The SS Comes to Appalachia: Joel Schumacher’s Blood Creek (2009)

Joel Schumacher’s Lost Boys (1987) reinvigorated the vampire genre by situating a teenage coming of age story in a small coastal California town beset by biker vampires. Starring a host of popular young actors, Lost Boys enjoyed tremendous commercial success and quickly entered cult status. Schumacher revisits the genre with Blood Creek (2009), a smaller and much darker film set in rural West Virginia in which a Nazi scholar torments a family and the surrounding countryside with bizarre occult rituals. The film begins in 1936 when a family of German immigrants, the Wollners, receive a letter from the German government offering desperately needed financial relief in exchange for hosting a visiting professor. The family accepts and await the arrival of Richard Wirth (Michael Fassbender), an SS academic dispatched to America in search of ancient runestones purportedly deposited in the area by Viking explorers.

Using the Wollners as test subjects, Wirth seeks to harness the supernatural powers of the stones in bloody experiments designed to achieve immortality. The Wollners trap Wirth in a cellar but are forced to sacrifice locals to sustain both themselves and Wirth for the next seventy years until one victim, Victor Marshall (Dominic Purcell), escapes. Seeking revenge, Victor brings his brother Evan (Henry Cavill) back to the Wollner house and unwittingly free the now monstrously deformed and powerful Wirth. The Wollners reveal their dark secrets to Evan, particularly the practice of kidnapping and draining victims’ blood to keep Wirth and the ageless Wollner family alive. The Marshall brothers forge an alliance of convenience with the Wollners and plot to kill Wirth. Once Wirth is decapitated, the Wollners rapidly age and perish, but not before revealing SS leader Heinrich Himmler sent eight additional agents like Wirth to retrieve runestones in the area. The film ends with Evan packing a car with weapons, maps, and the secret to killing the Nazi occultists bleeding Appalachia dry.

The Marshall brothers, one a veteran and the other a first responder, battle the sinister Richard Wirth on a West Virginia farm

Joel Schumacher called Blood Creek a “Nazi zombie vampire movie” inspired by the Third Reich’s obsession with the occult. An admirer of Fritz Lang, Schumacher approximates the look and feel of German expressionism.[i] The film’s disturbing premise is that the Nazis were right– blood is mystical, powerful, and the key to immortality. Wirth declares the runestone on the Wollner farm proof “Nordic Gods were here” and that “those who came before rule the blood.”[ii] The film unwittingly gives credence to Nazi mythology and occult pseudo-science by portraying Wirth as a superior being whose presumptions about the power of blood and the runestones were correct all along. Wirth’s ultimate goal is to acquire a third eye, a reference to the ancient Aryan religious belief that an inner eye provides perception beyond normal sight.

As an SS “academic,” the immortal Wirth knows the power of blood

Wirth acquires the eye and extraordinary strength by consuming the blood of the weak, who are captured and presented to Wirth in an abandoned metal boxcar resembling the distinctive red boxcars synonymous with decades of Holocaust representation. Wirth failed to complete his mission of providing Hitler immortality, but he wreaks havoc on American soil in a quest for racial superiority. The Wollners are not without blame even if they too are victims of the infernal plot. Victor condemns them for inaction. He drags Mrs. Wollner (Joy McBrinn) to a window overlooking the boxcar and forces her to admit she did nothing to help him.[iii] As Evan marks the locations of other runestones a swastika takes shape on his map. Resolved to extirpate the Nazi zombie vampires entrenched in his unique American sub-culture, Evan, a veteran, jumps into a pick-up truck with a sizeable American flag emblazoned on its side and disappears into the bucolic landscape. Blood Creek portrays Nazi atrocities on American soil, not just in the past when the Third Reich projected evil globally, but in a post 9/11 environment marked by fear of terrorism and internal rot.[iv]

[i] Joel Schumacher, director’s commentary, Blood Creek, directed by Joel Schumacher (Gold Circle Films, 2009), DVD.

[ii] Blood Creek.

[iii] Walter Rankin, “Blood Creek” in Pulliam, 19-20.

[iv] Weber, 72.

Published by Brian E. Crim

Brian Crim is professor of history at the University of Lynchburg and author of Planet Auschwitz: Holocaust Representation in Science Fiction and Horror Film and Television. Other books include Our Germans: Project Paperclip and the National Security State and Antisemitism in the German Military Community and the Jewish Response, 1914-1938.

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