City of Blood (1983)

Own it!

review by Scott Hamilton and Chris Holland
See also:

Alone in the Dark



City of Blood

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Our rating: two LAVA® motion lamps.

City of Blood
Aaahh! Evil Mummenschanz!
Probably one of the most obscure horror films we've ever found, City of Blood is not any of the films you would think it is from the title. It's not a simple "slasher on the streets" story, nor is it a zombie movie. If it resembles any movie we've ever seen, it would probably be Tenebrae, crossed with A Dry White Country.

A title card tells us that we are in Africa two thousand years ago. Two tribesmen work their way through a forest as they set off some sort of trip. One of them gets beaned in the noggin by a severed head that swings down on the end of a line, and the other one runs like hell. He runs until he comes upon a stream, and he stops to drink. When he looks up, he's confronted by a man in a ceremonial mask. The stranger kills him with blows from a ceremonial club.

Our story then moves to South Africa in the early 1980s, while apartheid was still in force. A killer is stalking the streets of the city, killing prostitutes with spiked club. At the scene of each murder an upturned fist with five spikes is found drawn on a nearby wall with the victim's blood. Dr. Joe Hendersen (Joe Stewardson) is the district's chief medical examiner, and he has been called in on each of the murders. Hendersen seems to have been rather badly affected by the murders, because he spends his nights driving around town, trying to warn prostitutes of the danger they're in, or sitting in bed hallucinating conversations with his wife, who left him years earlier.

City of Blood
Dr. Kervorkian relaxes in
his home office.
In the middle of the investigation, another problem comes to the fore. While Hendersen is going through a routine stack of death certificates that need to be signed, he finds with one that has all the details filled out, except for the name. Apparently, someone wanted him to sign off on the cause of death even though he did not process the body.

After he makes a stink about that certificate, he gets a visit from two agents from the State Security Police. The agents insist he sign the form, but won't tell him who the certificate is for. Being a man of principle, Hendersen refuses.

The police, especially Hendersen's best friend Max Wharton (Ian Yule), continue to investigate the prostitute slayings. But Hendersen is sent in a different direction when a skull is unearthed in an area of the country known as God's Acres. The skull, which is thousands of years old, shows injuries incredibly similar to those of the murdered prostitutes. Hendersen sets out to God's Acres, and comes across a dying chieftain, who gives Hendersen a ceremonial club, as well as some ominous advice about how the killers will come to him now.

City of Blood
"Okay Ms. Flockhart,
don't move a muscle."
In fact, City of Blood is only barely a horror film. Though we gave it short shrift in our description, the sub-plot about the death certificate and the resulting conspiracy to hide the killing of a political dissident is a large part of the film. After the first half hour of the film, there are no more prostitute killings, and when the killer is revealed, he seems to be politically motivated. We think. There may be shades of meaning we're missing in this movie by not being South African. If you were trying to protest apartheid, why would you kill prostitutes? Would that really achieve anything?

There are some very moody sequences, and some nice scare effects. But some are more silly than scary. Here's some advice to filmmakers in countries that have lots of British cars. In a Cadillac or an Impala, it is barely possible for a maniac to hide in the back seat unbeknownst to the person driving the car. In the little compact that Hendersen drives there is no chance in hell a tribesman with a feather headdress would not be seen from outside the car, let alone inside it.

What we really didn't like about City of Blood is that it doesn't really gel. We guess the point of the film was that each of the sub-plots puts Hendersen in a moral quandary, but towards the end of the film plot developments occur that make no sense. Max shows up somewhere where he has no business being. The killer lets Hendersen go free after admitting to his crimes. We've seen far too many movies like this that start off with an intriguing mystery, but try to wrap the film up with shocking but illogical plot twists.

Review date: 10/26/1999

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As far as we can tell, City of Blood was released on tape only once by Magnum Entertainment, back in 1988. It has probably been out of print since then, and the IMDb has almost no information on the movie. We'll be adding more information shortly. Go back!






























There are some aerial shots of the city, and if we were South Africans, we could probably tell which city it is. But as it stands, we don't know exactly where the movie takes place. Go back!