Pearls Before Swine/Bloodlust (1999/1992)
By: Mr Intolerance on July 1, 2009  | 
DVD
Njuta Films (Sweden). All Regions, PAL. 1.55:1 Non0anamorphic (Pearls Before Swine). 4:3 (Bloodlust). English DD 2.0. English, Swedish, German, Spanish, French Subtitles. 178 minutes
The Movie
Cover Art
Credits
Director: Richard Wolstencroft; Richard Wolstencroft, Jon Hewitt
Starring: Boyd Rice, Nick Crawford Smith, Greg Maxwell, Lisa Hutchinson; Jane Stuart Wallace, Kelly Chapman, Robert James O'Neill, Phil Motherwell, Paul Moder
Screenplay: Richard Wolstencroft; Richard Wolstencroft, Jon Hewitt
Country: Australia
External Links
IMDB YouTube
Here's a two-fer of low budget Aussie goodness that might be hard to find, but is certainly worth the search, brought to you from the director that last bastion of good taste and general goodness, MUFF (that'd be the Melbourne Underground Film Festival, to you heathens) – Richard Wolstencroft.

Pearls Before Swine

Before I even start this review, can I just tell you that this is possibly one of the most uncategorisable films I've ever seen. Just when you think you've got it pegged it slips out of your hands and turns into something else. Trying to pigeonhole this baby would be kind of like trying to wrestle water. Even trying to find reference points through other films is a pretty pointless exercise, because there aren't any films like Pearls Before Swine.

I came to this film (originally as a stand-alone feature on VHS) purely by accident in my local import records store. I did the comedy double-take as I walked past the video rack and noticed a picture of lead actor Boyd Rice on the front cover brandishing a machine gun. Now, while Boyd Rice may not be a household name (well, he is in my household), I'll just tell you that this musician/philosopher/agent provocateur has been a hero of mine since I first started buying the records he's been releasing either under his own name or as the old school industrial band NON many, many years ago. I met him at a gig once (and talked about this film with him – more of that later) and his intensity when you speak to him is almost unnerving. Musicians rarely make good actors (and there are at least three of them in this film), but I think he pulls it off well.

Daniel Wingrove (Rice) is a hitman. He and his pals Paul and Eddie get paid to kill the homeless, whose bodies get used for unspecified medical experiments. When not popping a cap in someone's crown, Daniel likes to have Nazi fetish sex with his girlfriend Christy, collect obscure vintage S&M magazines, philosophise about the state of the world in a decidedly right-wing way, and watch old episodes of Doctor Who (you know – the real one, not the CG rubbish foisted upon the public today). A lazy reviewer might see the film as an unconnected series of violent black comedy un-PC vignettes, but the whole thing makes a great deal of sense when you finally wend your way to the end of it.

The films starts with a quote from Rilke: "If you are the dreamer, I am what you dream. But when you want to wake, I am your wish, and I grow strong with all magnificence and turn myself into a star's vast silence above the strange and distant city, Time." Again, this might seem a little puzzling at first, but it's a fitting epigram for the film – it made me wonder if Wolstonecroft actually used the quote as inspiration for the narrative, because it certainly appears so after watching the movie. A young Daniel (oddly enough played by Rice in a schoolboy's outfit) is caned by his headmaster (who did vocal work on Death In June's Occidental Martyr LP/exercise in oddness) for unspecified naughtiness. Not only does he seem to enjoy the experience, Daniel has a vision (an epiphany?) while being beaten of a hooded and masked figure (played by awesome folk-noir band Death In June's vocalist Douglas P, in one of two roles he has in the film – the other is as Marion Gough, vendor of vintage porn), who gives him his calling in life: "Assassin!"

After exterminating some homeless kids, Daniel fucks his girlfriend in the shower (apparently Rice and Lisa Hutchinson, who plays Christy did not get along on the set – have a listen to the audio commentary) and goes to a nightclub to snort some hard drugs, come home, flagellate his mate Anthony's girlfriend before fucking her on the sofa while his girlfriend gets off with Anthony in the kitchen. Hey, it's all in a day's work, huh?

