but is drawn by this belief into dangerous activities.
Anna shows up, and – in a credible bit of writing and acting – is warily compassionate but not about to fall into bed with him, then spooks him as she shifts from being afraid for him to being afraid of him. And that cop keeps coming back, with quiet taunts (‘did I say that?’) … and the store clerk (Robert V. Galluzzo) might be auditioning for a role in the next remake of Cabin Fever. The interesting internal geography of the cabin (slim cupboards that serve also as secret passageways, those always-ominous ring-pull doors in the floor) hints at past horrors as likely to recur as the protagonist is to relapse. It doesn’t spend too much time on why Brian is such a foul-up, but Carney gives his desire to change just enough bite that we can’t write him off as foredoomed to mania. The climax offers horrific old-school gore, genuinely upsetting incident (‘this time, I really want to change’), a Twilight Zone-ish sense that a pattern of bad behaviour can lead into an almost cosmic trap, and eerie use of Guy Lombardo’s ‘Enjoy Yourself (It’s Later Than You Think)’, an oldie which riffs on an anxiety slogan from the vintage radio horror mystery show Lights Out.