Monday, October 24, 2011

Mill Creek Invasion: WELCOME TO BLOOD CITY (1977)

Did you ever have one of those days? One moment Tom Lewis (Keir Dullea) is stuck in traffic in the middle of some sort of evacuation, and in the next he finds himself dressed in prison garb in the middle of a wilderness. He meets a woman, Martine (Hollis McLaren), and several men, all similarly dressed. They tell him to consult a card in his pocket which tells him how many people he's killed. It seems that they're all murderers, though that's news to Lewis, and they seem to have escaped from prison with no idea of where to go. While they ponder their predicament, random letters appear on screen and the camera pans and scans desperately to keep up with them. These reveal that we're looking at an EMI production of a Peter Sasdy film with butchered cinematography, courtesy of Mill Creek Entertainment's Sci-Fi Invasion collection. The presentation doesn't inspire confidence, and that's probably for the best. This film would probably be just as stupid in all its original widescreen splendor.

Our wanderers are soon beset at a creekside by a potbellied road agent and his sidekick who confiscate everyone's boots and rape Martine. Observing from a discreet distance is Jack Palance on horseback, a man in black with a silver cross for a badge. After the rebooted desperadoes go their way, he identifies himself as Sheriff Friendlander and herds the barefoot victims into his town, Blood City, and deposits them in a secure house in advance of their choosing day. Blood City is a place with its own laws, imposed, from the look of things, by the totalitarian dictatorship of the Red Cross.


At the choosing day, Lewis and his new friends will be -- you guessed it -- chosen for a period of indentured servitude. Until that time, they're eligible to be killed by established citizens or their bodyguards, and they're not entitled to bear arms to defend themselves. Citizens themselves are entitled to kill one another until someone has killed twenty people. Such a person becomes an "Immortal," like Friendlander, whom no one may shoot at. Lewis isn't having this. When he wants footwear, he goes to a bootmaker and beats the man into providing what he needs. In general, he's full of gripes. He fails to understand why everything in Blood City boils down to "kill, kill, kill!" His complaints get to the sheriff, who suddenly flashes back to a better time when he (or Jack Palance) was a benign academic of some sort. This reverie sets off alarms in a distant laboratory where technicians in modern dress monitor a mannequin on a hospital bed. One of the technicians, Katherine (Samantha Eggar) pushes some buttons and Friedlander promptly forgets what he was trying to remember.

 Above, the fantasy of the Blood City Slickers tour package. Below, the sad reality.

At this point, Welcome to Blood City veers away from its apparent destiny as a Westworld ripoff and reveals itself as an even more specific ripoff of that old Prisoner episode where Number Six and his tormentors dress up as cowboys. The ripoff is so thorough that Lewis is at one point informed, apropos of nothing, that he is "Number Nine." Gradually, tortuously, Blood City reveals its purpose. The citizens, prisoners, slaves, bodyguards, etc. are being cultivated or culled in the hope of finding a "Killmaster" to do an unidentified government's dirty work in distant parts of the globe. As an Immortal, Friendlander has been the most likely candidate so far (his scholarly background notwithstanding), but Katherine believes that Lewis is something special. She advances his cause by programming herself into Blood City as a citizen who throws Lewis a rifle so he can save his life, kill a man, become a citizen, join the Red Cross, and acquire his own bodyguards from the man he killed. While the real Katherine is in no way hooked up to the virtual reality (avant la lettre) simulation, she gets off watching video footage of her Blood City self done up as a saloon girl getting it on with Lewis, while a colleague complains that her interest borders on the pornographic. Forget about scientific objectivity. Instead, Katherine grows murderously jealous of Lewis's continuing interest in poor Martine. When Lewis plots to liberate her from slavery to the fat robber from the early scenes, Katherine and her posse intervene, and when the big slob uses Martine as a human shield, she coolly puts a bullet in her virtual (?) rival's brain.


Not satisfied with this result, Katherine resolves to terminate Lewis once and for all. From her control post in the lab, she can manipulate reality in Blood City to make Friendlander appear out of nowhere like Droopy Dog whenever Lewis tries to elude him. When Friendlander isn't sufficient to her purpose, she empowers one of Lewis's erstwhile fellow victims to whack the renegade. But something goes wrong here as well. Lewis is killed fair and square in Blood City, but he wakes up in the real world -- that's not supposed to happen, at least not so soon. But before Katherine can follow through terminating the man, her boss (Barry Morse) appears to insist that Lewis be retained to lead an Elite Force. In the meantime, in Sasdy's big would-be mindfuck finish, Lewis staggers around his room (where he'd at first looked a lot like the dummy previously playing Jack Palance), discovering first a bunch of TV monitors showing atrocity footage from around the world, and then a reject room where the real Friendlander, Martine, etc. stagger about in a white-clad stupor. Confronted with such horror, Lewis takes the only escape route available to him, somehow reprogramming himself into Blood City and riding off into the sunset.

Pay no attention to the people behind the curtain.

I see what Sasdy and his writers were trying to say, but no -- no one in their right mind, and compared to those other poor souls Lewis is in his right mind, would put themselves back in the idiot universe of Blood City. Hell, given a choice between becoming a Killmaster, or getting an apparent lobotomy, and watching Welcome to Blood City, I can cut the choice down to two pretty quickly. Sasdy finishes a remarkable two-part cinematic coup here; after making one of the worst horror films of the 1970s in the form of The Devil Within Her/Sharon's Baby/ I Don't Want to Be Born, he bounces right back to make one of the worst sci-fi films of the decade. It qualifies for that ranking because it confuses incoherence for originality when it isn't brazenly stealing used ideas and wastes an otherwise capable cast of stars. If anything, Blood City is worse than the baby movie because its ineptitude is less amusing. It's no surprise that it was television from then on for Sasdy, with the somehow fitting exception of the Pia Zadora vehicle The Lonely Lady. Need I add that Mill Creek's atrocious rendering does the film no favors? Since it does none for itself, I guess you can't blame Mill Creek too much.


raculfright_13 said...

Sounds awful. Still though, I must watch it.

Anonymous said...

I must say, I agree with the review. This thing is awful and while the ideas are interesting, they've already been used in earlier films and to much better effect (and much better scripting and editing, too).

I could barely make it part the various chapters. I'd like to blame the poor quality and production, but the script and character motivations are a mess. Too many unexplained details and I tend to give leniency to "bad cinema" but this was bad. Clearly copying many things about Westworld not only for it's "thinking point", but because Western gear is cheaper than Sci-Fi. The movie was ultimately unsatisfying at the end and had no clear message. Not much made sense.