The very basic synopsis of the plot is this: an author, Morton Bugs, has been causing a ruckus with his recent books – inciting political unrest, deliberately provoking authority (if in an underworld sense) to the point where people want him dead. Paul, Daniel's massively disturbed hitman pal, has received an offer for a two man hit on Bugs, 25K apiece for the assassins. It's obviously a tempting offer for a hitman on the make. Too tempting for Daniel to pass up. What we see for the majority of the film is the week or so leading up to the hit, and Daniel's life and crimes during that time. It's not as cut and dried as all that, and in fact it's a morally complex film, which is really only fully understood at its end. And the quote from Hoelderlin at the end of the film helps to sum it up: "For under the firm measure, /The crude, too, is useful, /That the pure may know itself."

Daniel's actions are morally ambiguous at best, downright horrific at worst. While the character can be quite sympathetic at times, at others we're appalled by what he does, or what he allows to happen – one particular scene where he stands by and lets Paul rape the madam of a brothel who hasn't been paying her protection money with a spiked pimp-stick is particularly nasty (the violence is off-screen, thankfully). When not committing acts of violence or depravity, he observes them with an icy detachment. When Christy is working as a dominatrix he sits in the corner and watches calmly while she shits on the floor and makes her client eat it. Personally, I'd be barfing my lungs out. He seems to have no sense of judgement, apart from his coruscating attacks on society via his monologues. He has no compunctions about beating the snot out of someone simply for the fact that they've wronged a friend, even if the friend is a scumbag, or burying a body to help a friend out of a nasty situation – I guess his loyalty is admirable at least...

A lot of Daniel's dialogue in the film is monologue – not voiceover, but Daniel expounding his ideas, beliefs and ideologies to others, or tape-recording them in his journal. And a lot of those beliefs would, I think, make the more left-wing leaning PC types out there rather nervous. I wouldn't consider him a fascist per se, but he's definitely at odds with today's nanny state in which we live. I was reminded very heavily of Ragnar Redbeard's opus of Social Darwinism, Might Is Right (a lazy comparison in some regards, as Rice recorded an album as NON called Might!, which was based on that book and contained extracts from it in the lyrics) and the ideas contained within. De Sade also sprang to mind, as did Nietzsche, who does get name-checked at one point in the film. If you're some kind of bleeding heart liberal tree-hugging leftie, you should probably avoid this film, if only for those sections – they will make you very uncomfortable indeed; but remember – it's only a movie. When I spoke to Rice at a NON gig a few years ago I asked him if he'd had any input into the dialogue of Pearls Before Swine, and apparently he had, which, having read his works myself and listened to his music and lyrics for the better part of twenty years came as no surprise. But unfortunately, he's not the Doctor Who fan that Daniel is. I'll just assume that was Wolstonecroft, who certainly has peppered the script with pop culture references aplenty, although for the most part not in a vulgar and gratuitous sub-Tarantino-esque fashion that modern directors are so keen on doing to prove that they're hip to a hare-brained teenage audience with 5 second attention spans.

The one thing that lets this film down is the acting. For the better part it's quite good for a low budget flick, but a few of the bit-part actors are...well...excruciating to watch and listen to. Christy, in particular, is awful. She delivers lines like she's in a high school end of year play at best, and a Year 9 one at that. And it's Rice's peformance that throws that into sharp relief. He's quite good, and his delivery is excellent, especially considering that he's primarily a musician, rather than an actor. But then again, given the often theatrical nature of a NON performance, that shouldn't come as a shock. The dialogue is often a little intrusive, too, a bit too stagey, too deliberate and lacking naturalism.

Pearls Before Swine does try to make some statements about corruption in society, politics, philosophy, the nature of humanity, religion, violence, sexuality and other serious issues. Sometimes it does so in quite a deft way, at others it can seem a little forced, a bit heavy-handed. What it does do admirably is wear its overtly subversive heart on its sleeve – this is definitely a film that kicks against the pricks at all times. It never panders to political correctness, it says what it thinks and then rubs your face in it – and it makes you question your own beliefs, too. On a first viewing, if your expectations are for a simple exploitation film, you might find it a bitsy, dialogue-heavy "what the fuck" piece of deliberate provocation. It's a lot more than that. This is a film with a brain. You need to work with this film to get the most out of it. And it'll be worth your while.

