The time is the 1890s. The place is California. Sicilian immigrant Sebastian Collogero (Giancarlo Giannini) has just been sworn in as an American citizen and owns his own vineyard. When Irish immigrant William Bradford Berrigan (Dennis Hopper) demands that Sebastian give up his land so Berrigan run a railroad through it, Sebastian refuses. Berrigan hires a group of thugs led by Andrews (Burt Young) to make Sebastian see the error of his ways. When Sebastian ends up dead, his wayward son, Marco (Eric Roberts), takes up arms and seeks revenge.
Have you ever wondered what would have happened if the famously self-indulgent directors Michael Cimino and Francis Ford Coppola teamed up to make a movie about the American Dream? The end result would probably be something like Blood Red. Like Cimino’s The Deer Hunter and Heaven’s Gate, Blood Red begins with a lengthy celebration (in this case, in honor of Sebastian’s naturalization ceremony) that doesn’t have much to do with the rest of the film but which is included just to make sure we know that what we’re about to see is more than just a mere genre piece. Like many of Coppola’s films, Blood Red features a tight-knit family, flowing wine, and a score composed by Carmine Coppola. The only difference between our hypothetical Cimino/Coppola collaboration and Blood Red is that the Cimino/Coppola film would probably be longer and more interesting than Blood Red. Blood Red is only 80 minutes long and directed by Peter Masterson, who seems lost. There’s a potentially interesting story here about two different immigrants fighting to determine the future of America but it gets lost in all of the shots of Eric Roberts flexing his muscles.
For an actor known for his demented energy, Eric Roberts is surprisingly dull as the lead but Blood Red is a film that even manages to make veteran scenery chewers like Dennis Hopper and Burt Young seem boring. (Hopper’s bizarre attempt at an Irish brogue does occasionally liven things up.) The cast is full of familiar faces like Michael Madsen, Aldo Ray, Marc Lawrence, and Elias Koteas but none of them get to do much. Of course, the most familiar face of all belongs to Eric’s sister, Julia. Julia Roberts made her film debut playing Marco’s sister, Maria. (Because the film sat on the shelf for three years after production was completed, Blood Red wasn’t released until after Julia has subsequently appeared in Mystic Pizza and Satisfaction.) She gets three lines and less than five minutes of screen time but she does get to briefly show off the smile that would later make her famous. Today, of course, that smile is the only reason anyone remembers Blood Red.