CampBlood Reviews: Senseless Rants from a Picky Sissy


City in Panic Robert Bouvier 1986

Cruising 2: Pretentious Boogaloo

Once in a blue moon a film comes along that is so monumentally ill-conceived and so gloriously bad that it is almost impossible to make it through in one sitting. Yes, these films are special, and deserve special attention – but all the head-shaking that their spectacularly poor execution will induce make it difficult to pay close attention to every last bit of awfulness, so the only thing to do is to switch them off until the shakes have passed and your head is clear.

People, it took me over a month and 7 viewings to get through City in Panic. And lest you think I me a lightweight when it comes to bad cinema, remember – I sat through Christmas with the Kranks in its entirety and lived to tell about it.

Anyway, there’s a killer in the City (I don’t think that they ever say which city it actually is, and despite my hopes that it would be somewhere in Canada, I don’t think it is…) that is hacking up maybe gay men and maybe people with HIV and carving an “M” in their backs with a straight razor. First there’s a random guy in a shower, which tells us right away that the director liked Psycho and has no idea that clumsily forcing comparison to one of the greatest murders ever filmed is probably one of the stupidest things a hack director could ever do. The villain, looking every bit like every giallo killer in a fedora, trench, and glasses, continues the bloodbath by killing a male stripper and stalking men at a bathhouse. What? Am I really seeing all this? Yes, it’s all there – picking up where Cruising left off, City in Panic sets up its pretty queens all in a row and knocks them off in a particularly brutal fashion, in an array of gay-friendly locales (death in a locker room, anyone? How about a public bathroom?). But while Cruising was about hetero loathing of gays as much as it was about gay self-loathing, City has a slightly different – although no less unsavory – agenda.

But first, there’s a lead character: David Adamson plays a talk radio host who has somehow become quite popular despite the fact that he’s a boring, inconsistent gasbag who talks about himself too much (watch it, bitches…). He’s got a new girlfriend and an ex-wife to deal with (which was actually kind of alarming considering that I totally thought his character was gay for the first 30 minute), not to mention the sabotage tactics of a bitchy queen gossip columnist who has taken it upon himself to present yet another negative gay stereotype in a film already littered with limp-wristed corpses. There’s a clumsy investigation of sorts that uses the self-important DJ as bait (Radio Host in Peril? How Play Misty for Me…) and a predictable climax that reveals the killer to be an AIDS victim and very, very sad person who has been trying to rid the city of the plague that took their own life and has been using the motif from Fritz Lang’s child-killer classic M as a signoff, for God knows what reason. Actually, if you are paying even vague attention throughout the film you’ll spot a poster for M in the first half that clearly gives away the killer’s identity, not that it’s any kind of great surprise.

In case you haven’t picked up on it yet, Panic is a terrible, terrible film. But although it has managed to offend many viewers with its ham-fisted handlings of homosexuality and AIDS, I don’t actually think it set out to offend. In fact, its intention may have been to open up the eyes of the slasher-going hoi polloi to the nightmare of HIV in the mid-eighties, and although it fails MISERABLY at accomplishing anything even approaching empathy or emotional impact and leaves one with a decidedly bad taste in one’s mouth, I honestly think this was a case of basic ambition surpassing talent and budget. And while that’s certainly a shame, it’s not anything to get too angry about – it’s kind of like if a retarded kid were to try to make you breakfast in bed and accidentally set the kitchen curtains on fire in the process. Would you beat the shit out of the poor thing just for trying to accomplish something? Yes, you probably would.

But you’re evil.

But before I get all uncharacteristically lax and forgiving, let me get this out of the way - see, I’m intentionally saving the best, most egregious affront to gays, and pretty much anyone with any taste, for last. A security guard – who has been a regular (if random) character throughout the film – goes into a public men’s room to park in the stall and wait next to the gloryhole for someone frisky to pop in. When the killer enters and settles into the next stall, Officer Friendly whips out his pickle and pops it through the hole, only to have it lopped off with a straight razor. Blood spurts everywhere in a lowbrow-yet-still-non-pornographic imitation of a legit moneyshot, and we all apparently are either titillated or disgusted into a tizzy. Of course, we’re neither – if we’ve even managed to get this far into the movie we probably chuckle at what is at least something audacious amidst all the unconvincing romance and ponderous dialogue scenes.

So this one’s tough. I guess it would be easy to get mad at a movie that so clumsily bandies about serious subjects like homophobia and living with HIV, but then again it’s also easy to get mad at just about any bad horror movie that doesn’t live up to expectations, when ultimately there’s no real point. City in Panic isn’t mean-spirited enough to qualify as a testament of hatred or intolerance – in fact, there are clues that the intentions might have been quite the opposite (for other examples of this uncomfortable grey zone of intention and likely accidental homophobia, check out Mike’s Murder, American Gigolo, and other “sensational” crime flicks from this era that involve the underground). So while some people will think of this film as a Looking for Mister Goodbar for the gay set, I really see it as more of a piece of shit that really doesn’t merit much deeper analysis. Either way, it’s a must-see and a try-to-forget all in one: a one-of-a-kind failed attempt at infusing the slasher genre with some Act Up! social commentary, but a pretty damn hard watch nonetheless.

Rating (out of 5):