The San Francisco Comic Book Company in Nightmare in Blood (1978)

Nightmare in Blood (spoilers ahead) is a cult film directed by John Stanley, who was writing for the San Francisco Chronicle at the time and went on to host Creature Features (replacing Bob Wilkins) at KTVU from 1979 to 1984. The plot surrounds a series of murders at a horror convention and the event’s guest of honor, a famous vampire actor named Malakai, who turns out to be a real vampire. And Malakai’s “public-relations men,” B.B. and Harris, are actually William Burke and William Hare, the famous 19th century serial killers. The film is loaded with winks and nods to early horror fandom and classic horror films.

When Malakai arrives at the convention, filmed at Oakland’s Fox Theater, he’s greeted with cheers by his young fans, many of whom are—oddly—wearing ape masks. The kids were members of a Planet of the Apes fan club, and one of them was a teenage Fred Dekker, soon-to-be writer-director of Night of the Creeps (1986) and The Monster Squad (1987), two wildly fun films that are now cult classics.

The film features, in a way, Gary Arlington’s The San Francisco Comic Book Company, the first comics-only store in the U.S. The store opened in 1968 and was a nexus of the underground comix scene throughout the ’70s and ’80s. Robert Crumb was a frequent presence, and Simon Deitch, Rory Hayes, and Flo Steinberg all reportedly worked at the store at various times. The hippie character in the clip is not just based on Gary Arlington, he’s named Gary Arlington. Arlington himself, with his own stock, tried to recreate his Mission District store at a bigger location for the scene Stanley wanted. (The San Francisco Comic Book Company was notoriously small, some 200 square feet.) Arlington died at the age of 75 in 2014.

Compare the Nightmare in Blood clip to the absurd scene in Shyamalan’s Unbreakable, when Samuel Jackson’s character dotes on a vintage comic book illustration in his comic book “art gallery,” and then berates the man who wants to buy it for his boy because “art” is not for children. What makes it absurd is that the scene is played straight—entirely devoid of humor. A comparison of both films, in fact, explains quite a bit about the transformation of sci-fi/fantasy/horror fandom from a bookish, establishment-wary subculture into a mainstream, corporate phenomenon.

Read more about Nightmare in Blood at San Francisco Weekly and John Stanley’s site.

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