Blood Drive has got to be Syfy’s most insane show ever. The 13-episode series pays homage to classic grindhouse films, knowingly pushing the boundaries of good taste at every opportunity. It’s overstuffed with a gleeful sense of “Can you believe we’re getting away with this?”—both for better and for worse
The premise is ripped straight from a 1970s drive-in movie screen: It’s a dystopian version of 1999, where gas prices are astronomical, water is severely rationed, and fracking has torn America apart. There’s also a sinister corporation—Heart Enterprises—that’s quietly taken over everything, including the police and the “meanest, nastiest, filthiest” outlaw road race ever. In the show’s most over-the-top gimmick, the cars in that race run on human blood. Ergo, “Blood Drive.”
The event is kind of Cannonball Run meets Mad Max meets a Rob Zombie music video, presided over by a grimy, campy, steampunk-styled ringmaster named Julian Slink (Colin Cunningham). He’s a card-carrying Heart Enterprises employee—unlike do-gooding “ContraCrime” cop Arthur, who has no idea he’s also working for the sinister Heart until he’s shanghaied into the race, and forced to partner with lollipop-sucking vixen Grace (Christina Ochoa). Grace has an unreliable car and a semi-noble reason for entering the fray—a sick sister whose future depends on the prize money—but make no mistake, she’s also a cold-blooded and ruthlessly efficient killer.
This all happens in the first episode, which aired last week; tonight’s second episode digs deeper into the plight of Arthur’s police partner, Chris (Thomas Dominique), who’s kidnapped/recruited by Heart and its army of foxy robot-clones, where he’s exposed to its more sinister inner workings. Episode two also sees the racers make a pit stop at a diner where customers are unwittingly served dishes made from human flesh, including carvings from one unfortunate racer whose nom de highway is “Fat Elvis.” A cannibal feeding frenzy soon ensues, naturally.
Considering that Blood Drive’s premiere kicks off with Grace feeding a would-be rapist into the gory maw of her muscle car, you have to wonder how the show will continue to up the ante.
Since it’s also already gone literally balls-out by the end of episode one (complete with a black box to hide nudity, mind you, though as usual all manner of cartoonish violence is totally fair game), Blood Drive has to explore other avenues of shock. Humor is a big one, and the show is accordingly heavy on Sam Raimi-style splat-stick; severed limbs as projectiles, people slipping in pools of viscera and falling into meat grinders, etc. It’s no Ash vs Evil Dead (nobody has fought a reanimated colon from the inside out—so far) but it might almost match up on stage-blood usage.
While Blood Drive has its share of stupidly entertaining moments (in which the show knows it’s being stupid), it does has some more serious underlying issues that can’t be written off as simple hat-tips to grindhouse. Some of them are obvious; Grace, the hot-chick-who-can-totally-kick-your-ass, is a familiar trope that treads the uneasy edge between post-feminism and male fantasy, in the Sin City vein. It’s completely unsurprising that Blood Drive would have a character that fits this description—it would have been almost weird if it didn’t. And Grace does kick many asses, convincingly. Far more problematic are characters like “The Scholar” and “The Gentleman,” a mismatched gay couple who are portrayed in a manner that feels extremely tone-deaf in 2017. Also, unless we’re going to meet a bunch of new characters as the season roars on, Chris is the only black person who has any kind of major, recurring presence on the show... and he spends the first several episodes tied to a table.
Blood Drive is supposed to be a joyous embrace of the exploitation films of yesteryear; Cannibal Holocaust, Death Race 2000, Supervixens, and the other proudly sleazy titles that influenced this show all aimed to blow minds by showing things that mainstream movies wouldn’t dare. They weren’t diverse, they weren’t PC, they didn’t have a moral compass, and they didn’t give a single shit about offending anyone. But if you want to get a full dose of that, you can just watch one of the original films. Do we need a TV show in 2017 that does the exact same thing?
There’s certainly a chance that the creative minds behind Blood Drive might end up putting a more modern spin on one of cinema’s most ridiculous and purposefully offensive genres, and end up with something that’s more than just a tribute. With that in mind, your personal enjoyment of Blood Drive’s opening episodes may hinge not on how much comical gore you can stomach, but on how much you’re willing to overlook the show’s more unfortunately retro qualities, in hopes that the show ends up subverting what it’s echoing.
Blood Drive airs Wednesday nights on Syfy.