Director’s cut

Local filmmaker Jason Rudy’s latest takes a stab at the horror-romance genre

Local filmmaker Jason Rudy at the American River.

Local filmmaker Jason Rudy at the American River.

Photo By Nick Miller

Crest Theatre

1013 K St.
Sacramento, CA 95814

(916) 476-3356

Jason Rudy tromps through prickly brush near Sutter’s Landing, buck knife and black suitcase in hand. It’s late in the day but still toasty, and the filmmaker, wearing tan corduroy pants and a black vintage David Cronenberg Videodrome T-shirt, is probably roasting. He wipes sweat off his brow upon reaching the water’s edge.

You can’t help but wonder: Is the American River actually a sensible place to dump a corpse, you know, if you ever found yourself in a situation where you had to get rid of a dead body?

“It’s probably not the best idea. Patrol boats pass up and down the river all summer,” Rudy notes, almost matter-of-factly. And Rudy would know: In the local filmmaker’s new film, Love Blade, a 90-minute horror-romance B-movie about a 20-year-old virgin who slaughters her lovers instead of screwing them, the female lead disposes of one of her many victims in the dip.

“Actually, that was in the Sacramento River,” Rudy clarifies.

Still, the director needn’t know where to best unload a corpse; he only need know how to best fake it. And, as evidenced in Love Blade, if Rudy excels at one thing, it’s letting the fake blood and guts flow like crimson rapids into a sea of stiffs.

Directors such as Michael Bay and Brett Ratner may dominate movie theaters, video stores and cable television, but Rudy prefers a darker, more grisly style of filmmaking—which is surprising: How does a local film geek escape Hollywood’s ubiquitous reach and end up making self-funded, ’70s-grindhouse inspired films right here in the River City?

Perhaps Hitler is to blame?

No kidding: Rudy remembers seeing Raiders of the Lost Ark at Citrus Heights’ now legendary Birdcage Walk Cinema back in 1982. “I was scared,” he says of the movie’s climax, when the Nazis finally open the ark. Birdcage’s film projector had broken, the film melted on screen and the then 11-year-old Rudy thought ghosts had taken over the theater, which was frightening—and awesome.

At the end of Love Blade, Rudy employs a special effect that simulates film dissolving, a nod to this memory.

As a teenager, Rudy dreamed of being a wrestler. Every day after class at Rio Linda High School, “Mad Dog” Buzz Sawyer trained the 16-year-old at California Pro Wrestling. “I’d show up the next day at school with bruises,” he recalls.

In Jason Rudy’s <i>Love Blade</i>, Tiffany Arscott plays Rose, a virgin in her 20s who’d rather kill you than screw you.

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In his early 20s, Rudy went deeper and deeper into the world of cult cinema: Russ Meyer, Roger Corman, George A. Romero—filmmakers whose outsider aesthete complemented pre-Vince McMahon wrestling’s counterculture he admired as a teen. Rudy spent many a midnight at the Sacramento Inn Cinema, the aforesaid Birdcage and even the old X-rated drive-in theater just east of Davis, which is now a soccer field.

“Man, how many loads were dropped on that soccer field?” Rudy jokes, going there.

Rudy’s first midnight-movie experience was Twilight of the Cockroaches at Birdcage. He describes smoke inside the theater and first-timers being sprayed with whipping cream. But by 1994, however, late-night flicks in Sacramento were on the decline. The drive-ins and second-run theaters disappeared one-by-one, too. The Sac Inn was plowed over and to this day is a weed-riddled asphalt lot. Birdcage is now a discount shoe store.

Still, cult films and late-night movie culture had a lasting impression. “[If] you don’t have the big budget, a great story along with sex and violence usually fits the bill, especially in the drive-in cinema that I love,” he says.

In 1999, Rudy did two things that allowed his passion for film to persevere: He got a job at the Arden area Video Clearance Center (“They didn’t even have DVDs yet,” he jokes), and he also bought a home. Four years later, he flipped the house and used the profits to buy a Canon XL2 professional-grade digital camera, which he used to make five films; Love Blade is his second feature-length endeavor.

“I’ve always tapped into what I liked as a kid,” Rudy says.

The filmmaker, now 35, currently lives in a home next to a church in an older Rio Linda neighborhood 25 minutes from downtown Sac. Inside, the space is cool, dark and inviting. Some 1,000 Love Blade DVDs fill boxes in the corner of his living room. A cat stares you down as Rudy leads the way through the kitchen and into a secret back room, which he affectionately refers to as “The Vault.”

