The “psycho vet” story is an old staple in grindhouse and exploitation filmmaking, and we’ve covered a few of the classics in this genre on this page very blog in the year-and-change we (okay, I)’ve been at it — The Executioner Part II, Combat Shock and Deathdream spring immediately to mind.
Of course, these films and literally dozens of others were about disturbed Viet Nam vets, but given that we’re now involved in not one, but two no-end-in-sight-and-no-way-to-really-win conflicts, and have been mired down in them for a hell of a long time, it’s a wonder that more enterprising young filmmakers haven’t returned to “psycho vet” territory since it seems like it would be pretty fertile ground for them. The “theater” of war may have changed, but the basic premise really hasn’t, sadly, all that much — we’re still fighting for dubious (at best) reasons, our “volunteer” force is composed mostly of people with little or no other economic opportunity, our definition of “victory” seems to be constantly changing, the local populace wants us to get the hell out and had become the primary “enemy” we’re fighting, and the government seems to want to put the whole thing on the backburner and just have all of us out here in medialand forget about it while they keep shoveling more of our tax dollars into the bottomless pit these wars have become.
Oh, and a lot of the men and women who are fortunate enough to get out of the war(s) alive come back severely, and quite understandably, traumatized, if not outright psychologically (and sometimes even physically) broken.
Yes, friends, the United States never fucking learns, and something tells me that in 5 or 10 years’ time we’ll be having this same conversation, only then the unlucky “winner” of our imperialistic —- uhhmmmm — “attentions” will be Iran, Pakistan, North Korea, or some combination thereof. The future’s so bright I gotta wear shades and all that.
Now, we’ve had our fair share of Afghanistan and Iraq war documentaries, to be sure, and a bunch of dramas, from the exceptional (Brian DePalma’s criminally underrated and nearly-unseen Redacted) to the drearily preachy (In The Valley Of Elah) to the insanely- fetishized -yet-disgustingly-apolitical (The Hurt Locker — wouldn’t you know it won Best Picture). But to date, we haven’t had an Iraq or Afghanistan-themed exploitation picture.
Enter Ohio-based microbudget veteran writer-director Andrew Copp, who’s given us some truly groundbreaking ultra-independent horror flicks like 1998′s The Mutilation Man and 2005′s The Atrocity Circle, to fill this glaring void.
While Copp’s earlier work has been at times almost dizzingly experimental, with Quiet Night of Blood and Pain he (apart from a couple of scenes that diverge into crazed video psychedelia) he pursues a pretty straightforward narrative — William (Loren S. Goins) is a recently-returned Iraq war vet with a severe case of PTSD due to the atrocities he’s committed (while Abu Ghraib isn’t mentioned specifically, it’s hard not to draw the conclusion that he was either there or at a similar facility due to his predilection for the kind of zip-tie “handcuffs” we’ve seen in so many of the photos from that testament to the war’s ultimate, and repulsively inhuman, folly), and now that he’s home, he’s continuing his “mission” by taking out the “traitors” and “enemies” in his hometown — anti-war activists, hippies, and other peaceniks of various stripes. He’s egged on in his crusade by his psycho brother (played by Copp himself), a veteran of the first Gulf War (you know, the one we were told “went well”).
Across town, fellow veteran Adrienne (Amanda DeLotelle, the film’s co-producer) is struggling with her own readjustment to civilian life and finds support from Viet Nam vet Ray (played by Ray Freeland) and his Veterans for Peace-type group. One night after a meeting of this support group, Adrienne is set upon by two assailants in an alley, and William, who’s “monitoring” the meeting place of the “subversive” group fends off the attackers before fleeing off into the night himself. He begins to stalk Adrienne and her friends, though, as part of his “bring the war home” pseudo-mission.
They’re not the only folks to get his attention, though — one evening he breaks into the home of some people who have a John Kerry bumpersticker on their car and gives ‘em the kind of “special treatment” he became so skilled at administering to “enemy combatants” in Iraq, and dispatches a couple of guys selling antiwar titles at their bookstore, as well. But the more he keeps tabs on Adrienne and her group, the more he becomes obsessed with wiping out this supposed “fifth column” that’s right in his midst. Needless to say, what follows ain’t gonna be pretty.
If you’re new to microbudget moviemaking, Quiet Nights of Blood and Pain may not, in all honesty, be the best place to begin your education. The acting is a mixed bag — Goins is generally superb as William and elicits a sense of controlled-but-seething menace throughout, while Freeland’s characterization of Ray is pretty much rote script-reading. Somewhere in between the two polarities is DeLotelle’s portrayal of Amanda — she has such an unaffected and minimalist approach to her “acting” (I’m guessing more due to sheer inexperience than any conscious decision-making on her part, but I suppose I could be wrong) that it’s hard to tell whether to call her performance completely unprofessional or amazingly naturalistic. Whatever the reason and whatever the cause, though, it works, so whether that’s by choice or by dint of sheer accident really doesn’t matter much in the end.
Copp is a skilled director who’s worked with 8mm, 16mm, and video before (this is SOV using a Panasonic DV-30 with a 1.33:1 aspect ratio, so it’s presented full-frame), and knows both how to compose shots and stage some pretty sold gore effects. In addition, since he wrote the script himself, he has a keen understanding of its pacing, and he does a pretty damn masterful job of alternating scenes of profoundly alienated evenings at home doing nothing with good old fashioned splatterfest-style ultraviolence — and the makeup and effects work is quite good. Not up to Hollywood standards, of course, but part of the fun of watching this type of movie comes from seeing what the filmmakers are able to do with severely limited resources.
Needless to say, Quiet Nights of Blood and Pain never played theaters, nor was it ever going to, but it’s available on DVD either directly from coppfilms.com or at most major retailers like Amazon. It’s distributed under the auspices the good folks at Tempe Video and picture and sound quality are both pretty much perfect (again, given the inherent limitations of the flick’s production values). For extras, there’s a look at a gallery showing of some of Copp’s artwork, and a well-made and highly informative “making-of” featurette.
Copp has stated that his goal was to make a film with a grindhouse-style sensibility updated to apply to the modern sociopolitical landscape. In that he’s succeeded quite admirably. Sure, it’s show on video instead of low-grade film stock, but the spirit of the exploitation independents is definitely alive and well here — and while it’s a bit of a tightrope act he’s set for himself in combining a “message movie” with a psycho slasher flick, he pulls it off pretty well. At times it feels a bit preachy, but as it’s antiwar message is one this reviewer agrees with, I never found the political content to be grating, nor to detract from the character-driven story that lies at the movie’s core.
Like its tagline (“He’s Back From The War, But He Can’t Stop Killing!”), Quiet Nights of Blood and Pain is anything but flashy or terribly original, but certainly direct and earnest enough to be worthy of respect. It’s a labor of love with its birth pains in full view for all to see, and what it lacks in polish it more than makes up for in heart and integrity.