Release Date: 1986
Vamp was a film, I must admit, that I missed in the 80s and have now seen, some twenty years after original release, on the Anchor Bay DVD release. Being Anchor Bay, this is chock full of extras and I intend to do a bonus section at the end of this on an early Wenk production, “Dracula Bites the Big Apple” a twenty Two minute short film also on the DVD.
The biggest problem with this film is that it is, ostensibly, a comedy and yet it failed to raise much of a smile never mind a guffaw. That said it is a nice looking film, with some idiosyncratic and fetching cinematography.
The story itself is very basic, we begin with robed figures dragging two men, in their underwear, into a gothic looking building. They are taken to a room as atmospherically stirring classical music plays, a room which contains a hanged figure and two nooses. The nooses are placed around their necks as a figure intones and… the music and voice screw up as a tape is chewed.
This is the frat initiation for AJ (Robert Rusler) and Keith (Chris Makepiece). AJ has a bit of a mouth on him and berates the frat for such a pathetic initiation prank and says he can get them anything for their upcoming party – in return for frat membership. The task – get a stripper.
Several futile phone calls later, during which scene we discover that Keith is a dead aim with a bow, and the only solution seems to be a road trip to hire a real stripper. The nearest city is two hundred miles from the school so they enlist the help of rich nerd Duncan (Gedde Watanabe) who has a car. Off they set and reach the city, deciding to go to the After Dark Club.
There is an interesting, and yet largely unexplored moment, as they enter the city and nearly crash. The car seems to spin for an extremely long time and, when the spin ends, they are in a deserted street on the wrong side of the tracks. “I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore” is the comment and it is as though they have passed into another world. Perhaps it was meant to be just a throw away referential scene, we will see another Wizard of Oz connection in the bonus section with regards Wenk’s work, but I found this interesting.
This otherworld they enter into really isn’t Kansas anymore, a world of strange green and pink neon lighting, vampires and albino gangs… but I get ahead of myself. The guys go to a coffee bar, wondering what time they should go to the club as it opens after dark. Hearing this, the owner checks the time and gets ready to leave, putting on priest garb and a large cross. However some girls enter with an albino, known as Snow (Billy Drago). There follows some animosity between Snow and AJ and Keith (Duncan is in the bathroom) after Keith reacts to one of the girls rotten teeth. AJ settles this in a macho moment but it leads to various amounts of trouble with an all albino gang later.
They get to the club. AJ goes in first and, by the time Keith and Duncan get in, AJ is by a bar on his own and the others take a table. A waitress approaches Keith saying that she knows him; we later discover she is Amaretto (Dedee Pfeiffer). Eventually a dancer comes out, her face whitened and, below her dress, she is daubed in body paint and her dance can only be described as avant-garde. She is Katrina (Grace Jones) and AJ decides she is the one for the frat party.
AJ is taken backstage and eventually meets Katrina. She comes onto him heavily and he believes his luck is in. How wrong he is. Katrina morphs into a particularly ugly looking vampire and there is a very nice feeding scene here. It is all a mistake, however. The strip joint is owned and run by vampires, most of the staff are vampires (or Renfield types), but they only feed from the loners who wouldn’t be missed, they have not realised that AJ is with friends. For Keith the night goes from bad to worse…
The film should have worked, with interesting lighting and not a bad (if simple) premise. The comedy falls flat but the real problem is that the film does not seem to hold together very well. None of the performance are bad, Pfeiffer as Amaretto (or so the character is listed as on imdb, I heard the name Alison Hicks) is cute and there is something very likeable about Makepeace. Grace Jones is under used but is mysterious and, well just plain old Grace Jones weird when she is used, and yet nothing really stands out. The Duncan character was just annoying, though he was meant to be, but is not in the film that much if the truth be told.
The joint itself seems a little under-seedy. Years later Rodriguez would realise the perfect vampire strip joint in “From Dusk ‘Til Dawn” (1996). This feels a little wrong. The albino gang was just one weirdness too far, it made very little sense and felt like an attempt to get a cheap laugh. There is intimation that Katrina is Egyptian, possibly a Nefertiti type. This was subtly done but could have stood for more exploration.
The vampires are fairly standard, with some monstrous morphing. A stake through the heart, fire and sunlight will destroy and they cast no reflection. There is a nice moment, early on, with two dancers getting ready. The mirror space between them is empty and they apply makeup to each other. There is a child vampire and that led to an excellently realised scene where she attacks one of the albino gang. She truly is one of the creepier things about the film.
The film, unfortunately, just seemed to go on and on, in fact there seemed to be several endings. It should come as no surprise that AJ comes back as a vampire and there is a good attempt at making you wonder whether Amaretto is one of the undead or not. One nice part, despite being a little silly, is this is the first movie that I am aware of that includes a vampire dying because of stake by stiletto heel – the screenshot doesn’t really do this justice.
The film has nothing essentially wrong with it, but on the other hand it does not excel in any way (bar the green and pink looking rather good as a lighting scheme). 4.5 out of 10 marks this at just the wrong side of average and it is a shame as it is a nice looking movie with good production values.
The imdb page is here.
Bonus Bit – Dracula Bites the Big Apple
Director: Richard Wenk
Release date: 1979
This bonus extra on the Vamp disc was a short student film by Wenk, shot over three days for $6000. It tells the story of Dracula (Peter Loewy), bored with the flat tasteless blood of Transylvania, moving to New York.
The opening sequences are sepia in tone and subtitled - my knowledge of languages is not exactly wide but I suspect the spoken dialogue (including a Hamlet quote) was in Romanian (or at least was meant to be). When Dracula gets to NY we shift into colour. He disembarks his plane (everyone, hostesses and fellow passengers, are feeling their necks) and is met by Renfield (Barry Golmolka).
To a degree this reminded me of the Tom and Jerry short cartoon, “Mouse in Manhattan” (1945), where Jerry runs away to New York, I’m sorry but it did. Essentially Dracula is out of his depth, trying to cope with metropolitan life. In the Tom and Jerry short there is a dance sequence, in this we get a song and dance moment with Dracula singing “Dancing in the Moonlight”.
His coffin case goes missing and whilst Renfield tries to find it he tries to find a victim, to no avail. There is one particular girl (Karen Tull) who takes his fancy. After negotiating a turnstile he tries to have his toothsome way with her in a subway, complete with cloak below eyes and finds his cloak painted by a graffiti artist. Later he swoops upon her in her home, the lights come on and it’s a surprise party.
He tries to get into Steve Rubell’s club (played by himself) and is refused entrance as he can’t dance, despite the ability to transform into a bat. The budget wouldn’t stretch to a proper bat so we have a couple of wings and a Photostat of the actor’s face and a subtitle that says simulation – this was so self-effacing it worked.
Of course, like Jerry, Dracula eventually gives up on the City and leaves the city for home – though Dracula uses his coffin as a raft. In this scene as Dracula states “There’s no place like home.” We hear Renfield hum “Over the Rainbow” – this, of course, is the Wizard of Oz reference I mentioned in the Vamp review.
All in all this is a silly but satisfying little short. Not high art and terribly seventies but a nice addition to the Vamp DVD.
The imdb page is here.