And “The Vault” is anything but cryptic; it’s more like a museum, or portal into Rudy’s world.

Press stills and photos of Rudy posing with filmmakers and stars decorate the walls: Jennifer Tilly, Boris Karloff in makeup, smoking a cigarette. Wrestling pro hoods hang near a TV, and there are at least three bookshelves holding what must be thousands of DVDs: horror films, in chronological order from 1916 to now; a cult wall, including Mondo Macabro Mexican flicks; Jaws, and all its rip-offs; The Exorcist, and all its ripoffs; ’50s education films; the Lancelot Link collection, a ’70s TV series with talking chimps; tons of Criterion Collection discs; flicks by Sam Peckinpah, Francis Ford Coppola, Stanley Kubrick; Japanese girl-gang flicks. You get the idea.

“I like filmmakers who shock you on a low budget and in subliminal ways,” Rudy says. In Love Blade, Rudy indeed shocks.

In the film’s opening scene, Rose, the protagonist (local actress Tiffany Arscott), and a guy are seated on a couch watching a movie (The Last Road to Hell, Rudy’s first film). The guy starts gently nibbling Rose’s neck. Rose strips off her shirt. Foreplay heats up.

Rose (Arscott, left) and Sam (Rae Wright, right) about to do the deed.

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Then Rose reaches into her purse, pulls out an 8-inch bowie knife and stabs the guy in his kidney. Blood splatters onto a white wall. And Rose isn’t finished. She straddles her victim and stabs him relentlessly, blood spewing everywhere, masking her face and chest with cherry-colored specks. And she loves it, wriggling and gyrating cowboy-style atop her prey.

“Every film is an exploitation film,” Rudy justifies, arguing that mainstream Hollywood filmmakers exploit stars with famous faces and major-studio coffers. “Visually, I love the sight of staged violence, as it is a release for viewers and fun to see our staged demise in front of our eyes.”

Rudy himself pops up later in the film during a scene back at the river. He plays Lou Seefert, who along with his partner Bob catches Rose in the act of dumping a corpse into the water (see, bad idea?). They take Rose back to a hideaway and convert her into a professional hit man; Lou gives her an assignment: kill two deejays, local dance-scene regulars Roger Carpio and Shaun Slaughter.

There are many Sacramento moments in Love Blade. Chelsea Wolfe scored the film with a brooding but resonant soundtrack. David Ainsworth of Alchemy FX made most of the blood and executed the film’s two big effect scenes. Even shutterbug Amy Scott gets smacked in the face and strangled.

And Rudy himself is a pretty decent actor. He appears to relish each line. In one scene, his character walks into a bathroom where Rose has killed a guy and left him bent over a toilet, ass crack showing, smeared with blood. “Great job,” Lou affirms, deadpan.

Rose eventually meets waitress Sam at lunch over a burger at Old Ironsides, and the romantic angle of Love Blade sets in motion. “My only companions were my knives, my TV. But then Sam came into my life and changed things,” Rose says during one of many Jean-Luc Godard-like vignettes, speaking to the camera like something you’d see played in a court of law during trial.

As it turns out, Sam has the same condition as Rose: She also wants to murder when she gets sexually aroused. Sam, however, has discovered a special cure so that she can have sex without killing—a bizarre, ’80s sci-fi sex comedy-plot point that puts a raunchy twist on Love Blade’s slasher storyline.

Sam and Rose fall in love, of course, and in the final scene inject the magical-cure medicine and prepare to do it. Kissing. Topless foreplay. And then the big climax—which will remain secret.

“If you could leave that part out of the story, that’d be cool,” Rudy asks.

Very few people will enjoy Love Blade. It’s fringe, oftentimes amateur and frequently disturbing. In one scene, Rose cuts a heart-shaped flesh wound into a victim’s breast. In another, a guy screws a woman with a condom-covered wooden spoon—which he later uses to scoop out her eyeball. It’s a romance, yeah, but not for the faint of heart.

“[M]y films are for people but not the masses, I believe,” Rudy concedes. “My way of thinking doesn’t jive with everyone, obviously.

“Film is magic, as you force the viewer to see the image you created [and determine] whether it is real or not.”

Outside at Rudy’s home, you can see the cross and steeple of the neighboring church, which is fitting, if anything because of what Rose says at the end of Love Blade, a refrain that no doubt holds true for Rudy, too:

“I don’t want someone to show me the way. I’ll take my own way.”