If you’ve ever wondered just how bad an idea can be, look no further than Nazism. Nearly 80 years after the defeat of the Third Reich and the Nazis are still one of the most reviled and recognizable evils in the minds of millions. Even in our pop culture there seems to be no greater evil imaginable, with modern super villains and Eldritch horrors alike being disgusted by the depravity and cruelty born from this particular group of humans. And the real life thaumaturgical studies conducted by the Nazis during the war always adds an unnerving element of the occult and supernatural to the existence of this evil that usually plays well into science fiction and horror. Unfortunately, sometimes the reality of their evil can overshadow the more dramatic, fictional horrors on film which is exactly what happens in the Shudder original Blood Vessel.

I’m just going to cut the suspense and jump right to the meat of the problem with Blood Vessel: it’s not a good story. A group of survivors from nearly every Allied nation find themselves afloat in a lifeboat after the hospital ship they were on is torpedoed by the Germans. Drifting at sea they find themselves able to board a Nazi ship that itself appears to have been left adrift by some untold disaster. They soon discover that the crew is dead and that the boat was part of a Nazi occult experiment to use vampires to win the war. It honestly plays out more like a Hellboy one-shot comic than an actual horror movie and the pretext for the Nazi’s having vampires on the ship in the first place is flimsy as hell. You could easily have substituted the mythological monster with any number of other European or North African creatures including werewolves, mummies, or zombies. Yeah, because Nazi zombies haven’t been done to death, right?

In the ever-expanding catalogue of what I like to call Nazi Occult Horror, Blood Vessel is barely worth note with a story and a cast that are easily forgettable. The acting is fine, mind you, as is the cinematography and pacing. It’s just the writing in this one is so bad. I mean, part of the problem is the overuse of the Nazi in horror fiction. But part of it is that there was never any solid reason for any of what happened in the movie to have happened at all. For starters, there were just too many characters going off and doing their own thing right out the gate and you never really got a chance to see any one character connect with the audience in a way that could possibly have driven you to be concerned about their fate. Add to it that the entire interaction with the vampires seems more accidental and, let’s face it, totally justified than it ought to. There are three vampires aboard the ship, a father, mother, and daughter, who were taken prisoner and experimented on by the Nazis. It’s hard to look at an antagonist and be against them when, in reality, all they’re doing is protecting themselves.

That said, the vampires in Blood Vessel were well designed and portrayed, though excruciatingly familiar in their own right. The male vampire, we’ll just call him Big Daddy, was a blend of Nosferatu and vampire bat. Long, pointed ears, open bat nose, tall and overtly menacing. Mom and Baby vamp are similarly designed but more femininely designed and with fantastic hair. The family of blood suckers seem like they’d be more at home in some melodramatic horror comic than they do in an actual scary movie. There’s also a hold full of half formed vampires who have been snacked on and left locked inside a cargo hold on the ship. That’s right, even though it’s a vampire movie we’ve still got Nazi zombies all over the fucking place! Again, the make-up effects are great, just not really anything spectacular or different. The lighting and cinematography are excellent and in the vein of the new wave nostalgic 80’s homage horror that Stranger Things has given rise to.

Blood Vessel is entertaining for a first time viewing but has little to no rewatch value. Like many of the Shudder Original’s that the network has churned out over the last year, there’s a lot of hype and a lot of advertising that goes into a lot of mediocre products. It’s definitely worth a watch if for no other reason than to enjoy the catharsis of watching Nazis die again and again on film. Otherwise, I’d pop in ‘Salem’s Lot if you’re looking for a vampire film that will actually leave you turning on the lights.

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