I’ve been a Ryan Nicholson fan since I saw Gutterballs (2008). I tracked down each of his films and watched and enjoyed them all, so I couldn’t wait to get my hands on a screener copy of his latest film, Bleading Lady (some of you may know it under its originally-advertised title, Star Vehicle). Both titles, while initially confusing, make perfect sense once the plot is revealed.
Riversa Red (newcomer Sindy Faraguna) is a B-movie scream queen who has seen better days–and better movies. She is the leading lady (hence the title of the film) in a new horror movie being filmed deep in the backwoods. Because of the film’s remote location, the cast and crew must leave before sunrise each day to be driven to set. Don Cardini (Dan Ellis) is a local wannabe director and horror movie fan. He also happens to be one of the drivers for Ms. Red’s new film. When he realizes that he is going to be driving his favorite B-movie actress and his fantasy girl, Don is ecstatic. Already close to the edge of sanity, meeting Riversa pushes him all the way over and he becomes obsessed with protecting her from any potential stalkers, both on-set and off. As Don’s obsession becomes too much for him to handle, he nosedives into paranoia and sees everyone as a potential threat to be eliminated (read: killed) in order to protect the star.
From the beginning, Nicholson’s films have always been extreme. A lifelong fan of cheap, cheesy, exploitation fare, Nicholson’s films can best be described as a cross between Troma and Italian gore films. He populates his films with crude, mean-spirited characters and throws in plenty of gratuitous nudity and over-the-top gore. His stories aren’t very original, but he directs with such a spirit of glee, one can forgive his lack of creativity in writing; after all, he is creating these films as loving homages of the films he grew up watching. For the most part, the end result is crude, politically incorrect, funny in a twisted sort of way, and–in the right frame of mind–outrageously fun.
With Bleading Lady, Nicholson has turned away from his crude brand of comedy so evident in films like Gutterballs and Hanger (2009) and created a film that is a bit more serious. And while some of the characters are still rude and hateful (especially Luke, the director), some of the characters in Bleading Lady actually are likeable and generate a bit of sympathy, a definite departure for Nicholson. For example, when Frankie, another set driver, is murdered by Don, we are sorry to see such a gentle soul go. And Riversa herself, far from the leading lady "diva" syndrome so frequently represented in movies, treats everyone well, including Don, whom she mistakenly views as a harmless if eccentric fanboy.
As filming continues, Don’s obsession grows until he cannot contain his feelings any longer and he explodes in an orgy of violence. Here we have Nicholson’s trademark gore. The film is very bloody, with faces being shredded by crowbars, heads pounded into mush, and seriously huge arterial sprays. There is ample opportunity for violence as Don loses his mind as well as his control and Nicholson doesn’t hold back. Blood flows in rivers, so much so that it becomes cartoonish and unbelievable, although still fun to watch. And Nicholson is totally in on the joke–he knows there cannot possibly be that much blood no matter how you kill someone, so the murder scenes are great big winks to the audience, as if Nicholson is saying, "I know this isn’t realistic, but it sure is fun!" So if you are used to Nicholson’s brand of extreme violence, you won’t be disappointed with Bleading Lady.
As in all of Nicholson’s low-budget affairs, the acting is a bit sketchy, ranging from decent (the leading actors) to pretty bad (usually the supporting cast). The music is just a synth score, effective in some places, but honestly, a bit irritating in others. And while there is plenty of violence and spraying blood, the effects are just fake enough to keep viewers from grossing out. I believe that most viewers of Nicholson’s movies "get" what he is trying to do and are in on the joke. The rest turn the film off after 15 minutes and dismiss it entirely. And of course, it wouldn’t be a Ryan Nicholson film without some gratuitous and utterly meaningless (but fun) nudity to spice things up when someone isn’t busy dying.
The film starts off a bit slow and continues to build until it reaches its very blood climax, resulting in several people dying one after the other and a fairly nasty attempted rape before finishing up with the killer walking alone into the woods and Riversa Red walking away from the whole foul episode. Overall, I thought this was a bit more of a serious film from Nicholson. Less humor, but plenty of violence. If you are a fan of extreme cinema, or you have enjoyed some of Nicholson’s previous films, you probably will enjoy Bleading Lady. The rest of you will most likely want to stay far away.