City of Blood 1983 Review
City of Blood 1983
Directed by: Darrell Roodt
Starring: Joe Stewardson, Ian Yule, Liz Dick
* I will post a second review today, as I keep getting asked about this one… cold isn’t it brrrr…
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
This South African lensed feature is often mentioned when discussing rare genre entries with enthusiasts and has become highly sought after, because it has never seen light of day on DVD and is impossibly hard to find.Released in the early eighties, the movie has a title and plot structure that would lead you to believe that it could sit comfortably alongside the multitude of horror films from this period as an intriguing cycle addition.
It opens superbly in ancient Africa with two stylishly shot stalking sequences.A masked killer pursues and kills two tribesmen in the forest with a spiked-club. The scene utilises superb and energetic cinematography with an excellent guise for the bogeyman and an authentic choice of weapon.
Next up we fast forward to present day SA and we are introduced to our protagonist Joe Henderson (Joe Stewardson). Joe is a medical examiner who is suffering depression after losing his wife and child. Meanwhile, it seems that there is a masked killer on the loose, stalking the streets at night and butchering prostitutes. His choice of weapon is the ancient club from the opening, which leads authorities to believe that there is a ritualistic slant to the murders. As more bodies are discovered, Joe becomes obsessed with uncovering the killer’s identity. But in a politically unstable environment can he keep his sanity long enough to catch the butcher?
If you read this or any of the other synopsis listed anywhere on the web, you can understand why this feature has become such a trophy for slasher fans to track down. The plot description boasts all the right ingredients that make it sound as if it stands amongst the many other rare entries that are fun to seek out on eBay, usually at extremely high prices.
Prepare to be disappointed though, because City of Blood is not much of a slasher movie. In fact, I am convinced that this was just a fraudulent ploy to broadcast a political view to unsuspecting audiences. As soon as the credits have rolled, we are led down a winding path of jumbled inconsistency that makes for an uncomfortable and ultimately coma-inducing runtime.
So ok, everything starts brilliantly after the aforementioned opening, but thereafter things go downhill quicker than a boulder on a skateboard. Instead of sticking to the (rather intriguing) story involving the ritualistic masked killer, things turn sour when a subplot is introduced involving a political prisoner and a bogus death certificate that has been requested by the prime minister in order to cover-up the murder of the aforementioned inmate. Henderson, a delusional depressive on a one-man morality crusade, declines the order to forge the proof of death, and so a political battle launches involving black power groups and government officials.
South Africa under Apartheid was a heavily publicized and key period of the last century with long-lasting global effects. Even though I have a Master’s Degree in History, I studied Romanov-era Russia and I am not going to pretend to be an expert on this subject matter. In fact, I don’t want to be, as it’s not something that I was ever particularly interested in. I am however a fan of slasher movies and when I am in the mood to watch one, I know what I want and I know what I should expect. Now I’m sure that there are many cinematic views from equally as many angles on the complex struggles that occurred during these times. It seems the modus operandi here, however, was to use the slasher undertones (the genre was extremely popular at the time) to forcibly and fraudulently convey a message to an audience that would be otherwise uninterested. You know at General Election time when you see pop idols standing with politicians and looking like they know everything about the party’s manifesto? But deep inside, you know that they’re just doing it for the pay-cheque and the publicity and couldn’t care less about the plans for the economy? Well it’s the same kind of methodology that’s being used here.
Once the political aspect is introduced, the killings are thrown straight in to the backseat in terms of screen time and instead we are supplied with a multitude of flat uninteresting characters. None of them have any kind of explained back story or development and they ramble incoherently about topics unfamiliar to almost everyone outside of the government houses of SA. By the 45 minute mark, if you haven’t already fallen asleep, you will be absolutely furious. Furious that you have been tricked in to parting with your pennies for a falsely-advertised slasher flick that’s just an over-long talk-a-thon that would feel more at home playing on the Discovery Channel’s graveyard shift. Don’t be fooled in to thinking the killer will re-appear either. He turns up only once or twice throughout the runtime and when he is unmasked later in the feature, his motivations are political (surprise) and he’s not even a character that we’ve been introduced to previously.
All in all City of Blood is a failure. A failure as a horror film and a bore-marathon as a drama. Riddled with unappealing and bland characters (the lead looks like the rear end of a removal truck), a tedious plot and a lack of clarity in its direction, it would be better off placed in a box and floated out to sea, never to be seen or heard of again. I was considering putting it on eBay where copies sell for almost £100 when they appear, but I am a nice guy and couldn’t live with the guilt of putting another genre fan through this torturous excursion.
If you’re looking to track down a rare slasher – (because as we all know, most of the time finding them is the most fun part!) – please avoid paying premium prices for this entry. Despite the intriguing premise, this is nothing but a long, insulting reservoir of boredom with only really five minutes of slashertastic stuff and has no real redeeming qualities aside from the excellent opening. Don’t waste your time or money…