Thursday, March 10, 2011

Vamp or Not? Nomads

I had a comment left on the top 100 list by Margaret who mentioned her own top 70 that she put up at imdb. I had a look-see and there are some great films in there but there was one I had not come across; the 1986 John McTiernan directed Nomads. It was rather cheap on Amazon and so I got the film in order that I might have a look at it here.

Before I do that I want to quote Margaret’s thoughts on the vampire aspects of the film “It is never entirely clear that the nomads in reference here are vampires exactly, but the implication is definitely there.”, which gives us an intriguing opening to an equally intriguing film.

Eileen calms Jean
It opens, after a photo of an Inuit – his hood so black that we can see no face, in LA and Eileen Flax (Lesley-Anne Down) is woken by the phone. When the light comes on we see she is a doctor, on call and catching some sleep on a trolley. She goes down to the ER where a patient has been brought in by cops, it took four to subdue him and he is raving in French. He has no identification, later we discover he is Jean Charles Pommier (Pierce Brosnan). Another doctor suggests to her that Jean is on PCP, he is also covered in blood but only has a couple of lacerations. She manages to calm him, it seems, but he suddenly lunges at her, whispers into her ear in French, bites said ear and dies.

Eileen has to have her ear stitched and is sent home for the night. Before she leaves she is asked what he said – she responds that he said nothing. During her sleep she has a dream of the word kill and a woman with red hair, Niki (Anne Maria Monticelli). The next day she is told that far from being a junky or homeless guy, Jean was a distinguished anthropologist and his redhead wife has been in. She asks a friend what his last words meant. She can translate most as “they are not there, they are…” but the last word – Einwetok – eludes her.

Eileen haemorrhages
That night, on rounds, Eileen enters a trance and starts seeing Niki, from Jean's point of view, as they look round the house they are considering moving into. They like the house, though the realtor (Nina Foch) seems disturbed by a van that goes by. Niki gets paint on her hand from the garage door. Eileen is rushed for a brain scan and haemorrhages from her eyes at one point. She starts to live Jean’s last few days and eventually manages to vanish from the hospital and follow his trail whilst in a trance. The majority of the centre section of the film is Jean’s story with moments of Eileen interjected.

anthropologist at work
It is their first night in the house and Jean goes to collect a box from the car when he realises that the van, which upset the realtor, is back and graffiti has been daubed on the garage door saying “Sex, Death, Pigs, Kill”. Inside the garage there is more graffiti, a blood-stained carpet and newspaper clippings about a murder in the house. Jean realises that the street punks in the van are attracted to the house. His anthropologist instincts take over and he follows them in his car, camera in hand, to the chagrin of Niki.

Adam Ant as Number One
They drive around all night and into the day; he sees them harass a guy on a parking lot and makes a note wondering when they sleep. He takes photos of them all over the city but when they seem to kill someone in an alley and dump the body in a dumpster he cries out for them to stop. They chase him and he hides beneath a car, which they loiter around as though they know he is there but eventually they leave. He goes back to the dumpster but the body is gone and then he finds them again. The leader, Number One (Adam Ant, Love Bites), is aware of him and poses for the photos. He then gets one of the women, Dancing Mary (Mary Woronov, I Pass for Human), to dance and pose for him.

Dancing Mary poses
When he gets home (36 hours have passed) Niki is less than impressed, he suggests they are nomads – living below the radar. Meanwhile Eilleen’s friends are looking for her and one picks up a message from one of Eileen’s colleagues regarding the word Einwetok – she obviously contacted him before Jean’s memories overcame her. He says it isn’t a place, as she had assumed, but an Inuit mythological creature who was an evil spirit in human form, a wanderer of the desert (of ice), who brought misfortune, madness and death to those whose path it crossed. At the head of the film a colleague of Eileen’s had described LA as being built on the desert. Cutting back to Jean’s story and they do not appear in his photos.

creepy nun
As the story builds it is clear that they are hunting and stalking him, pushing him along. At one point he ends up in a disused building, speaking to a nun who knows his name (and, I assumed, was meant to be the nun from a picture of Jean as a child). She warns him not to fight them but to run and hide, to change his identity and avoid their attention. The scene concludes with a flock of demonically possessed (it would appear) nuns running the corridors and then Jean awaking with a start and smashing his head on his windshield. He is in his car and assumes it was a dream.

waking in his car
He actually sees a flash of one of the Einwetoks in his rear-view mirror, but when he turns she is not there. He exits the car and sees Number One, he turns from him, but when he looks again he is still there. Against the nun’s advice he gets a tyre iron and beats the Einwetok to death – it appears. In the morning the body has gone. He kills another, Ponytail (Héctor Mercado), the next day by throwing him off a skyscraper in an act that seems to go unnoticed by everyone including Niki. That day proves to be the last of his life. So what happens to Jean?

