Vamp (1986)

Author: Brett Gallman
Submitted by: Brett Gallman   Date : 2016-10-13 02:09

Vamp (1986)
Studio: Arrow Video
Release date: October 4th, 2016

Reviewed by: Brett Gallman (@brettgallman)

The movie:

Vamp represents a cross-section of several genres, two of which are quite obvious right off the bat: you’ve got your usual vampire movie mixing up with frat flick shenanigans when two pledges head off in search of strippers only to stumble upon a bloodsucker den. But what really makes it intriguing is how it also belongs to that class of “up all night movies,” that specific cinematic corner reserved for fevered, fleeting adventures, some of which grow increasingly bizarre as dawn approaches. After Hours—which was released only a year earlier—particularly comes to mind here, and, while Vamp doesn’t thrive on the off-kilter, existential absurdist vibe of Scorsese’s masterpiece, it is somewhat of a kin.

Vampires make for a natural staging ground for this sort of thing, of course, and Vamp captures the blurry, almost hallucinatory experience of fighting sleep for an entire night. It begins innocuously enough, with the aforementioned frat pledges, Keith and AJ (Chris Makepeace & Robert Rustler), shunning their goofy initiation rites and promising to bring a real party, complete with women and everything. It’s very much your typical horndog plot, as the two hit the road with Duncan (Gedde Watanabe), a tagalong whose company they endure simply because he provides the car. Everything seems normal enough until they realize they’ve run across the wrong bar.

Specifically, they’ve fixated on the wrong dancer: Katrina—played with an enigmatic sensuality by the otherworldly Grace Jones—is the club’s star attraction but also one of its most bloodthirsty inhabitants. In a pretty shocking switch-a-roo, Rustler’s A.J.—who for all intents and purposes seems like the lead—finds himself and her presence, only to succumb to her fangs. His subsequent disappearance serves as the impetus for the actual plot (or what’s left of it) when Keith teams up with another dancer (Dedee Pfeiffer) to escape this underground clan of vampires.

Vamp is scatterbrained as hell when it comes to its plot, but it’s also full of synth, neon, melting faces, latex gags, and Grace Jones doing some very Grace Jones shit. You can especially never discount the latter because you underestimate the appeal of Grace Jones at your own peril. One of the 80s more alluring film presences, Jones is arguably underutilized here, reduced to being one horror object among others, but, by sheer force of will, she exerts herself, becoming the looming presence that brings the whole thing together. You come to Vamp to watch Jones wreck everyone, and, on that level, it is an unqualified success.

Director Richard Wenk’s approach is appreciable, too: this sort of premise might naturally lend itself to a silly, perhaps even campy approach. And while Wenk at least has his tongue planted gently in his cheek at times, he keeps the proceedings just grounded enough to take seriously. Unlike, say, Once Bitten, Vamp isn’t a total farce—it’s more of an “out of the frying pan and into the fire” style romp, complete with a colorful assortment of characters, most of them freaks and weirdos. In addition to Jones, this ever generous film also offers you Billy Drago as the leader of a (rival?) vampire gang—honestly, he’s just sort of there to pop up whenever the script needs some kind of confrontation to occur.

Part of Vamp’s problem is that it doesn’t really know what in the hell it wants to do: after a while, it takes on the languid, non-plot pacing of a hangout movie. Granted, it’s a bit more hurried given the presence of all the damn vampires, but the somewhat episodic scripting feels similar. As such, it’s the sort of film that lives and dies by the company it keeps, and the group here is passable enough. Most of the guys range from ineffectual (Makepeace) to likably boneheaded (Rustler) to downright irritating (Watanabe), but I really love Pfeiffer as the sweet, kick-ass Allison. Despite Jones’s prominent billing, Pfeiffer is the film’s secret MVP—she’s got an energy and spunkiness that’s all her own.

Honestly, I’d probably prefer Vamp if it allowed Pfeiffer to drop the dead male weight surrounding her and just made her the lead in this battle against vampires. Is it too late to pitch a sequel?

The disc:

Alas, it probably is too late for all that; however, it’s not too late to bask in the glory of Vamp of home video. The latest in a line of underseen cult favorites from Arrow Video, the film recently made its way to Blu-ray in North America for a second time. Following a bare bones release from Image five years ago, this disc is a welcome improvement, as it ports over many of the extras from the old Anchor Bay DVD release, including a blooper reel, rehearsal footage, an image gallery, trailers and TV spots, and Wenk’s short film “Dracula Bites the Big Apple.” While the original commentary with Wenk and the cast is omitted here, Arrow has commissioned “One of Those Nights,” a newly-produced retrospective featuring Wenk, Rustler, Pfeiffer, and Watanabe. It should also be noted that Arrow’s Region B release a couple years back featured other extras that don’t appear here, so region-free fans might have a decision to make when it comes to Vamp on Blu-ray.

Of course, how great is it that this sort of conundrum even exists? We live in truly blessed times when multiple Blu-ray releases exist for something like Vamp though I do wish there were a definitive, comprehensive release. Still, it’s not a bad fate for a vampire film that’s been consistently overshadowed by its towering, 80s bloodsucking brethren. In this regard, Vamp is perhaps the halfway point between the moody artistry of Near Dark and the pop sensibilities of Fright Night and The Lost Boys.
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