City Of The Vampires - City Of The Vampires( DVD) [SRS Cinema - 2020]When one thinks of Short On Video Horror- you normally think of cheesy bound splatter, haphazard slasher, or dumb creature feature- you don’t really think of atmospheric, & more subtle horror- but that’s exactly what much of City Of The Vampires taps into. Here from SRS Cinema is a recent DVD of this lesser seen SOV horror picture- taking in a director's commentary.
Appearing in 1993 City Of The Vampires was the first feature-length film from low budget US Auteur Ron Bonk, who wrote and directed the film. He went onto make the troubling & emotionally fraught stalked screen queen picture The Vicious Sweet a few years later- which also recently got a reissue on SRS. With City Of The Vampires, he digs deep into the more atmospheric & moody side of horror film making- only really burst out into more typical SOV traits like cheese bound acting, campiness & splatter/ gore in the last twenty minutes or so of the film.
The film opens with local news footage of the small US city of Braddock- where seemingly many people have disappeared- leaving the city a ghost town with abandoned factories, vacant houses, and shadowy deserted streets. Then we focus in on our lead character Sam Helling(Matthew Jason Walsh)- a rather glum, skinny & mulleted youngman- we keep seeing him thinking about killing himself, as he’s made himself crazy by trying to recall what happened to his girlfriend. One day his memories suddenly flood back, and he remembers his girlfriend was taken from him by a shadowy gowned figure when the pair went to the city Braddock one night. So he decides to travel back the city- where he encounters a woman claiming the cities overrun by vampires , and a group of gloomy figures who may or may not be bloodsuckers.
The first hour or so of the hour & twenty-minute film focus in slow brooding shots of the abandoned city, people been stalked after dark, and the shadowy factories & bleak abandon houses. This is all soundtrack by synth bound score that’s like a blend of Halloweens more upbeat moments, and the score for the Phantasm series- and this Phantasm comparison moves onto the film it’s self as one is remembered of the abandoned town scenes from Phantasm 2 & onwards. Another influence here is survival horror games, as quite a few of the film sequences bringing these to mind. The lead character says little or nothing for the first fifty or so minutes of the film, and this nicely adds to the feeling of brooding atmosphere. When the ‘vampires’ fully appear in the latter part of the film, there fairly low-key & we get a few bits of gore thrown into the mix, we do also get in this part of the film more cheese bound acting…but it never goes too camp, meaning the feeling of dread is never fully diluted/ cheapened. All in all, I was pleasantly surprised by how effectively moody City Of The Vampires- and I’d say if you enjoy more atmospheric horror with fairly subtle & well-placed bloodsucker touches give this ago.
Moving onto this recent region free DVD release of the film- and we get two versions of the film the normal, and 'like movie looking one'- I watched the normal one and had a quick glance at the other. Both are not great by normal standards- been largely very dark & uneven in picture quality, but really what can one expect this 90’s SOV- so you will never get a crisp/ clean print of this type of film. Next, we get a commentary track from Ron Bonk- he starts off apologies that he’s not very good at doing tracks & doesn’t recall much, but I really enjoyed his down-to-earth & honest manner, and he does actually recall quite a lot about the shoot/ the film. He moves from talking about the stress of directing/making this first film & how he lost a lot of weight through it. Going onto talk about the change of the lead actor, and how with his original choice he’d already shot 20 hours of footage. He moves onto talking about locations, and issues he had with them- like how they got arrest when the cop in charge hadn’t put through their request to film, & the overzealous older Italian owner of one of the properties they were filming on who had forgotten they were film & threatened them with a baseball bat. He discusses the way the story changed, and much more- all in all, a very enjoyable & informative track. Lastly, we get an original trailer and SRS trailer reel.
As debut films go City Of The Vampires is pretty impressive, and even at this early stage, you can see how Bonk is using the limitations of the SOV format to be as creative as possible. All in all, this is an effectively moody horror film- which will certainly appeal to those who enjoy both lo-key vampire pictures, and atmospheric horror films set in abandoned cites.Roger Batty