attacking the house
We don’t know. The film hints but is not explicit. We see flashes of the Einwetok beating him and yet we know that there was a lot of blood but little in the way of lacerations. We also discover that Number One has the face of the man who committed the murders in the house. Niki and Eileen get together just as a huge gang of Einwetok turn their attention on them, attacking the house, and yet although the women are terrorised they are ultimately allowed to live. They flee and one follows – ensuring they leave the state – he reveals himself as Jean.

They don't appear in photos
What does it mean and is it vamp? It takes some reading between the lines and if it is vamp it is more on a folklore or even early literature lines. The Einwetok cannot, generally, be seen – they are like the hidden people – but when they know you can see them they turn on you and hunt you. The desire seems to be to instil madness but that is a feature of some traditional vampiric forms. Their inability to be photographed is part of this but is also a feature of some vampire lore.

Héctor Mercado as Ponytail
Are they immortal? The body of Number One vanishes but we don’t see him again. However, in a blink or you miss it scene, I thought I spotted the other Einwetok that Jean kills amongst those breaking into the house to terrorise Niki and Eileen - several rewatches, on a very slow speed, didn't positively confirm that it was the same actor but it looked suspiciously like him. Jean dies and becomes one, it seems, though perhaps they take the form or perhaps the spirit steals the body – which would tie in with some folklore. The reason I mention the Einwetok stealing the body is because that might be why Eileen is re-living Jean’s memories – somehow he passed them to her, was it his spirit that entered her, pushed out by the Einwetok taking his body? We also know that the murderer seemed to become Number One also – did they originally cause the insanity that made him a killer?

Lesley-Anne Down as Eileen
There is no suggestion of feeding but we know they bring misfortune – a trait shared with Ruthven in The Vampyre: A Tale. They are attracted to places filled with misfortune, does this sustain them or does the madness of their victims feed them? If so they are very much like an energy vampire, and the idea of feeding off the victim’s madness was at the heart of the 1887 Guy De Maupassant story the Horla and Dan Simmons showed us psychic vampires feeding off negativity in Carrion Comfort.

Is it Vamp? I am not sure, I appreciate Margaret’s view that it is and my own arguments almost convince me but I wonder whether I am looking too deeply between the lines and seeing vampires because I want to? Certainly it has elements that could fit into folklore/early literature and I won’t say it isn’t – I am still cogitating, which I know is a cop out answer. However, it is an intriguing and little known film that deserves a wider audience. The imdb page is here.


Margaret said...

Great review!

This is definitely one that I waffled on as well. I think that is what is most interesting about the film, though. It is a puzzle to watch. You are never entirely sure what the Nomads are. I think I eventually decided they were vampires at least in the loosest sense mainly because Lesley Anne-Down's character is initiated into their world by being bitten, at which point she begins to share his essence and memories somehow. That seemed to fit the idea of vampire at least in the loosest sense for me,(similar to the transference in "Blood and Roses") and the ending solidified it for me, (although again the ending scene could be interpreted any number of ways).

Certainly this is a film that relies on the viewer to do a lot of the work to puzzle it all out, which is one of the reasons I enjoyed it so much. You may after thinking about it, disagree and decide that it is not a vampire film, which is certainly just as likely as that it is, depending on your interpretation of the meaning behind the pieces of the puzzle.

In any case, thanks for the great review and for the acknowledgment! I really enjoyed reading it, as I have enjoyed so many of your reviews lately! I look forward to reading more of them as you write them.


Taliesin_ttlg said...

Thank you Margaret for introducing me to it and I like the puzzle analogy as it certainly is. You also make a good point about the bite and that also fits with her haemorrhage, blood being the medium in that shot.

I have a timeline, you may have noticed, which gets updated from time to time. When it is next updated you'll see that I have added the film to it with an undecided caveat - which, I think, is the first time I have done that.

I'm glad you're enjoying the blog

Zahir Blue said...

I have loved this film since first seeing it years ago, but honestly I don't see it as particularly vampiric. Seems to me to fit more into the "haunting" category, wherein the guilty past reaches out to consume the innocent present.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Fair comment, there certainly are subtexts to the narrative. As I said I might be "looking too deeply between the lines and seeing vampires because I want to"

This leaves me remaining in a fence sitting place, but, beyond anything else, if the exercise introduces some new viewers to the film then it was worthwhile :)