Blood Salvage (1989)

About the Author: R.D Francis is the writer of The Ghosts of Jim Morrison, the Phantom of Detroit, and the Fates of Rock ‘n’ Roll and Tales from a Wizard: The Oral History of Walpurgis. Both non-fiction works explore the myth and mystery behind the 1974 album, Phantom’s Divine Comedy: Part 1—an album many believed to be a solo album by Jim Morrison of the Doors. You can read his music and film criticisms on Medium and learn more about the Phantom on Facebook.

So, what’s up next for Redneck Week? Something from the “Bs” . . . let’s see . . . Blood Beach, Blood Cult, Blood Diner . . . Blood Frenzy, Blood Link, Blood Rage, Blood Relations . . . Blood Salvage . . . Blood Sisters, Blood Tide. . . . Oh, wait! That’ll work: Blood Salvage.

Ah, yes. Another tale in a long list of backwoods, auto salvaging rednecks of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre variety—just down the road from the Motel Hello in the town of Valkenvania. In the next town over, Neville Brand be proprietin’ the Starlight Hotel and feedin’ his pet alligator and competin’ in the human meat business with ‘ol Lester Bacon’s Slaughterhouse (1989).

No, wait! Don’t put it back on the shelf! This film has an interesting twist: Instead of running a hicksploitation sausage factory or black market auto LLC, our merry band of religious zealots is-be runnin’ demselfs a little sideline business. Nope, ain’t be no deer (Hunter’s Blood) or alligator (‘Gator Bait) poachin’ biznass needer.

That’s right! Fire up that grill, Hoke, it’s time fer sum human organ poachin’! Yep, Euclid! Gud eats be-a comin’ as Daddy John Saxon (Cannibal Apocalypse, A Nightmare on Elm Street) be-a leadin’ another unsympathetic shoal of unschooled fishies-out-of-the-city-waters for some family bonding. . . .

Oh, no. Not this shit, again, Ethel.

Why in the fuck do these dummkopfs insist on vacationing in the land of human sausage factories and black market human organ graveyards? This isn’t the jolly Green Acres outside of Petticoat Junction in Hooterville, you suburbian jackasses. Jed Clampett’s “oil” in these ‘ere parts is a “blood” strike. Sam Drucker’s general store is a front for a black market operating room, Mr. Haney brokers the parts, Fred Ziffel is grinding the scraps into sausage, and Hank Kimble is wheelin’ and dealin’ the cars. . . .

. . . When I was a kid in Pittsburgh—and my dad had an urge for “family bonding”—Dad loaded us into the Ford LTD station wagon and we’d head off to the Buhl Planetarium at Allegheny Center in Northside. We went ice skating at the Ice Palace near J.C Penny inside the Monroeville Mall. We went to his sister’s place in Penn Hills and slid down the hill with our older cousins on hunks of cardboard. If we needed some stuffy n’ uptight culture, we’d visit our relatives in Squirrel Hill or Bethel Park. We’d spend the day at Kennywood to ride The Jacket Rabbit, the Racer, and the Thunderbolt. Or we’d go to West View Park to ride The Dips and Racing Whippet where, we’d scream our asses off, we retained our internal organs, the hotdogs weren’t human dogs, the cotton candy wasn’t sugar-coated human hair, and the snow cones weren’t stone cold ground bones with a squirt of “blood” cherry.

To “get back to nature,” Dad drove out to the Highland Park Reservoir in Morningside and we’d fly my (Ho, Ho, Ho) Green Giant kite. We ride our bikes through Lawrenceville’s “Central Park”: The Allegheny Cemetery off Butler Street. We went to my uncle’s farm in Mars or Great Grandpop’s farm in Zelienople. Each and every time: My mom and dad made it home with their spine and eyes intact and my sisters and I didn’t end up in a child sex-farm slavery ring making sausages. . . .

. . . So the Local Redneck Rotary 666 is disabling cars (see Eliza Dushku’s Wrong Turn), salvaging the cars, salvaging live body parts, and BBQ’in’ the rest. If you want to see a family locked up in chicken wire waiting rooms on their way to an operating room equipped with car part-constructed blood transfusion machines—and watch John Saxon stumbling around without his eyes—this is your movie.

But wait! There’s a greater good to this hillbilly mayhem: Seems Daddy Jake Pruitt (Danny Nelson) has the pedophile shakes for April (Lori Birdsong, Munchies and High Desert Kill), John’s bitchy-witch and wheelchair-bound beauty queen daughter and . . . with the help of some human-mechanical anatomy surgery, Jake’ll be-a-gettin’ her to walk again and make ‘er his wife.

Is this entry in the hicksploitation oeuvre well made? Yep. Is it sick? You bet, Jed. And its moments of black humor—with cameos by the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll himself, Elvis (Mike Witfield in his only acting role), and ex-boxer Evander Holyfield (who produced?!) as early victims—break up the monotonous, perpetual dishing of very bad taste. But John and his little louts are so friggin’ sour and Birdsong’s perpetual bitch-on-wheels shtick is so annoying, it leaves you rootin’ for the cameo-appearing Ray Walston (Mr. Hand from Fast Times at Ridgemont High) as the resident black market organ broker who’s just tryin’ to make a livin’.

And that’s what this “Redneck Week” at B&S Movies is all about: rootin’ for the rednecks!

Blood Salvage (the film’s original title was “Mad Jake” before the more exploitive change) was the only film Tucker Johnson wrote and directed. In 1994 he wrote a soft core porn flick for Cinemax, Secret Games 3, and then vanished. . . . It’s said that Johnson worked in the adult film industry prior to making a “commercial move” with Blood Salvage. Who knows?

Danny Nelson as daddy Jake, along with Christian Hesler and Ralph Pruitt Vaughn as his bumpkin’ sons, Hiram and Roy, are excellent and they give those lovable rednecks Ike and Addley (Holden McGuire and Billy Ray McQuade) from Charles Kaufman’s Mother’s Day a good ‘ol butt warmin’ switch-wippin’.

While Hesler’s and Vaughn’s acting careers ended (sadly) after Blood Salvage, Danny Nelson’s career became as prolific as John Saxon’s and Ray Walston’s: Nelson made his debut in Greased Lightning (1977) alongside Richard Pryor, then went onto work as a character actor in such mainstream films as Fried Green Tomatoes (1991), Clint Eastwood’s Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (1997), Will Smith’s The Legend of Bagger Vance (2000), and Brad Pitt’s The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008). (None of my dates knew what the hell I was talking about when I’d watch these movies in a dark theatre and called out, “Hey, Daddy Jake Pruitt!”. So goes life on the video fringe. ‘Ol Sam at B&S Movies knows wad-isa be-terkin’ about.)

And it seems Lori Birdsong—who debuted as herself in 1985’s Pumping Iron II: The Women, a sequel 1977’s Pumping Iron (bodybuilding for less than a year, Lori was a 22-year-old model from Dallas chosen for the film for her “wholesome All-American persona”)—is back in the acting game with a role as “April Evans” (the same character-name she played in Blood Salvage; a movie “in-joke” perhaps?) in The Stalkers Club (2017), a Lifetime damsel-in-distress TV movie. The trailer is on You Tube. Welcome back, Lori. We missed you.

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