Prime in the Dustbin: ‘Welcome to Blood City’ (1977)

Welcome to Blood City is a fine hybrid of the science-fiction and western genres. Think of it as a groovy riff on the original Westworld, with Keir Dullea deftly stepping into the Everyman shoes of Richard Benjamin. Jack Palance also stars, a threatening shadow over all the action. Samantha Eggar is here too, in a double role. There isn’t a whole lot wrong with Welcome to Blood City. It’s a forgotten gem, fast-moving and deftly plotted. So why does Prime Video present it in a terrible pan-and-scan format?

The movie begins with five people, including Mike Lewis (Keir Dullea), waking up with no memory of who they are or how they arrived where they are. They’re in a version of the Old West. This is evidenced by the hilljacks who immediately show up, steal all of their stuff, and rape the only woman in the group, Martine (Hollis McLaren).

Martine is a tragic character. She gets sexually assaulted, jailed, threatened with slavery, kidnapped, and things don’t end well for her. Martine may as well have had giant iron-on letters on the front of her tunic that read VICTIM. Is that how we viewed women in 1977? Is that how we view them now?

Our intrepid visitors are found by Jack Palance, the ominous sheriff of Blood City. Things work differently in that muddy town. The law dictates a kill or be killed mentality, and nobody seems to want to survive. But if a citizen manages to kill 20 people, they become “immortal” and no one is allowed to murder them. Slavery is a fact of life. But if a slave kills a citizen, they obtain everything that citizen owned. Even the dead citizen’s kill scores are inherited. It’s a strange new world Dullea finds himself in, but he’s bound and determined to thrive in the harsh environment. Look, it’s complicated, and there is a lot of exposition, but we get it eventually.

Within his first few hours there, Dullea manages to shoot a citizen in the middle of the street. He goes from new arrival to citizen of good standing in practically no time.

I’m using the word “citizen” a lot. That’s what the townspeople are actually called in the movie, so blame the screenwriters, not me.

It’s right around that point when things get weird. We are shown a 1970s computer control room. Screen built into the walls, a hutch for a coffeemaker, lots of cables and input jacks. Blood City is a construct. The main programmers are a schlub named Lyle (John Evans) and Kathy (Samantha Eggar). Kathy has even inserted a version of herself into Blood City, a madame known as Katherine. Kathy/Katherine can manipulate the events in the game to their advantage, placing citizens in danger at will. The Director, played by an extravagantly mustachioed Barry Morse, isn’t happy about the power Kathy has, but there isn’t much he can do about it.

The reason behind the existence of Blood City is the bulk of the mystery here, as is how Dullea’s character maneuvers his way through the social echelon of the town. I’ll not throw too many spoilers your way, because Welcome to Blood City is actually fun and engaging. That doesn’t mean it is a perfect film. There is a good deal of shifting between Blood City and control room, but the situation in the actual world is left a bit of a muddle. That can be dealt with, and it doesn’t prove too problematic.

I hope I’ve inspired you to watch Welcome to Blood City, to jump onto Prime Video and find the thing, because it leads to a question. What will a devoted film fan go through to see a good movie? Because this particular version looks like boiled hell.

The streaming Prime Video presentation is worse than a VHS rip. There are some shots where nothing is visible except background scenery. This is irritating, because as good attentive viewers, we know there is something going on. We can hear it. We just can’t see it.

The entire image even moves so we can see all of the beginning titles! Below, you can see it caught mid-pan and mid-scan.

There has not been an attempt to clean this film up. No one has even dabbed at it with a moist tissue. Folks, we pay for Prime Video. It’s not a free service. Do we deserve better?

Perhaps the issue is that Prime Video is the video equivalent of Amazon itself. The whole thing is a crap shoot. It’s the digital dirt mall of film. Sometimes, we get precisely what we wanted, and it’s good, and we tell our friends. Sometimes, it’s lousy. You get what you get, and that’s all there is to it. There’s also not a Blu-ray available for the film, so Prime Video literally cannot get a better version. That begs the question: why program it?

This cavalier attitude hurts a diamond in the rough like Welcome to Blood City. There are viewers who will turn a movie off because it looks like trash. But this is a movie that deserves to be seen. In a perfect world, some niche distributor would find Welcome to Blood City, clean it up and hype it from hell to breakfast. We would all be yammering about it then, wouldn’t we?

Obviously, it’s up to you as a film fan and a consumer. Welcome to Blood City is marriage material. But when you look at the thing on Prime, first glance, well, it’s got a great personality and loves to dance. You take your chances, folks. Picking Welcome to Blood City worked for me, even if I did have to squint to make it out.

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