Friday, January 23, 2009

I Bought a Vampire Motorcycle – review

Directed by: Dirk Campbell

Release date: 1990

Contains spoilers

British comedies really either work or don’t. It actually doesn’t matter – to a degree – how silly or irreverent they get, if they work they work. You can’t get much sillier or more irreverent than I Bought a Vampire Motorcycle. It isn’t the only vampire motor vehicle movie, the 1981 Upír z Feratu has never, as far as I know, been dubbed or subtitled into English but has a vampire Ferrari. However vampiric machinery, as a sub genre, has not got a lot of entries.

Okay, it isn’t the undead – it was never alive and therefore it isn’t undead – but the standard vampire rules apply as we will see and it deserves its place within the genre.

The mean streets of Birmingham are the location for our tale and it might actually be a cautionary tale about things being too good to be true or perhaps just a case of caveat emptor. Things begin, however, with a group of Satanist bikers holding a ritual. Their leader (Brendan Donnison) is calling upon the demon Arroman when another group of Hell’s Angels attack them, the cult leader being the first to die. Unseen by the attackers the demon possesses the cult leader’s body.

They slaughter all the Satanist Bikers, accidentally lodging an arrow into the fuel tank of the cult leader’s Norton Commando, and we discover that the reason for the fracas is simply because the Satanists were on the victor’s patch. They ride off and fail to see the possessed body stand, one eye glowing red. He stumbles to his bike but it won’t turn over, the fuel has leaked through the hole in the tank. He opens his own throat and bleeds into the fuel tank – transferring the demonic essence to the bike.

Noddy (Neil Morrissey) is a motorcycle courier. He stops off at a bike shop as he saw an advert stating they had a slightly damaged Norton Commando for sale. The bike is going for £1500 but there is a hole in the fuel tank. Noddy managed to get the bike for £1100 and will pick it up that evening. Getting back to work he tells Kim (Amanda Noar), the dispatcher and his girl, that he managed to get it for £600. Noddy and his mate Buzzer (Daniel Peacock) will pick it up by van and work on it.

He gets it home and Buzzer steals the fuel cap when he’s not looking., later claiming there never was one. They work on it but, despite fuel in the lines, can’t get it to turn over. That is until Buzzer cuts his hand and some blood gets on the engine. The next day it seems that the petrol cap has been returned but when Noddy and Kim get into work there is a message from the police to send someone round to Buzzer’s home. Noddy goes and meets Inspector Cleaver (Michael Elphick). Buzzer’s flat is splattered with blood and has tyre tracks on the wall. Noddy is needed to identify his friend's decapitated head. As an aside, Cleaver’s breath reeks of garlic… hmm… that’s likely to come into this…

Noddy, despite the death of Buzzer, replaces the Norton’s fuel tank. During this sequence we get to see through the motorcycle’s point of view (via the headlight) and it appears it is appreciative of Kim’s attributes. Noddy takes it for a test ride. All is well until the bike spots the Hells Angels, Noddy looses control and it runs them off the road – their leader, Roach (Andrew Powell), declares vendetta. When he gets home, Noddy says that he will have to look at the steering as it is obviously off! He then suffers two nightmares about Buzzer. The second was a step too far as his friend comes back as a talking poo that jumps in his mouth, you could have left that scene out for me though it pre-dated Mr Hanky. On the street the bike eats a dog that pees on it.

In the morning Kim and Noddy are due to go to Buzzer’s funeral but the bike is gone. Then Kim finds it in the shed (assuming Noddy forgot he put it in there). He tries to get it out but the engine cuts out and it stalls – just before the line of sunlight. They take his other bike. In the evening he is trying to get the bike running and succeeds eventually (night falls). He and Kim go for a drink. Unfortunately the Hells Angels go to the same pub and they recognise the bike. As Noddy and Roach fight inside the bike wrecks the Angel’s bikes outside.

Kim and Noddy get away and – having just fought a dozen bikers, indulged in a sword fight and Noddy having been shot in the arm by an arrow – they stop off for a Chinese take away at the Fu King Restaurant run by Burt Kwouk. Kim is on the bike outside but, when she shouts for Noddy to get garlic prawns, the bike takes off – eliciting the response “Where’s that bloody tart gone with my bike.” The Bike throws her off and is going to attack her when it backs off (she is wearing a crucifix).

The bike then goes on a bloody rampage, taking out the bike gang (except Roach who is saved when he passes a crossroads sign) and many others. Noddy gets a call to say that Kim is in hospital but is loath to believe her story. However, when the bike is in the shed the next day with a severed leg in its headlight and a tank of blood, Noddy goes to a priest (Anthony Daniels) for help. The priest disbelieves Noddy until the bike takes his fingers and then they are in a race against time to exorcise the bike before the sun sets…

Great, great fun. All the standard vampire motifs are there. The bike shies from the cross and garlic repels it. Sunlight destroys it (including artificial light from a sun bed). Certain things don’t work. Running water fails – Noddy pushes it into a river but it survives – and whilst the priest and Noddy carry stakes there is no suggestion as to where they might stick them! We get unusual vampire deterrents such as the crucifix shuriken – something one feels we don’t see enough of in the genre.

Of course the bike itself feeds on blood and whilst it can develop spikes and also fire them, and the headlight can bite as well as being an eye, we do see the bike develop a pair of prongs that it can push into the neck like a standard vampire would use fangs. A demonic basis for the vampire is not that unusual in the genre and makes sense of the fear of religious artefacts.

Of course comedies are as reliant on the players as they are the gags. Elphick, Morrissey and David Daker, who plays a desk sergeant, had all worked together in the British comedy/drama Boon and so had a chemistry already – though their screen time together was limited in this. Morrissey always makes for a personable, if a little dim, character. However we must mention Anthony Daniels (yes, C3P0) who was absolutely marvellous.

Great stuff. 7 out of 10. The imdb page is here.

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