Monday, August 10, 2009

Nightlife – review

vhsDirector: Daniel Taplitz

Release date: 1989

Contains spoilers

Some two years before Ben Cross became steeped in the melodrama of vampire Barnabas Collins in Dark Shadows – the revival he played a vampire named Vlad in this made for TV gentle spoof.

awakeningWe know it to be a spoof as the credits roll and we see mummified bodies in open coffins as the lounge stylings of “I don’t get around much anymore” plays. We are in Mexico at a museum connected to a church. The bodies are preserved and were exhumed from unhallowed ground. The tour guide mentions that three more coffins have been found. The gravediggers open one and find another mummified corpse. The next one kind of blows open and the corpse is perfectly preserved. She opens her eyes and reveals fangs.

in coffinHer name is Angelique (Maryam d’Abo) and she sits up, leaves her coffin (the gravediggers have fled) and throws an ornate pendant into the casket with disgust. She wanders out into the modern world. Now we discover that she was buried for 100 years and I enjoyed, to a degree, her trying to cope with the modern world. Crossing a street (on a cross light) as cars revved to be chased down the road as the lights changed, or coping with an elevator. These things could have been expanded on a little I thought. She ends up in a blood bank trying to make a withdrawal but the sun is fast approaching and she faints.

not a morning personInterspersed in these scenes are ones of a couple of wiseguy vampires (never given names) driving into Mexico – for some broad, as one of them puts it. They are pulled by a cop who has them open the boot. It is filled with earth and as he leans in a hand grabs and drags him to the bite. Vlad is awake – he’s not a morning person quips one of the wiseguys.

Jose and DavidThey arrive at the grave excavation and Vlad finds the pendant with his initial on it and exclaims to the night that his bride is awake. Said bride, Angelique, is in hospital and awakes as the sun sets. She has been treated by American doctor David (Keith Szarabajka) and Mexican colleague Jose (Jesse Corti) – they believe she has a slow virus (as they describe it) utterly unique and a little like the kuru virus. She is allowed to leave with a promise she returns.

Camille Saviola as RosaShe sells her jewels and rents an apartment – a maid kind of comes with it, or at least bullies her way in. The maid is Rosa (Camille Saviola) who is mostly wonderful through the film as the bossy maid who, unfortunately, vacillates it seems between belief and disbelief in vampires. However, despite a slight glitch in the script she generally is a joy to watch through the film.

So, Vlad wants Angelique back. She wants nothing to do with him, having buried herself alive to escape him (and subsequently given herself a full on phobia of insects due to them crawling over her in the grave). David wants to cure her condition and falls in love with her – slowly realising that she is actually a vampire. What is interesting, however, is within the lore they introduce.

rash on armLet us start with the virus element. Vlad refuses to accept he is diseased – he is a creature of the night. He tells Angelique that the blood transfusions will not help, that she will become more and more hungry and a rash like a spider will appear on her arm. Eventually she will lose reason and simply hunt. David realises eventually that the virus doesn’t just crave blood it also craves epinephrine released by the victim during the hunt and that artificially giving both will allow non-hunting feeds – I liked that, it was clever. However, Vlad locks Angelique away to starve her to the point of madness – it does beg the question of why was she so calm after a hundred years in the grave.

the cross gagThe other lore we get includes a fear of holy objects, but the fear is irrational. David drags Angelique into a church to escape the two wise guys. She says she can’t enter but is ultimately fine, though they do not follow her. Indeed the only one to massively react to a cross is the human David when Rosa brandishes one at him, a quip is made about him being Jewish but the idea of a scary Mexican maid brandishing a cross was reason enough. Interestingly Angelique describes vampirism as a cult, with all the sufferers bound together (and they can sense each other) and Vlad as the cult leader – the cult of vampirism was a favourite idea in the Hammer movies .

effects of UVA stake to the heart will kill and mummify the vampire, it seems, but sunlight – or more precisely the UV aspect – is the impressive killer. A vampire caught in direct sunlight will explode violently, a small exposure will burn the flesh. We then wonder at the showdown between David and Vlad and the pools of sunlight that seemed to have no effect.

Vlad and AngeliqueThis is the on-running problem with the film. Ben Cross is sonorous and menacing as Vlad, Keith Szarabajka is personable as David and Camille Saviola, as I mentioned, is a joy. Some of the lore is unusually handled and makes for an interesting watch. However the script needed tightening, rules seem to be ignored and aspects (such as Angelique’s confusion in a very changed world) could have been expanded on.

The film hasn’t, to my knowledge, made it to DVD at time of review but is ghosting around on VHS. A gentle comedy that could have been so much better with a bit of tightening. 4 out of 10. The imdb page is here.

2 comments:

Zahir al Daoud said...

True story.

When this movie came out, I didn't have cable. My future sister-in-law paid a visit, having videotaped it on the USA network. We watched--and the last ten minutes were missing! It was over a year before I got to see how the movie ended! Grrrrr!

Not perfect by a long shot, but quite nice. A gentle spoof that wasn't stupid or ham-fisted.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Cheers Zahir - and don't you just hate it when that happens!

I suspect we agree; not perfect - hence the 4 out of 10 - but nice enough and it could have been so much more with just a little more care