Blood Clan Commentary
When Glynis Whiting decided to make a feature film, her thoughts turned to a story she knew of from Scottish history. Over a period of several decades in the early seventeenth century, the legendary Bane family is supposed to have preyed on travelers who ventured near the Galloway caves. The stories claim that several generations of the Banes killed, robbed and devoured thousands of travelers during that time. The family was eventually hunted out of their caves and exterminated by the law.
Whiting, who has always liked thrillers, decided to set this story in late nineteenth century western Canada through the simple expedient of wondering what would have happened if at least one Bane family member had escaped the law. Like the numerous and well-known, legends of the survival of Anastasia from the murder of the Romanov family in Tsarist Russia, this plot type offers many possibilities – What happens to the little girl? How does she escape? Who raises her and where? What kind of person does she grow up to be? Do other members of the family also escape the slaughter? Will her past come back to haunt her?
An additional thematic in Blood Clan (1990) taken from the turn-of-the-century is that of nature-versus-nurture: Are we the way we are because of genetics or because of the environment in which we live? Is a child likely to be bad or good because she is raised in a certain way or because of who and what her parents are? Is a Bane always a Bane, or could growing up in a wholesome environment mean that at least one Bane child might be saved?
The nature-nurture argument was not just a philosophical amusement for the late Victorians. It found real application in debates for and against the education of women, publicly-funded state education for working class children, and the provision of medical care and housing for the disabled and mentally ill. Nature-nurture finds an insidious life in discussions about the relative intelligence of different races. Most famously, nature-nurture informed the development of eugenics, a social theory that supposed certain undesirable traits could be bred out of human beings. As a practice, eugenics informed the enforced sterilization of thousands of “mental defectives” in Canada and many American States; attempts to breed the “blackness” out of Aboriginals in Australia; and the many crimes of Hitler’s regime in Nazi Germany.
In Blood Clan, Whiting draws the elements of eugenics together with the romantic idea of Anastasia in a setting natural to both: western Canada. During the first decade of the twentieth century, over a million people from all over Europe converged on western Canada in the hopes of starting a new life. Many of them had secrets and many were from Scotland. Indeed, Scottish settlement has been the underpinning of Canadian culture since the Highland Clearances of the eighteenth century. Canadian film and literature is replete with stories of mystery and revenge that are rooted in Scottish history. What is more, Alberta had been the most enthusiastic proponent of the eugenics movement of any other province. What better seedbed for a horror story about inherited evil with a Scottish twist?
Blood Clan outlines the story of what happened to one of the Bane clan. Judge McKay (Gordon Pinsent), who has ordered its extinction, cannot bear the thought of killing an innocent child. He abducts four-year-old Katy Bane and leaves for Canada with his wife Margaret (Anne Mansfield) and their own daughter, Mary (Jacqueline Dandenau). The movie finds them fifteen years later, settled in a house near a village in Alberta. Judge McKay is now practising law and the girls are of marriageable age. Margaret, has always resented the fact the Judge prefers Katy (Michelle Little) to his own daughter. What is more, she worries that word of Katy’s past will spoil Mary’s chance of finding a good husband. And secretly, she fears that Katy will murder them all in their beds one day. For her part, Katy thrives on the freedom of the west; she is more tomboy than young lady, wearing trousers and working on their small farm along with the latest hired man. The Judge has a fierce love for the little girl that he rescued from evil; her fresh face and honest ways are a testament to his belief in the value of a wholesome upbringing.
Enter Stuart Ross (Robert Wisden), a young law student from Edinburgh who has come to Canada to article with Judge McKay. He is handsome, clever, and clearly favours Katy over Mary. His presence serves to kindle Margaret’s long-standing resentment over Katy. But, his arrival coincides with a series of grisly ritualistic murders: two little children and then the hired man are found dead with their hearts cut out. Somehow news about Katy’s past is circulated throughout the community and people begin to shun her. The local police automatically assume that she must be involved. The plot points the finger of blame first at one character and then another as it leads up to the inevitable bloodstained conclusion.
Produced during the Lougheed years of AMPDC funding, Blood Clan was made for a mere $500,000. In addition, Dr. Allard of WIC provided a broadcast license and some investment. The film’s low budget affects production values most visible to the audience in costumes, sets, hairstyles, dialogue, and dodgy Scottish accents. The camera work is tightly contained. But the story is more or less believable, once the audience accepts the leap of faith that has a successful Scottish judge throwing up his comfortable life and transporting his family half-way round the world for the sake of one small girl. Strong performances and competent direction (Charles Wilkinson) keep the viewer wondering right up to the end whether Katy Bane is her own woman or not.