Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Modern Vampires – review


Director: Richard Elfman

Release date: 1998

Contains spoilers

I mentioned this film, also known as Revenant, in passing when I looked at Buzz Lightyear of Star Command: Wirewolf as Craig Ferguson who plays Nos-4-A2 in the cartoon is also a vampire in this flick. Regular visitor Anthony Hogg left a comment and asked if I had reviewed this flick. I hadn’t, it was one that was in my collection but I hadn’t got around to actually reviewing it.

Anthony mentioned that the film doesn’t seem to have attracted much in the way of solid reviews and I suspect that this has much to do with the fact that the film really doesn’t know what it is. Above all else it is probably best described as a quirky black comedy and it does do some interesting things with the genre whilst managing to lose itself en route.

We start with a car and in it is Dallas (Casper Van Dien) and we see he has fangs. The first thing to note about the vampires in this is the fact that they have permanent fangs, rather than the retracting variety, it also appears that they grow over time allowing vampires to be roughly aged via the fang. Of course they can be useful for more than just biting – Dallas holes a cigar with his. He heads for LA.

Natasha Gregson Wagner as NicoIn LA a young vampire walks the streets. Later we discover she is named Nico (Natasha Gregson Wagner), but for now we just see that she is dirty and hunting by acting as a prostitute. The car she gets into is followed. She attacks her trick and wounds him with a broken bottle, rather than fangs, before feeding. After the feed the following car pulls up and two men get out with guns, she kills them. It should be noted that during the feed we get flashes of scenes, mainly graveyards. These flashes occur through the film as Nico and Dallas feed, if they had some higher purpose it really was lost on me but it felt like they should have and so they feel somewhat clumsy.

Dallas and UlrikeIn an art gallery owned by vampires Richard (Craig Ferguson) and his wife Panthia (Natalya Andrejchenko) a man named Harald (Stephen Porter) is picked up by Ulrike (Kim Cattrall). She takes him back to her place and comes face to face with Dallas, whom she hasn’t seen for twenty years. She takes a bite out of Harald and then offers him the rest. He asks if she wishes for some help disposing of the body but she uses a service provided by the Count (Robert Pastorelli).

Robert Pastorelli as the CountLet us jump ahead and discuss the Count. He controls LA and refuses permission to create any more vampires. Acting as the law his people are looking for the illegitimate vampire known in the press as the Hollywood Slasher – Nico – for fear that she will expose them. He dislikes Dallas – for failing to despatch Van Helsing (Rod Steiger) years before – but actually created Dallas. He is Count Dracula but, unfortunately, loses any menace when Pastorelli fails to be able to speak with fangs in (he is the only actor in this that has trouble speaking with fangs in). Perhaps this was purposeful, an act of comedy, but if it was it fell flat.

Rod Steiger as Van HelsingOf course we now need to meet Dr Frederick Van Helsing. He has followed Dallas to LA (and the vampires are singularly bad at spotting his VW van). There is an interesting dynamic when we learn, later, that Dallas had sought out his disabled son (Marcos Hofschneider) and turned him. Van Helsing sees it all as an act of diabolic revenge carried out by Dallas. Dallas admits that he sought him out for such reasons but actually liked the son and, as the disability was killing him, offered to turn him. Van Helsing staked his own child, an action that led to his wife’s suicide.

gang membersVan Helsing advertises for help and offers a position to gang member Tim Bomb (Gabriel Casseus), who doesn’t believe in vampires but does need the job. As things progress he ends up with the whole gang helping him. There is a racism element to the plot: Ulrike (with her harsh German accent) suggests that *they* should have wiped the blacks out when they had the chance, the Count (according to Dallas) does not allow black people to be turned and Van Helsing, it becomes clear, was a Nazi (sympathiser?) and worked in the camps – he claimed he only ever experimented on vampires and not on humans. I am sure the filmmakers were trying to make some sort of politically savvy point but what that point actually was doesn't so much become lost as I don't believe it was ever found.

Dallas finds Nico and takes her under his wing, bringing his friends into danger in the process. It becomes clear that he turned Nico although why he abandoned her for twenty years was left to supposition (possibly because it was against the rules). They face danger from the Count and from Van Helsing.

Van Helsing uses the crossOther vampire lore. We discover that vampires make cat growl noises – even when they sleep. Sunlight burns them and they are immobile during the daylight hours. Van Helsing kills Vincent (Udo Kier) – or has Time Bomb do so – when the vampire is immobile during the day. A stake through the heart is first, leading to the skin tightening drastically around the face. Beheading is then done to make sure. Fire can kill, though they can survive it. Garlic seems to be effective and Van Helsing carries a cross – though there is no evidence that it works.

Because of his age Dracula can survive a stake through the heart. In fact not only one stake, but 12 across the torso…. Well d’uh, 11 aren’t in the heart. This was the set up for a physical comedy gag that doesn’t work and was mistimed and served, therefore, only to spoil the lore. More interesting is the fact that Panthia is heavily pregnant, and presumably was in said condition when she turned. The baby seems to be alive in the womb but will never be born. She has been pregnant for 115 years.

