Saturday, December 31, 2016

Nightmare in Blood (1978)

          Sometimes a crappy movie hits just enough sweet spots that it gets a pass, at least for viewers who love the specific things featured onscreen. Such is the case for me with Nightmare in Blood, a thoroughly unimpressive attempt at blending horror with pop-culture satire. Employing the familiar device of a real-life vampire masquerading as a fake vampire, the movie has zero big laughs and zero big scares, so it’s a washout in both of the two genres to which it belongs. Having said that, some scenes have a smidgen of eerie suspense, the production values are okay by low-budget standards, and the general shape of the piece is satisfying because a goofy buildup leads to a properly gruesome finale. Yet none of that is why I’m cutting Nightmare in Blood so much slack. No, this one’s all about geeky signifiers. Most of the action takes place in a beautiful old movie theater. Points. The villain is a flamboyant horror-movie actor known for playing vampires. More points. And one of the supporting characters is a weirdo who treats comic books like a religion, so several of his scenes take place inside a late-’70s comic shop complete with mint-condition issues of Kamandi and Sub-Mariner on the spinner racks. Major points. So when I say that I more or less enjoyed Nightmare in Blood, that’s the nostalgic context.
          The action surrounds the so-called “First Annual San Francisco Horror Convention.” Promoters including Professor Seabrook (Dan Caldwell) plan to show movies and spotlight a personal appearance by Malakai (Jerry Walter), a screen icon in the Lugosi mold. Plaguing the promoters is an uptight pundit named Dr. Unworth (Justin Bishop), a riff on real-life ’50s anti-comic crusader Dr. Frederic Wertham. Meanwhile, Malakai’s assistants, who may or may not be the supernaturally preserved Burke and Hare of legend, gather victims so their undead master can feast. Director/cowriter John Stanley plays all of this silliness way too straight, missing the opportunity to create something like, say, Fright Night (1985), which is quite similar from a narrative perspective but has a livelier tone. Still, Stanley fills his dumb and painfully flat movie with a few enjoyably peculiar touches. At one point, the comic-book worshipper ponderously opines, “Of mysteries I know little, of comics I know all—the truth of the universe can be found there.” For a few fleeting years during my childhood, I felt exactly the same way, so it would be disingenuous for me to malign Nightmare in Blood, even though it fails to meet any normal critical standards.

Nightmare in Blood: FUNKY

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