Friday, July 04, 2008

Nightmare in blood – review


Director: John Stanley

Release date: 1978

Contains spoilers

Horror Conventions (indeed any sort of genre convention) are a funny old thing. This film concentrates its story around a convention… ish… Actually it is more a film festival than a convention – despite what the script says. It is also all set before the convention starts.

Does the film capture the convention spirit? I might be jumping ahead by asking the question at the head of the review but the answer, for me, is no. There is one film that I thought really did capture, in a comedic way, the spirit of conventions and fandom… Galaxy Quest (okay that was based on sci-fi conventions but it so reminded me of conventions attended by myself). Whilst this may miss the convention spirit, it is still a vampire movie and has an interesting premise at its heart…

clip from movieThe film begins with a fight to the death, over the maiden, between the vampire Malakai (Jerry Walter) and Prince Zaroff (Kerwin Mathews). As the vampire dies we realise that this is not reality but is in fact a movie within the movie that we are watching – just as well as the classical soundtrack was wholly inappropriate. As the cinema plays a trailer (we only get the voiceover) for the Malakai flick “The Crypt Runs Red” we see a couple of guys enter the projection room and kill the projectionist.

Scotty, Cindy and the ProfessorA movie theatre is the location for the first annual San Francisco Horror-Con. The organisers of the event are Scotty (John Cochran), Cindy (Barrie Youngfellow) and Professor Seabrook (Dan Caldwell). They are attending the theatre to show it to Cindy. They discuss their special guest, Malakai – an actor who lives his vampire persona off-screen. Of course the film is brimming with references to horror films generally.

Justin Bishop as Dr UhworthScotty’s fiancée, Barbara (Yvonne Young), turns up as well as TV horror host (and general derider of the genre) George Wilson (Morgan Upton) – with his camera man Harry Marsdon (Stan Richie). Malakai has refused an interview on Wilson’s show as he dislikes the host’s lack of reverence for the genre. However Wilson has arranged for Seabrook and protestor Dr Uhworth (Justin Bishop) to go on his show for a debate. Uhworth hates the genre and has organised protests as he feels it is corrupting American youth.

Malakai arrivesWhen the PR men for Malakai turn up, B.B. (Ray K Goman) and Harris (Hy Pyke), they underline the rules that Malakai insists upon – Cindy, for instance has to remove her cross. We, as the audience, are more interested in the fact that we recognise them as the murderers from the head of the film. Then Malakai arrives, in a casket.

waking up is hard to doOf course the interesting premise is that the actor who plays a vampire is in fact a vampire. Indeed he’s been ghosting around the theatre and film industry for a rather long time. His PR men are none other than the body snatchers Burke and Hare – kept animated by procedures Malakai invented. With a vampire in their midst something is going to go wrong… and this is where the plot also goes wrong.

before the board of deathEvery two years Malakai has to have body parts harvested for his formula that will keep his cohorts going. They choose the victims for him (whether for harvesting or just feeding it seems) with a picture wall that they throw knives into, whoever’s picture is struck will be the victim – though in the case of Wilson, Malakai replaces all the pictures with his, just to make sure. Why on Earth they would be so stupid as to attack those they are involved with, rather than strangers, especially when the vampire is so high profile, was beyond me.

Gary the comic book guyScotty – who is a Sherlock Holmes buff – soon works out the truth and the three organisers, along with cosmic comic book guy Gary, have to deal with the evil in their convention. Of course by then there have been several bodies piled up, enough to make Burke and Hare’s formula. Luckily the hunters have help…

Mark Anger as Ben-Halik, the avengerThrough the film a strange bearded man has been seen. They catch him trying to get into Malakai’s casket, ship him to the loony bin but Scotty gets him out. He is Ben-Halik (Mark Anger), known as the Avenger. He is an Israeli Nazi-Hunter who became interested in Malakai because the vampire ran a concentration camp during the war (trying to improve his formula by experimenting on the incarcerated). Over the twenty five years that the Avenger has hunted Malakai, he has discovered that the war criminal is also a vampire.

blood at mouthThe lore seems standard, stake through the heart to kill, sunlight is deadly, crosses burn and repel. Malakai cannot turn into a bat; he makes a derisory comment about a 175lb man becoming a 14oz bat. Interestingly any holy item hurts him and a Star of David pushed against his head burns him, there isn’t any discourse as to whether it is any holy object generally or the faith of the individual with the object.

BB and Harris are more like sentient zombies I’d guess and are reliant on Malakai’s formula injected straight into the brain. Bullets won’t stop them but electricity and acid will.

a victimThe biggest problem with the film is, despite the large and convoluted mix put together, it is a tad slow and boring. I liked the base premise but the execution thereof left something to be desired. I’d say this is worth a watch as something unusual but it could have been a whole lot better. 4 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

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