We are super excited to get our hands on Bloodthirst (2023), the latest release from Mahal Empire, just in time for Halloween season. Mahal Empire has been rocking the indie horror circuit with releases including Bermuda Island (2022), Bridge of the Doomed (2022) and Night of the Tommyknockers (2022). The fever pace at which these guys are releasing quality films is staggering.
Bloodthirst – The End of the World
Bloodthirst takes places in the dusty plains of the Western United States. There is no government, just roving bands of post-apocalyptic survivors clawing their way to survival. It would be all well and good if half of the survivors weren’t blood guzzling vampires. The film chronicles a vampire hunter named John Shepard played by Costas Mandylor. Many will recognize that name from the resurgent Saw franchise. In fact, he makes an appearance in the brand new Saw X revival.
Shepard roams the barren countryside slaying the undead; not for sport, but rather redemption for the human race. On the other side, warring vampire factions gather in their own consolidation of power. Malevolent Dark favorite, Robert LaSardo plays the Vampire Master. As if the problems facing them are not great enough, both side struggle with their own betrayals and infighting.
In a post-apocalyptic world,
two warring vampire factions
have taken over the world
and only a few pockets of surviving
both humans and vampires are
on the brink of extinction
Bloodthirst excels in several areas, but it starts with Director Michael Su taking full advantage of his location. Shot in the Nevada desert, Michael Su once again takes advantage of sprawling drone shots to display the vast landscape in which his film takes place. One their own, the shots are breathtaking, but in the context of the film they evoke the totality of his post-apocalyptic world. Overall, the high-definition photography looks fantastic, especially when coupled with Su’s use of camera dynamics and depth of field.
As I perused this film for screen shots, there were simply to many to behold. So many great shots jump off the screen like comic book panels. So many were lit up by a sapphire blue sky. This is some really top notch photography.
The costumes look wonderful as well. John Shepard looks the part as dusty covered leather bandit complete with a black respirator and dark goggles. He might be the most stylish man to walk out of the desert since Mel Gibson sped across the Australian outback in a supercharged Pursuit Special.
The vampire attire covers several design aesthetics. The rank and file vampires wear black robes and dark goggles to protect their eyes from the beating sun. Then there is the queen with her opulent style and ornate headband. Finally, the old world vampires wear medieval robes and carry wizard sticks. The costumes pay homage to the cliché while innovating at the same time.
The special effects are also fantastic. Facial features are subtly enhanced to bring out the beast-like characteristics. For the most part, the vampires lean towards the more human depiction of the species; however, the old world Ultimate Master looks more like a man/bat hybrid. The fangs are impressive, especially when dripping with blood that hangs like blackberry jam from their gaping maws. I another nice touch, all of the vampires have modulated voices making them sound as sinister than they look.
A Familiar Cast
Mahal Empire knows how to assemble a cast. Whether his spurs are jangling as the rootin-tootin cowboy Lucky (Night of the Tommyknockers) or he is ripping through jugular veins as a centuries old Vampire Master, Robert LaSardo entertains with every spoken line. In this one, he brings all of the menace required by the job, but deftly cuts it with a bit of levity. Moreso, his stage presence defines his place as the leader of the vampires. “Like a shepherd, I must tend to my flock!”
It’s great to see Costas Mandylor of Saw fame make a return to a Mahal Empire production. He portrays the role of John Shepard very straight giving the character a sense of authenticity and a touch of Josey Wales. It works great as this film shares a lot in common with Spaghetti Westerns of old. The only difference is that these Spaghetti Westerns dump racist tropes of banditos and Mexican crime lords in favor of good old fashioned vampires!
In an absolute treat, Tara Reid steps into the role of the Vampire Queen. She brings a touch of grace and beauty to a rather grim troop of undead. We also get another performance from Sarah French (Death Count) as Brooke Thompson from the human resistance.
In other notable performances, Rich Rendon plays the role of renegade biker Rico. It might be one of the best portrayals of that archetype since Randal ‘Tex’ Cobb stole back a baby in Raising Arizona (1987). I also enjoyed the performance of Bishop Stevens as Torque, savior of the free world turned mutineer.
Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t once again mention Denny Nolan as an unnamed farmer that turns vampire. Nolan’s characters are so affable and charming. Might I say, harmless. That is why its so jarring to see him dripping blood and serving the undead. Every time I see this guy, I thoroughly enjoy what he bring to the table.
Bloodthirst – Wrapping Up
Armageddon vampires, it’s what we all really wanted for Halloween. Bloodthirst delivers on that promise big time.
I absolutely love what Mahal Empire and Michael Su are doing. From the crowdfunding, breakneck releases candence and quality content, these guys are on it. What’s more, they are improving on the formula with every release. So far, Bloodthirst is my favorite of the bunch. The cinematography alone pushes Blooodthirst into top-tier indie horror territory.In addition to that humanoid vampires allow the actors personalities to shine through the make-up. All in all, chalk up another indie champion for Mahal Empire!