Thursday, 29 September 2011
1985- Fright Night, 1986- Vamp, 1987- The Lost Boys, three similar and yet different wonderful vampire movies of the 80s that helped push vamp craze to its height and introduced to a new kind of vampire- one with a twisted face, yellow eyes, monstrous teeth and yet still with sex appeal only these vampires are less charming than Bela Lugosi and Christopher Lee's Draculas, these vampires were crude, vulgar at times, openly violent, monstrous, without fear and without pretence, only too happy to show our witless heroes exactly what they were. Whilst Dracula adapted some pretense, killing poor Lucy in privacy, his true nature known only by Jonathan Harker and suspected by Van Helsing, these vampires were happy to be a lot more open with their demonic, bloodthirsty sides.
Last night I finally got to see Vamp and what a treat, it really is up there with The Lost Boys and Fright Night, an underappreciated, little known gem of a movie with the perfect mix of horror and comedy and the all too familiar, funky eighties background. Eighties vampire movies are definitely my favourite of the genre though I do certainly love the Hammer movies.
So back to Vamp, if you haven't heard of it you just might soon as it's recently been re-released on dvd and released on blu-ray, it stars Grace Jones (A View to a Kill), Chris Makepeace (Meatballs, My Bodyguard), Robert Rusler (Weird Science, A Nightmare on Elm Street 2, Babylon 5), Dedee Pfeiffer (Michelle's younger sister, Cybill) with support from Gedde Watanabe (Sixteen Candles), Billy Drago (Charmed, The Untouchables, The Hills Have Eyes remake) and Sandy Baron (Seinfeld).
It follows two college students, Keith and AJ, who in an attempt to end their boredom and get initiated into a fraternity, after telling the frat members that their idea of initiation is dull and they should be getting members to give them something, in this case booze and a stripper. They need transport though so they go to Duncan a rich kid with no friends, who agrees to drive them if they'll be his friends for a week. Cue a bizzare tornado styled wild car spinning trip into a disturbing looking place where the shops close at sunset and the police don't want to be.
It's here that the come across trouble with gang members, headed by the albino Snow, in a cafe just for looking at a weirdly toothed girl the wrong way, escaping from that they enter a nightclub and their night gets stranger. Here is a wisecracking barman who wants to run a club in Vegas, a waitress who claims to know Keith but he doesn't know her, a huge looking bouncer with a crush on the owner, some bodybuilder styled strippers, some overly persuasive waitresses and the most memorable one of all, a dancer who arrives with a red bob styled wig, white make-up over her face, bold red lips and as we see when she strips, white swirling bodypaint and underwear made of curled wire. It's bizzare, crazy, dark and memorable and as the boys soon discover, life threatening.
The main attraction as it turns out is actually vampire Queen Katrina, a silent but deadly killer whose staff, the club owners, are a mixture of vampires and willing slaves who bring her the patrons as food. After all, as barman Vic later explains, the patrons are drug addicts, alcoholics, and the scum of society who won't be missed because who tells someone they're going to a strip club? AJ is selected by a beautiful waitress to be Katrina's next victim, Katrina at first seems to seduce him, undressing him on her bed and licking him but then she sinks her fangs in and AJ becomes dinner. AJ however wasn't alone and Keith is determined to find out what happened to him much to the vampires' chagrin.
The waitress is killed for picking a victim with friends in a rather dramatic and bloody fashion and the vampires attempt to subdue Keith who ends up travelling with Amaretto, the waitress who knows him, to a creepy hotel and then back again. He also has a trip in a sewer glowing in surreal pink and green, which just helps enforce the imagery that wherever Keith is it's not normal.
Vamp is great for many reasons, the characters are enjoyable and brassy, neither Keith nor Amaretto suffer from any annoying damsel styled moments, except towards the very end and even then Amaretto still manages to show some guts. Keith and AJ are a good comedic act when they are together, their close friendship is believable and the actors do well in portraying this relationship in a short time. Keith makes for a good lead, he has his moments of bumbling about but he's tough and resourceful, unlike many other vampire movies, the lead in this one has the sense to call the police despite the ridiculousness of his situation, he's also pretty good at archery and his loyalty is deep and just increases his likeability.
Amaretto is a cute, funny leading lady, she might be a bit naive to not notice she's working in a club full of vamps but when the killing starts far from curling up in a ball and crying she's happy to help Keith all the way even if it means burning down the club, almost getting crushed in a car and going into the sewers. I really loved her as a lead, perhaps because of Dedee Pfeiffer's contagious charm, even when she's hassling Keith about his bad memory at the wrong time it's still hard to dislike her. She's street smart and she's not self-pitying about her line of work or anything like that, in fact she's pretty optimistic and happy-go-lucky.
Duncan is good for the comedic factor as the friendless companion who promptly gets so drunk that even when he's told AJ is dead he's unfazed. His whole turning into a vampire came out of nowhere though but I suppose he was left alone for most of the film so who knew what he got up to.
Katrina is a fantastic villain, she's memorable without even speaking, creepy, disturbing and erotic in an unnatural way, her dance is not so much sultry as disturbing and yet it serves its purpose in that you do not want to look away. I liked the hints at her personality and past with the Egyptian decor in her room and tomb and the artwork of her in her room as well as her strange, funky and painful looking fashion sense. She reminds of Akasha from Queen of the Damned, her costume in the movie version, her Egyptian origins and of course her title as a Queen of vampires.
Although Vamp does predate the book Queen of the Damned I imagine it had no bearing on Akasha's bearings but as for the film version of Queen of the Damned I'd say there was definitely a slight hint of inspiration for Akasha's costume.
Vamp also infamously inspired the better known Robert Rodriguez flick From Dusk Till Dawn, which features some people ending up in a stripclub that is actually run by vampires including their queen Satanico Pandemonium who performs a memorable dance before vamping out and whilst one of our two leading men escapes the other is turned into a vampire.
Overall it's just a great movie it's got the right mix of horror, comedy and the cheese that only the eighties could dish out in such entertaining fashion. It's beautifully casted and it's better than most modern vampire movies. It doesn't take itself too seriously and has so many memorable scenes and characters.
I particularly loved its subtle hinting at the vampires themselves, if you pay enough attention you will notice little snippets that imply characteristics of these beings and their servants. It's like Fright Night in the respect that it gives you the right amount of history and development, it's a movie not a novel so it has limited time to develop its characters and their backgrounds but it does what it can with the time limit and leaves you hungry for more information. These vampires appear to be solitary creatures despite working together and sleeping together underground, as Amaretto says they don't speak to her, they're purposely cold, ignorant and largely silent and from what we gather from the barman/manager Vic their existence is somewhat mundane, feeding on loner bar patrons who no one will miss and they aren't the only vampires in the world, there are plenty more of them out there. He longs for Vegas seeking a bigger, brighter life but Katrina, the silent queen, seems happy with their smaller joint, perhaps because it is less risky or perhaps because she is content.
It's a movie that deserves a lot more recognition than it's received and hopefully with the re-release it will finally get that attention.