BLOOD JUNKIES *** UK 1993 Dir: Bruce Naughton. 59 mins
Shot in 16mm on a real Scottish council estate with a crew apparently paid in Brie sandwiches, this ambitious early 90’s vampire picture was inspired by writer-director Naughton’s hatred of Coppola’s BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA and funded from a combination of grants, credit cards – and £500 from the Scottish Film Council. A bum deal with an American “distributor” that turned out to be a horror-suppressing fundamentalist Christian group (!) rendered it M.I.A. for decades. The discovery of a cutting-copy video tape (minus a few reels) in a crew member’s attic led to a public screening and YouTube release in 2019. It’s a fascinating time capsule genre piece, made before TRAINSPOTTING and a mini-cycle of late-90’s gritty indie horrors like I ZOMBIE: an intelligent juxtaposition of traditional Gothic vampire tropes with a parable for the AIDS epidemic and an angry condemnation of a system happier to let people die rather than reach out and help.
After some atmospheric initial period-set scenes accompanied by authentic howling Scottish winds, this picks up in the modern day, where something is killing and feeding on tower block heroin junkies. In the process, the culprit – Sean Hay’s articulate, bald ancient vampire – is wiping out any diseases in the bloodstream of victims (“It’s like she’s got reverse AIDS!”). In this suitably grim portrait of early 90’s Edinburgh, a sleazy sergeant writes off the victims as “dregs” and “losers” and unenthused topless women gyrate miserably to rubbish contemporary music in the world’s most depressing pubs. Smart, sympathetic GP Mary Goonan is a rare glimmer of hope, reaching out to the most vulnerable people fucked over by the system while students laugh at condom demos and words like “genitals” during sincere attempts at safe sex education. A shade less interesting when it pauses for genre-standard explanations of vampire mythology, this showcases a striking, bare-chested performance from Hay, whose activities prove far less cruel than the grinding poverty to which his victims would otherwise be subjected. A shame this vivid portrait of a specific place and time has been buried so long, as the flatlining 90’s British vampire movie would have been enriched by its take on age-old themes.
Review by Steven West