Thursday, September 21, 2006

Vampire in Brooklyn - review

DVDDirected by: Wes Craven

Release Date: 1995

Contains Spoilers

I have heard, though I cannot vouch for the validity of this, that Vampire in Brooklyn suffered because Wes Craven wanted to shoot a comedy and Eddie Murphy wanted to shoot a straight horror. It is certainly clear, as you watch this, that the horror and comedy are kept at arms length from each other for the most part.

Eddie Murphy plays Maximilian. Vampires, in this, came from Egypt. They scattered, some to the CarpathiansEddie Murphy as Max and others to a hidden island in the area we now call the Bermuda Triangle. Hunters eventually came to their island bolt hole and Max is the last vampire. He needs a companion to survive and has come to Brooklyn seeking out a mate. She is a half vampire, the product of the mating between a vampire male and human woman and, though he doesn’t know who she is, he will know her on sight.

She is Rita (Angela Bassett), a cop whose mother recently died in a mental asylum and Max is on a mission to seduce her before the next full moon. Unfortunately he has to break the attraction between her and her partner Justice (Allen Payne).

The story, thus, is a combination of standard vampire plot (vampire searches for love) with a huge touch of Dracula thrown in. Sailor victimSo, in line with Dracula and the landing of the vampire onboard the Demeter, Maximilian comes to Brooklyn onboard a ship, replete with drained sailors, that comes crashing through the harbour and goes to land in the form of a giant wolf. Despite having clichéd elements, however, the film has a definite slickness to it.

The vampires are fairly powerful in this. They must avoid the sun, can be staked, dislike holy items (Max starts to smoke when he enters a church and, in an understated element, Rita’s cross leaves a burn on her chest when she is being seduced by Max).Rita is fading fastThey move incredibly fast, can create mist, blow up dogs and cast spells which can convert a dirty Brooklyn flat to something that appears palatial. They have no reflection and Rita’s fading reflection , as she falls under Max's sway, is well handled. A bitten human will not turn if the vampire does not chose to turn them (the vampires are a race not a club, we hear) but one being turned must feed to fully turn and the death of the full vampire can save them before this happens.

They can also create ghouls by placing a few drops of blood on a mortal’s tongue. The ghoul looking worse for wearThe ghoul Max creates is named Julius (Kadeem Hardison). The majority of the humour comes from this character, who is rotting where he walks and shedding body parts, as well as developing a taste for bugs. Max assures Julius that the benefits outweigh the downside and that he might well become a vampire in his own right, eventually. One of the best lines from Julius is when, before becoming a ghoul, he accuses Max of trying to pull that Blacula sh*t on him – a reference to the famous blaxploitation movie.

The rest of the comedy comes, in the main, from Murphy taking on other roles. At one point he feeds on, and then takes the form of, a failed stick-up man. The other was when he becomes a preacher who tries to convince his congregation (in an outdoor service as he cannot enter the church) that evil is good.

The heavy makeup seemed unnecessaryThe failure of the film comes in a few forms. Firstly the film doesn’t really know if it is a comedy or horror and never truly becomes a comedy/horror. Next comes in the special effects. Whilst they are, in the main, really quite good, towards the end the vampire make up becomes heavier and heavier, and more and more demonic. This seemed unnecessary.

The main gripe I have, with regards this movie, is the lack of chemistry between the three main players in the love triangle of Max, Rita and Justice. It seemed unlikely that Justice would go out of his way for Rita or that Rita would care about Justice – though there was some chemistry between her and Max.

Murphy, however, looks good as a vampire and carries an air that fits the character well. Indeed it is Murphy who makes the film, playing Max in a restrained way and saving his more zany shinanigans for the other characters he plays. There are also some very classy scenes. Crucified room mateThe one in particular that springs to mind is when Max beds Rita’s flatmate, Nikki (Simbi Khali). Rita believes her to be in bed with Justice and, having had a nightmare, relieves her frustration by painting. We fast cut between frantic brush strokes and distressed scenes of Nikki as Max attacks her. The fast cuts end as we see blood seep from the keyhole to her room. Nikki is later found crucified in a way that matches Rita’s painting.

There is a definite panache to the film that could have made this a classic if the film had managed to plough a true furrow between horror and comedy, if the script had not been as clichéd in its vampire plot as it was, and the cast had engaged the emotional responses of the audience. As it stands, it is above average. 6 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

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