Bloodlust

Now here's a film that divides an audience. A lot of folks I know can't stand Bloodlust and really slate it. Personally, I think they're missing something – this is a campy way over-the-top slice of great fun. It has absolutely no pretentions about itself.

The basic premise is that a bunch of roaming vampires who kill for money as much as for blood are being hunted down by religious loonie Brother Bem and his posse of hatted and robed nutters. In the opening scene we see one of the unfortunate bloodsuckers (played by the late, great Ian Rilen from both X and Rose Tattoo) dragged to the curb and staked, but that's not the last we see of him... The credit sequence shows us the nature of our main characters as creatures of the night (although they move about equally as well in daylight – that's no vampire sacrilege there, if you've read Dracula, you'll know that the Count had no problems boogying on down during the day) – there's a LOT of blood in this film, let me tell ya.

A quick word about the acting before we get started – it's deliberately over-exaggerated and plays for laffs. Maybe it's not everyone's cup of tea (the comedy policemen Zeke and Deke, for example, who are even more excruciating than the cops in Last House on the Left, despite the fact that these guys are deliberately awful – Zeke's redneck American accent is so bad it could cut glass), but you've got to remember that this film isn't a horror film per se, it's more a comedy-action-bloodbath with horror thrown in via the violence and the inclusion of vampires as a plot device. So before anyone starts banging on about the amateurish nature of the acting, bear that in mind, okay? Anyway, no-one watches a Troma film for the Osacr winning performances, do they? But as to why a large number of the cast affect American accents, well, who can say?

The vampires (2 chicks, Lear and Frank and a dude, Tad, who looks uncomfortably like Lorenzo Lamas in Renegade or like he should be posing for panel van art) lure their prey via sex, which never works out well for their partner of choice. Or they just flat out kill whoever they like and take all their shit. However, their trail of carnage has brought the vampires the unwanted attention of the local religious lunatic fringe (hence the staking of Dee (Rilen) which is accompanied by a nice reference to Macbeth), so they're planning one last big heist – the local casino – and they're off to hole up in the country, in (ahem) Geeksville.

Anyway, we haven't seen any boobs or had any casual slaughter for a couple of minutes, so then we head down to what looks like the local goth bar to pick up some victims. Hooray for gratuitous sex and violence! And the special effects aren't too bad for what must have been a miniscule budget – they're certainly gooey enough.

"I've just declared hunting season on Satan!" Brother Bem has had a brainwave – he's worked out a pattern which the vampires, dubbed the "Bloodlust Killer" by the local news, have been following, so it's time to saddle up and head for the red light district with all the gusto of a drunken buck's night. It's worth mentioning Phil Motherwell's truly eccentric performance as Bem – it's certainly a memorable one. If you remember Maurice Sendak's Where The Wild Things Are from when you were a kid: "They rolled their terrible eyes and gnashed their terrible teeth" - well, that's kind of what his performance is like. He's not so much chewing on the scenery, with much eye-rolling and baring of choppers while laughing like a crack-head Dick Dastardly, as almost trying to absorb it via osmosis. It's truly a sight to behold.

The heist goes off as bloodily as we were hoping for and now the vampires are being pursued by Bem and his nutters who want to purge the world of Satan's spawn, the gangsters who ran the casino who understandably want their cash back, and the police who want to catch the killers (as well as wanting drugs, pussy and money). Things are getting a little hot for them in the big smoke, so it's time to flee. Oh, and it's also time for implied lesbian bondage sex between Frank and Lear, apparently.

Bem and his cronies capture the bloodsuckers and string 'em up amidst some awesome over-acting. This is where Dee makes his reappearance, with somewhat of an...umm...interesting line in piercings. Watch and learn, kids. Bem's plans to make pin-cushions out of the vampires gets slightly foiled by the cops, and then it's on for young and old. Y'know, I think that when Bloodlust was being edited, I get the impression that a little bit too much was cut out. Some things happen off-screen that you don't necessarily need to see, but would have been probably a nice link to the next scene. I mean, I can follow what's happening – any idiot could – but it affects the movie detrimentally in terms of pacing; it sort of ends up feeling very jerky, almost sped up cartoon style – or like the chase scenes in an episode of The Benny Hill Show.

