Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Film Review: VAMP (1986, Richard Wenk)

Stars: 4.5 of 5.
Running Time: 93 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Chris Makepeace (MY BODYGUARD, MEATBALLS), Robert Rusler (NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 2, WEIRD SCIENCE, THRASHIN'), Gedde Watanabe (SIXTEEN CANDLES, GREMLINS 2), Sandy Baron (TARGETS, THE OUT-OF-TOWNERS), Dedee Pfeiffer (FALLING DOWN, INTO THE NIGHT), Grace Jones (CONAN THE DESTROYER, A VIEW TO A KILL), Billy Drago (MYSTERIOUS SKIN, THE UNTOUCHABLES, DELTA FORCE 2). Music by Jonathan Elias (CHILDREN OF THE CORN, TUFF TURF). Cinematography by Elliot Davis (SHAKES THE CLOWN, OUT OF SIGHT) and Douglas F. O'Neons (director of TEXAS GODFATHER, camera op on BAD BOYS, CHATO'S LAND).
Tag-line: "The first kiss could be your last."
Best one-liner: "Do they do that in Vegas? Whoa! That's classy, now that's classy!"

VAMP somehow expertly fuses so many disparate elements that I love about the 80's: the underground Lower Manhattan filmmaking vibe from director Richard Wenk (DRACULA BITES THE BIG APPLE); vibrant, garish lighting and evocative set design (á la Argento, Almodóvar, or even Susan Seidelman);

likable, occasionally witty, horror-comedy (like NIGHT OF THE CREEPS or PHANTASM II);

the 'long, endless night genre' (as seen in AFTER HOURS or MIRACLE MILE); and dopey, mainstream screwball comedy (the buying of friendship is a major plot point as is the presence of Gedde Watanabe- ‘Long Duk Dong’ in SIXTEEN CANDLES).

The champagne of beers.

As you can see, there are several worlds colliding in this flick, and the focal point of its candy-colored universe is a blood-curdling, utterly bonkers (and wordless!) performance by one Ms. Grace Jones, who is officially the scariest vampire since Max Schreck (…and until Michael Ironside). Perched on a headless, sculpted throne, daubed in white body paint, clad in a metal wire bikini (all three by NYC street artist Keith Haring!), and donning a fiery red wig, Jones is a striking vision of avant-garde terror.




"The guys at the fraternity are gonna love her!" shouts a perennial 80's toolbar (played by Robert Rusler)...Umm...WHAAAT?! Also, Jones is so severe in her commitment that it almost comes as a shock to see her in behind the scenes footage (also available on the DVD), laughing and goofing around. Her ability to divorce herself from her own celebrity and remain totally connected to this monstrous character is a true feat, though many would argue that the Ms. Jones herself is already pretty scary, as is.

At one point, she's referred to as "Queen Bitch," which may be the inspiration for a 2006 incident at a Delta Airlines party where the real-life Ms. Jones allegedly began stripping, proclaiming herself ""Queen Bitch Jungle Mother of New York!"

...Anyway, uh, I lost my train of thought. Billy Drago is in this, too.

He plays an exquisite 80's albino punk gang leader named "Snow" who brandishes a hunting knife and is the victim of an extended balls-grab low blow. We've got Sandy Baron playing a creepy, cockroach-snacking emcee. A charred skeleton musters the strength to flip the bird:

and it all basically ends with the statement, "This has been one whacky night." I love this movie.

[Side note: it's also most likely the inspiration for the latter half of Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino's 1996 stripper/vampire bar flick, FROM DUSK TILL DAWN.]

-Sean Gill

4 comments:

J.D. said...

I love Grace Jones. She's such an unabashed gonzo personality. I have fond memories of seeing her on Letterman during the 1980s and genuinely freaking out the usually unflappable talk show host. Ah, good times. Films are poorer without her presence. She even managed to enliven the horrible CONAN THE DESTROYER by her sheer bizarro force of will.

And hey, Billy Drago thrown in there for good measure. I got no complaints.

Cinema Du Meep said...

I love me some vamp. Dedee is super cute in this as well.

Sean Gill said...

J.D.,

Agreed on Grace Jones! And the sheer level of intensity which she brings to a performance such as this has me wondering why she doesn't have a more substantial film career (even if it were just cult films). Gotta love Drago as well- he really made the rounds in terms of bit part villainy.

Cinema Du Meep,

Thanks for stopping by- Dedee brings a certain likability to the role- it's a shame that, despite her sisterly connections, she only seems to be snagging random TV work these days.

Cinema Du Meep said...

a total shame. She was really cute in some other stuff as well. The TVM The Midnight Hour comes to mind. I remember an indie movie from about 10 years ago called "The Sky Is Falling" I really liked her in that.