Ulrike in revenant formThe vampires themselves have a pretty good lifestyle, with a club with humans on tap and clean up crews to pick up their waste during the day. At one point the gang bangers live up to the title when they take on Ulrike and gangbang her. She actually turns, before it begins, into what I guess we could call revenant form – so why they continued was beyond me. None take long and each clutches themselves afterwards. It transpires that sex with a vampire makes you one – obviously likening the condition to a STD - though it was not a theme that was followed through on a major level.

This is the problem with the film – it throws the kitchen sink in and yet doesn’t do much with said domestic appliance. All the main acting is fine, if camp in places, with the exception of the lisping Dracula. Both Kim Cattral and Rod Steiger camp it up to the full. Craig Fergusson proves exceptionally funny and puts a big old smile on the face in every scene he is in. Udo Kier is… well Udo Kier. Being a genre perennial favourite who was, of course, Dracula in Blood for Dracula amongst many vampire movies, you’d expect no less from him. Bizarrely Caper Van Dien, who was in the awful Dracula 3000, along with Kier, as well as the pretty darn poor Slayer, actually signs up for a role he is suited to and is great in. Natasha Gregson Wagner is all the right kind of attitude as Nico.

It was, more than anything, writer Mathew Bright not knowing what he wanted that seemed to be the problem. Was this a horror, a supernatural version of his film Freeway (Nico’s trailer trash background was very similar to the lead character in that), was it a physical comedy, a political satire or a black comedy? It had aspects of all and failed to examine anything in enough detail. This film had the right cast and should have been getting a score of round the 8 mark. Instead it gets 5.5 out of 10 – worth watching for the bits, but too confused in purpose and direction to shine.

The imdb page is here.


Anthony Hogg said...

Cheers for the props in the review!

Secondly, thanks for reviewing the film! As usual, you've done a great job. I would have commented on it sooner, but I hadn't realised you'd already reviewed it! So it's lucky I found this.

As I've mentioned previously, I really like how you cover the lore in the films. Admittedly, one of the things I was interested in knowing, was if the cross works. And it turns out to be ambiguous! Regarding the garlic, I do remember seeing a still of this film, with a vampire woman tied to a bed with garlic wreaths.

From your description, it does indeed seem to be a bit of a mish-mash of a film. The allusions of allegory seem to have been inserted to bolster the film's "cred", if you will. And unfortunately, it doesn't seem to have succeeded! Ha!

It vaguely reminds me of A Return to Salem's Lot (1987), which you've also reviewed elsewhere. The difference, of course being, that that film was a bit more consistent with its (rather blatant) allegory. Even if it didn't really have much to say, itself.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Hi Anthony and no problemo!

I see what your saying re Return to Salem's Lot. I think the big difference was that the vampire hunter in that was a nazi hunter. In this both vampires and hunter seemed to have Nazi tendencies (or more) and it never really worked out what it was trying to say with it.

I think the tied to the bed scene you mention was Cattrall's character - but there was nothing conclusive about whether this worked or not, and she was too busy trying to have sex with her would be slayers!

Anthony Hogg said...

Sounds like an episode of Sex in the City!

Heh heh.

Amateur Vampirologist said...

I finally got a chance to watch this film yesterday, under its original title, Revenant.

A very flawed film, but with some neat ideas.

As to Cattrall's character "trying to have sex with them", I'd say it was more like they were raping her. Keep in mind, she was tied to the bed, at the time.

The stand-out in the film, for me, however, was Nico (Natasha Gregson Wagner).

What a feisty little minx!

She looked a little bit like a cross between Anne Heche and Leslie Mann.

Taliesin_ttlg said...


Whilst she is tied down - for staking - she taunts them re colour and says "do you want to try something" - interpreted as her wanting them to do the deed...

She turns into full vamp form and says "come on you animals" and then becomes somewhat more coy in voice - there is then the sex... however the sex is what turns them and I felt it was a deliberate ploy on her part to escape - of course Van Helsing then stakes her (and rechecking the scene I noticed he cried, 'die in the name of the fuhrer' as he stabbed).

Agreed, however, that it is flawed with some good ideas that doesn't quite work.

BTW, with the garlic, I just noticed that Nico is netted in a garlic lined net by Dracula's vampires when captures - so presumably it does work.

Amateur Vampirologist said...

Ah, that Samantha - I mean, Ulrike. Heh, heh.

Yes, I suppose you do have a point there. I guess she knew what was going to happen to them, so she goaded them into it.

"Die in the name of the fuhrer", eh? Shades of Dr. Strangelove, there.

If the garlic works at all, it doesn't seem to be very consistent, as the other vampires are in its presence at different intervals, with no real harm done to them.

Their aversion to the cross is somewhat ambiguous, as they don't approach Van Helsing while he's wielding one, yet, Ulrike has a picture of Mary (icon?) in her house.

Oh, I thought I'd share this imdb list with you.

It's a hell of a checklist, that's for sure!

As usual, you're doing great work with the blog. :)

Taliesin_ttlg said...

AV cheers for the checklist - I'll have fun with that I'm sure... (and a few frustrations I'll bet)

r the garlic and the crosses - yes it is utterly inconsistent - which is one of the problems with the film to be honest, incoinsistent or unexplored lore