Friday, January 19, 2007

Dance of the Damned – review

VHS cover

Directed by: Katt Shea

Release Date: 1988

Contains spoilers

Dance of he Damned is not the easiest film to come by, but is well worth the effort and is centred around two characters; the vampire (Cyril O’Reilly) and a stripper named Jodi Hurtz (Starr Andreeff). In many respects this might have been a play rather than a film, which is one of its strengths and whilst starting with a level of exploitation quickly finds its feet as an excellent drama.

The world through the eyes of the vampireThe start sees the Vampire (we never do find his name) going to a strip club. Many of his powers are shown to us visually. He is athletic, we see this as he jumps impressively to the stairs, he sees in a different spectrum to humans and we see this by looking through his eyes.

First glimpse of JodiWhen he enters the club, the stripper on stage has a light gun which burns his eyes and a loud cymbal crash hurts his ears. The next stripper on stage is Jodi and he seems captivated by her. When she goes off stage we see her on the phone, we only get her side of the conversation and only snippets at that but it is clear she is speaking to her son’s father. She asks for another chance and wants to speak to him as it is his birthday. The phone is put down at the other end.

In the club another dancer is on stage. The vampire strums his nails and his claws extend. The interesting thing about this is his claws are secondary to his nails and emerge from beneath them. piercing eyesWe see him look to the backdrop and it is clear he can see Jodi through it and hear her as she calls her ex-husband back. When, still not able to speak to her son, she puts the phone down she looks around, almost startled, as though she can sense being watched. A barmaid comes to the vampire and says it is a two drink minimum. He gives a piercing look and she walks away – indicating his mind control abilities.

Jodi is backstage and opens a bottle of pills, pouring the contents into her hand. Another stripper enters and she drops them. It becomes apparent that Jodi is a perpetual 'almost suicide' and the other stripper puts a gun in her bag, daring her to do it right but knowing she won’t. She is reminded that she must close up that night. She has a drink at the bar and looks over at the vampire, who smiles; when she looks back he is gone.

As she locks up he approaches her. She assumes rape but he doesn’t want that. He wants to talk and says he hasn’t talked in such a long time. He even gives her $1000 to talk. Jodi is, of course, unsure but, when she gets out of the club, he is close by waiting for a bus. He explains that he doesn’t drive, even mentioning that he has a bus pass. The bus comes and, eventually, she gets on with him.

On the bus she is harassed by two yobs (Paisley and Eric Coplin). The vampire seems oblivious until she asks for help.flower attack One mocks him, asking if he will hit him with his flower – referring to his flower in his lapel. He removes the flower and throws it with force. The stem penetrates his eye. Rather than being freaked out, Jodi seems impressed. As they walk from the bus, he too fast for her, he explains that he wants to know what the sun is like (note here the painting of the sun, we see later in pride of place in his home, something he has never actually seen). When she tells him that she is a night person too, he explains that he already knows the night by explaining all he can hear. He gives her a tell here when he mentions “humans making love” in a way that shows he does not believe himself to be human, though she doesn’t pick up on it. In fact, all he says he can hear, a human couldn’t.

bearing fangsHe reveals all, once in his house, when he bears fangs. He feeds on those who have given up, he can tell Jodi wants to die and has selected her but, through loneliness, he wants to converse first, he wants to know her life and the things he can never have, and then he will end her pain. He needs to feed. He doesn’t feed very often but he must feed that night or die. As the film progresses we go through a range of human emotions, despair, anger, upset, lust and even love and this is where the film excels – of course, by the end of the film Jodi wants to live but only one will be able to survive the night.

The vampire in this is of another race. He says that they have evolved to look human as camouflage and he is desperately lonely. anger explodesThrough the film we hear how his mother died when he was a child and they were attacked by humans. She saved him but the attack left him weakened and scarred. His people prize beauty and, because of the scars – some of which still have not healed - he became an outcast and this has led to his abject lonliness. We discover that only sunlight and fire, from the myths, are effective. He heals quickly; at one point she shoots him – it becomes apparent later that he let her – and the bullets do not kill him but are expelled from his body.

He cannot, being another species, turn a human but he does allow Jodi to drink his blood which, like a drug, gives a temporary effect where she can see what he sees. The film does leave the house and at one point there is a nice wall climb with him holding Jodi with one arm and, using his claws and fingers of the other hand, climbs them up the wall.

Cyril O’Reilly as the vampireThe performances are fantastic. O’Reilly seems distant, alien and yet displays emotions that we understand. He can be almost sadistic at times and yet, at other times, kind such as when he ensures that Jodi gets to see her son. In this moment he seems filled with a child like glee. He calls human cattle and yet, probably through his loneliness, feels a need to connect both emotionally and (it eventually transpires, despite his protestations) sexually – and we can see that such a need hurts him as it is tantamount to a perversion for him.

Starr Andreeff as JodiAndreeff is amazing. Through the film she runs a gamut of emotions, but nothing seems forced or ridiculous. Through her the film explores a plethora of subjects from feminism and motherhood, all the way to child abuse. I said at the head that this could have been a play and, with these two I could imagine it working on stage. Of course a lot of this is also down to a very intelligent script.

The film does veer away from pure horror, which would put someone off who is looking for pure horror only. Does it have any negatives as a film, well frankly, yes. The effects are sparse but can look a little cheap, such as when Jodi and the vampire are on a beach and he runs off with her at vampire speed. The soundtrack is awful, with a cheesy eighties horror affair trying its best to wreck the drama. There is also the matter of O’Reilly’s really bad eighties mullet. Yet these are almost minor as you are drawn deeper into the performances.

As I mentioned, this is not a film for those looking for pure horror, as it really isn’t, this is an intelligent film that explores humanity and despair. It is one that you will have to really search out but is well worth the effort and shows just how good a low budget film can be if the correct script and actors are used. 8 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

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