Saturday, January 27, 2007

Central Park Drifter – review


Directed by: Jerry Ciccoritti

Release Date: 1987

Contains spoilers

I remember watching this on VHS back when I was 17 and being rather struck by the movie. The pace is slow, there is much unexplained and yet there is a sense of style within it that I could feel even then. Now, a couple of decades on, I still feel that there is a nice sense of style lurking in the movie even if the eighties synth soundtrack makes the film feel somewhat dated. The film is known in the UK as Graveyard Shift but I have reviewed it under its US title so as not to open up confusion with the Stephen King film of the same name.

The film begins with a cab driver, Stephen Tsepes (Silvio Oliviero) looking out over the city and then getting into his Black Cat cab. Stephen works the graveyard shift (hence the UK title) and is a vampire. A young woman runs out of a building, upset, and gets in his cab. She asks him to cut through the park and then gets him to stop by a lake. She makes for the waters, in a suicide bid, but he stops her and asks her what could be worth it. He lights a match for her cigarette, to a thunder clap (this happens a couple of times) and then they kiss.

biting own handThe kiss pulls into a scene of the two undressing each other and the scene has a lot of style, they are in blackness with light just catching them. During their tryst he bites her breast and, at first, she struggles. We then see him bite his own hand and feed her. I’ll come back to his look when vamped in a second. But, post this, we see him in his home. The room is minimalist with Greco-Roman pillars surrounding a coffin and curtains to cut out the light.

The vampire has an unusual lookI mentioned his look and one of the unanswered, and yet strangely stylish, things about the movie is the way in which Stephen becomes grey when he vamps. His hair becomes iron grey, his skin a white grey that might almost be granite. The reason this occurs is never explored within the movie. When I first watched the film I felt that it made him look almost like a statue and, combined with the Greco-Roman pillars in his room, I still feel that this is what, stylistically, the film makers were looking for. It is almost a look of a Roman God immortalised in stone.

We briefly meet Michelle (Helen Papas) a video director. She is shooting a music video when her husband Eric (Cliff Stoker) opens the studio door and ruins the shot. They break for lunch, though Michelle is too busy to eat with Eric and so, instead, he has sex with leading lady Gilda (Dorin Ferber). (Later, when inviting Stephen to a party, she describes Eric as a lady killer - rather ironic given who she is speaking to.)

vampire imageryAt a strip club a stripper, Franne (Sugar Bouche), is performing an S&M routine. Afterwards she lures a patron down an alley and, just after he sees the fang scars on her breast, she slashes him with a razor and feeds on him.

There is a brief meeting between Michelle and Stephen and there is an obvious attraction between the two and then Stephen hears of the murder. He tracks down Franne and asks why she did it. She says she couldn’t wait any longer and he tells her it was not her time. She then says that she wanted to make him return and she would do it again. It is hinted that he kills her.

fang close upStephen, it becomes apparent, feeds on women who are dying or want to die. Their relationship then becomes a symbiosis. They are able to live but he feeds them, in some sort of pattern that sees him moving from bride to bride, and he seems tied to them. It is an interesting way of building the relationship between the male vampire and the brides. Unfortunately it is not explained or explored very fully.

Michelle is dying, with maybe only months to live, and yet Stephen’s attraction to her and their mutual love seems less to do with her impending death and more to do with, perhaps, resurrection and a past life relationship. I say perhaps as, whilst we see a dream sequence that appears to be a wedding scene between Stephen and Michelle and he says she reminds him of something, this is not explored satisfactorily.

Stephen and MichelleHowever, as his love for Michelle grows the brides become more frantic. When they finally get it together, for a little bit of coffin rumpy pumpy, the various brides go nuts - all of them compelled to hunt. When one of them, a female cop, is shot by a detective we see that it truly is a symbiosis as the shot seems to hurt Stephen as well.

Stephen, it appears, is then dying but it seems to be a conscious decision and he tells Michelle that he has waited for a lover worth dying for. Vampires do not give up the ghost so easily and he attacks and kills cop 'bride' drinks own bloodGilda. Here we see a shift in the way the brides work. Previously they have been unfanged and yet she rises, due to being killed we assume, as a fully fanged vampire. Stephen also does something (I’m not sure what, there were just a lot of fang flashing images) and suddenly many of the brides become fanged. Whatever he does causes the female cop to bite at her own wound and drink her own blood as she cannot escape her cell.

fearless vampire killerThe vampire hunters in this are Eric and a friend who has written a book about monsters including vampires. We discover that the old faithful, the stake through the heart, works well and sunlight is rather effective. At one point a cross is held up and the result is not as clear. Stephen says that it is not real.

Some of the settings are really well chosen. The climax of the film takes place on a soundstage dressed as a graveyard. This allowed a traditional graveyard and crypt type scene but kept the contemporary surroundings. The film is quite self effacing about this. Stephen steps out of the mock crypt, with a backwash of lights, and says to the hunters is this more like you expected, perhaps in a way he is talking to the audience as well.

The film is quite slow paced, though that doesn’t spoil it, the pace suited the film well. Oliviero’s performance was patchy. vampire imageryAt times he was really well suited to the role, brimming with an air of moody mystery and yet sometimes, especially during more emotive dialogue, I didn’t buy it as much as I might.

The cops investigating the crimes seem a little out of their depth and one feels that their presence was there more to allow some exposition that never really occurred and that is the biggest problem, of course. The film doesn’t explain what is happening at all well. Stephen wishes to die, but how is he dying? The brides become fanged vampires, what did he do to illicit this change and why did he do it?

Yet despite this there are some nice looking scenes and I have a soft spot for the film. Not great, not every person’s ideal movie given the slow pace. 4 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.


The Dirge Of Gabriel said...

Hey Andy,

I actually loved this film and saw it when I was about 15-16 which would have been 1989 or so. I only remembered it now because an American friend on FB just told me now that he saw it for the first time last night, under its alternate title GRAVEYARD SHIFT.

I'm not sure of your score as I think this vampire film was one of the better ones for its time.

I love the end scene when he takes on the vampire hunters in the fake graveyard and as he summons fog says "Is this more like it Gentlemen?"

Are you aware of a sequel? I saw that at the same time on VHS, it's called GRAVEYARD SHIFT 2, aka The Understudy:

It features a female vampire as the protag but still includes Stephen Tsepes in a role from the first film. (I couldn't see a review of it on here).

I want to see them both again now! Perhaps they are for sale as a double set on dvd from Amazon etc.

What is a pity is that most of these movies aren't on DVD at the video store. With the transition from VHS to DVD we horror fans lost access to a lot of gems!!

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Gabriel, I have this on DVD under Graveyard Shift (region 2) and Central Park Drifter (region 1 and part of a set).

I understand your love of this - as I said, when I saw it at 17 (1987) I was struck by it - at the time it was impressive. Looking back on it with more jaded, adult (rather than teen) eyes it perhaps doesn't stand the test of time... but that might be just me.

I am aware of the sequel (and think I watched it back in the day) but, as far as I am aware, it is not available on DVD at all... I continue to keep my eye out, however.

Re the transition from VHS to DVD, I think it is swings and roundabouts... I have seen things on DVD that didn't even get close to my awareness on VHS (of course the internet helps). But I do agree, there are some travesties for being missing (as it were) - the most obvious being that Blood and Roses needs a DVD release.