Oral castration, whipping and necro-sodomy, anyone? Yeah, this film just keeps on giving. Watching Bem duke it out with a priest (of the Welsh Church, no less) in bible quotations just added to the fun. In terms of referencing other texts, film and otherwise, Bloodlust is a lot cleverer than its detractors will have you believe. Sure, it's not trying to be any kind of intellectual masterpiece or a slice of Ken Loach social realism, but it has a sly intertextual humour that underpins the over-the-top splat-schtick fun. This was made by some clever fellas indeed.

And so we come to the finale which has to be seen to be believed – gangsters vs. vampires vs. religious nutcases, all heavily armed with either melee weapons or firearms. If that premise doesn't hook you in, nothing will.

All up, a highly entertaining bit of tatt that should have you giggling into your beer – sex and violence for all with a decidedly and refreshingly un-PC tone. This should best be enjoyed with mates, preferably drunken ones after a night at the pub and with a pizza. Good, silly fun.
Video
Pearls Before Swine is adequate, given the very low budget on which the film must have been made. It suffers a little in terms of clarity, but that's really nitpicking. The camerawork was surprisingly inventive and a lot better than I was expecting – well above the usual low budget standard.

Bloodlust is glary as all hell – anything with a white background is painful to watch, and I keep the brightness down on my TV. Also, you're dealing with a shot on video film - early 90s video - so that should give an indication of the picture quality. Doesn't bother me in the slightest, but some technophiles will no doubt moan about it. Just because it's not shot on film doesn't mean it's not good. That said, it seems as though this has been ported from a tape (albeit a very good quality one – the image is razor sharp), with a couple of picture rolls thrown into the mix.
Audio
Pearls BeforeSwine is Quite muffled at times, echoey at others, sometimes (infrequently) distorting – I'm assuming that the dialogue was all recorded on location and the letters "ADR" weren't featuring largely in the budget. The pay-off for me was getting music by Boyd Rice, NON, Death In June, Der Blutharsch and Snog on the soundtrack. The gunfire sounded strangely realistic, not the usual Hollywood roar you expect.

Bloodlust
is very fucking loud – not a bad thing, unless it distorts – and features an industrial metal soundtrack with a whole slew of WaxTrax! bands, from the early 90s; side-projects of Ministry such as Revolting Cocks, Pailhead, Lead Into Gold and 1000 Homo DJs. That's a good thing. Occasionally the dialogue gets muffled – I was turning the volume up and down on my TV with a frightening regularity.
Extra Features
Both films carry a good package of extras – I can't imagine anyone needing more than what's on offer here. PBS: There's an audio commentary with director Richard Wolstencroft, actor/musician Boyd Rice, actor/musician Douglas P and actor/musician David Thrusell; a video recording of the audio commentary, where we see that Douglas P has done the recording mystifyingly enough dressed in his Death In June stage outfit (hooded SS camo gear and a sinister almost featureless white mask) – he's practically asphyxiating at one point where the recording has to stop; there's camera test footage and the trailer, too, as well as the short feature Extremism Breaks My Balls by Nicolas Debot.

BL
: An audio commentary with co-directors Richard Wolstencroft and Jon Hewitt; deleted scenes (no, they didn't just simply film everything they could and fling it at the audience – cuts and editing were actually made! These are a substantially lower quality than the film, taken from the rough cut), bloopers and outtakes, interviews with the cast and crew (these are quite funny), camera test footage and the trailer. Like I said, for such a pair of ultra-low budget films, this is a very comprehensive package; I've bought DVDs of big budget Hollywood flicks that this disc puts to shame in that regard.
The Verdict
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score
Well, if you're into low budget Australian film, this is a fine DVD that you really should own. You've got Bloodlust for the visceral blast a la Raimi or Jackson, just lower budget and much more crude, and for the more intellectual side of things, you've got Pearls Before Swine. It's definitely worth your time and effort checking this out as I think you'll be more than pleasantly surprised. Crude? Sure. Entertaining? Definitely. Intelligent? More than you'd think. Viva la independent film!

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