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Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Homegrown Horror: 1978's Nightmare in Blood Unleashes a Vampire on San Francisco

Posted By on Wed, Oct 10, 2012 at 10:30 AM

Page 2 of 2

Nightmare in Blood was shot in glorious Techniscope, one of my favorite film formats; it's basically 35mm divided horizontally in half, so the director can shoot twice as much footage as they would have with regular film, plus it's automatically in a 2.33:1 widescreen, not coincidentally my favorite aspect ratio. The downside is that when the prints are projected, they're doubled in size, resulting in a noticeably grainy picture. It was developed by Technicolor Italia in 1963, so it was widely used in the ever cost-conscious Italian film industry, particularly Sergio Leone's classic westerns as well as many of the Django films. (I've never liked Quentin Tarantino, and the fact that he didn't shoot his upcoming Django Unchained in Techniscope or some equivalent thereof makes me like him even less.) It was also used in some of the very best American films of the early 1970s, like Monte Hellman's Two-Lane Blacktop and George Lucas's American Graffiti.

But Nightmare in Blood's cinematographer is not quite up to the challenge of working with Techniscope, made all the more challenging by Stanley's desire to make the film look like an E.C. horror comic, with lots of stark white and pools of black. Unfortunately, the net result (and this is the case with a lot of low-budget movies shot in the 1970s, not just the ones in Techniscope) is a film that's mostly just murky and not very nice to look at.

This scene in the lobby of the Fox Theater -- which Stanley and crew desperately tried to make look spooky and sinister -- is a perfect example of that failed ambition, but hey, at least they had ambition. I've left the director's commentary track on in this clip, and as is so often the case, the commentary is more entertaining than the dialogue. Here, John Stanley and Kenn Davis describe how they came this close to kicking off the blaxploitation genre, but they stuck to their principles and made Nightmare in Blood instead, now describing that decision as a "a terrible mistake."

The Techniscope worked much better in the few daylight scenes, like this one at the Lincoln Park Golf Club. It also has some charmingly lo-fi gore, and nothing says "1970s horror" like a flute on the soundtrack.

Nightmare in Blood is not a "good" film, but it deserves more recognition in the San Francisco horror canon. (If there isn't a San Francisco horror canon, we should totally start one.) It's worth Netflixing just for the commentary track, and Stanley's essays here and here about the ordeal of making the film are also fascinating reads.

Next time, we'll look at what happened when the good folks of Milpitas decided to make a horror-comedy about their landfill-adjacent town. The results were a little stinky.

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Sherilyn Connelly is a San Francisco-based writer. She also curates and hosts Bad Movie Night at The Dark Room, every Sunday at 8pm.

Follow us on Twitter at @ExhibitionistSF (follow Sherilyn Connelly on Twitter at @sherilyn) and like us on Facebook.

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