Wednesday, January 06, 2010

The Szurek Zone: NIGHTMARE IN BLOOD (1978)

“I proclaim myself the Northern Devil’s Advocate / iconoclast / doddering old fool!” – David Szurek

“Consider yourself proclaimed, Dave!” – Paul & Chris


Reviewed by
The Northern Devil’s Advocate

It was a bit humorous when TV horror host and Creature Features Movie Guide author John Stanley praised this no-budget film in his book, as it was his own one-time venture into filmmaking. After seeing it, however, I can say he’s justified in tooting his horn, that indications are that, had he stuck with it, he had better potential as a filmmaker than the other things he tried and may have eventually been recognized as a major talent, that the only reason it didn’t join the ranks of nationally known cult films is that virtually no one saw its theatrical run and that it’s one of the few tongue-in-cheek horror films on the tip of the brain that doesn’t handle its in-jokes in a pretentious and abrasive fashion. Indeed, there are critical references to this sort of sophomoric tomfoolery, a move which would have been the kiss of death had this picture been less effective.

Enhancing quality is a cast of unknowns who not only play it straight and refuse to mug throughout, but apparently regard their material with respect and are superior to their economic caliber. Well, they were unknowns then. A few years later, heroine Barrie Youngfellow enjoyed fleeting success on the TV sitcom MAKING A LIVING. Before success, Kathleen Quinlan (who’ll you miss if you blink) has a bit part, and according to research, Ann Jillian -- who was also to become a MAKING A LIVING regular -- has a bit part as well, under a forgotten pseudonym. Kerwin Matthews from THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD and THE BOY WHO CRIED WEREWOLF has a cameo as an actor in a film clip prologue uncannily catching everything there is to catch about Andy Milligan.

It’s all about the singularly-named Malakai, a low-budget Christopher Lee who, since FANGS OVER LONDON, has been typecast as a vampire, and with good reason: He is one, along with his sleazeball pair of P.R. men -- reanimated versions of Burke & Hare who regularly commit murder, allowing their master to drink the victims’ blood from a glass and getting themselves up with the remainder. Four fans initiating a convention in San Francisco -- a horror buff college professor given to spouting pseudo-intellectual cinematic trivia, his sweetheart (who accuses the others of chauvinism for neglecting Maria Ouspenskaya), a black Sherlock Holmes fanatic, and a totally freaked-out comics nut who sees the graphic arts in the sense of a mystical religion, habitually talks like a comic book character and is responsible for such proverbs as “When man has turned to dust, comic books will still exist” -- rents a closed-down movie house for the event and invites Malakai as the guest of honor. Malakai and his P.R. men take up residence in the theater’s basement while awaiting convention day. Malakai quickly develops personal feuds with both a slimy TV horror film host who treats his library with an undisguised disdain and a Fredric Wertham clone who blames the world’s ills on horror movies in his book Rape of the Young Mind. Burke & Hare are responsible for a rash of bizarre murders. The four fans conduct a mini investigation of their own, prodded on by the Sherlock Holmes fantasist, and discover that they have brought vampires to Baghdad-by-the-Bay and, concluding that they’re involved in some heavy shit, spring a Nazi hunter turned 20th century Van Helsing from the local mental hospital. The five join forces to fight the evil, and by golly -- well, I guess you have to see it to learn whether or not they win.

What used to be called a “diamond in the trash,” NIGHTMARE IN BLOOD is, despite the evident budget, not just for sleazeaholics and may not be bad enough for badaholics, although the more flexible members of that circle should enjoy it as well. I hope I have not built your expectations up unreasonably high -- it’s not a 100% perfect movie, but what is? Thus I set you up for a fall, but at any rate it deserves to be seen. John Stanley should be brought out of retirement. Unjustly ignored upon release -- even by fandom -- perhaps it shall now be discovered on videotape.

[Originally published in Temple of Schlock #12, October 1988]

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