Tainted (1998)

Author: Brett Gallman
Submitted by: Brett Gallman   Date : 2009-01-26 12:00

Written by: Sean Farley
Directed by: Brian Evans
Starring: Sean Farley, Greg James, Dean Cechvala, and Jason Brouwer

Reviewed by: Brett G.

Throughout the years, the vampire has been subject to countless revisions; cinematically, they were generally represented as strange outsiders who lived in spooky castles in foreign countries. The vampire was the very definition of "The Other," the outsider whose presence marked a difference wholly different from our own. Along the way, however, several films sought to de-mystify the vampire myth and ground them in reality: Romero's Martin turned vampirism into a sort of neurosis, Fright Night moved the vampire next door, The Lost Boys turned them into "the cool kids," and Near Dark re-imagined them as western outlaws. Chief among these films is the notion that the vampire very much walks among us. Tainted continues not only this trend, but also the self-awareness and sharp, quick-witted dialogue found in many 90s horror films after the rise of Scream, and it all melds together in a very satisfying 90s indy-horror ride.

Ryan and J.T. are living the Generation X dream: as clerks at a rental store, they're able to sit around and trade sarcastic jibes back and forth with not only themselves, but with their customers as well. On this particular night, however, life is even better, as both have secured tickets for an ultra rare showing of Ridley Scott's Blade Runner (both versions!) at the local theater. Unfortunately, their fanboy dreams are dashed when J.T.'s car has to be put in the shop, and their driving buddy recently broke his leg. Out of desperation, the two ask their odd new co-worker, Alex, for a lift, and he obliges. Of course, his car soon overheats, which leads to some misadventures in the city that climax in the three being attacked by some thugs. Alex is stabbed, but he's able to promptly shake off the wound and kill the two thugs by ripping through their necks, which exposes the fact that he's a vampire, much to J.T. and Ryan's shock. Before long, all three are pulled into a nefarious plot involving a new vampire on the scene known as Slain, who intends to make everyone feel the anguish and agony of his own existence.

Tainted is quite a nice surprise if you think you've exhausted the horror supply of the post-Scream 90s, or if you're a fan of Kevin Smith's Clerks, as it's obvious that the film owes just as much to it as it does any horror film that may have inspired writer Sean Farley (who also stars as J.T.). J.T. is especially reminiscent of some of Smith's finer characters like Randal Graves or Brodie Bruce with his penchant for sarcasm, insults, and random musings on life. Fortunately, the other characters are just as effective, as Ryan provides a more reserved and introspective counter-punch to J.T., and even Alex, who starts out as an extremely shady character, enjoys a nice character arc. These three characters are ultimately the film's strength, as they provide an emotional center because they're ultimately characters that are easy to like and care for.

Indeed, the horror in Tainted is almost incidental in the sense that it provides a backdrop for the interactions between these characters. The horror elements that are there, however, are interesting, particularly Slain's motivation, which provides a bit of a unique insight into the mind of a vampire. Without spoiling much, Tainted is very much in the mold of other films that imagine vampirism to be quite an agonizing experience for some, and this adds a level of depth to Slain that prevents him from being a stereotypical 1D villain. There's also some interesting takes on the vampire lifestyle and culture in general that is reminiscent of what audiences might find in the Blade films. Ultimately, Tainted really feels like more of a character drama than a horror film, and, despite the rather jovial premise, it's a pretty serious film that treats serious issues of friendship, loyalty, and revenge. It also does mix in just the right amount of snappy, witty dialogue and geeky conversations to bring the proper amount of levity to the film.

From a technical perspective, Tainted is a reminder of a time when horror films were quick and dirty productions, which is something that's even lost in many independent films these days. There's no flashy, stylistic techniques to be found here; instead, we're treated to a gritty, almost documentary-like presentation because the film is so character-driven. The film doesn't betray its independent roots in terms of pacing, however, as Farley's script is tightly written, and his snappy dialogue crackles. The acting is the film's weakest link, but everyone involved handles everything competently enough. Jesse McClear's score is also well-done and provides some nice atmosphere, particularly during the opening credits. All in all, Tainted was quite a pleasant surprise, a sort of diamond in the rough, if you will. Seeing as how it was picked up and distributed by Troma, I was certainly expecting something much different. This is not an indictment of Troma, but their promo material certainly does set you up for one of their signature schlock-fests. It's certainly rough around the edges, but any film that references Blade Runner, I Drink Your Blood, and I Eat Your Skin within a 2 minute span obviously has its heart in the right place.

To check it out (and you should), you're going to have to take the trip to Tromaville and pick up the "Troma Triple B-Header Tainted Vampires" collection, which also features Sucker: The Vampire and Rockabilly Vampire. As an extra, there's a pretty funny introduction by Lloyd Kaufman and Troma superstar Debbie Rochon, who make about 5 puns on the word "taint" in 2 minutes. Lloyd also tells us that the miracle of V3 technology has allowed us to see all three films on one disc; of course, the only miracle involved is the requisite use of low-quality transfers that are par for the course for Troma. It's certainly watchable, but it's only marginally better than VHS. The film's soundtrack is quite crisp and clear, however, which is good considering how dialogue-driven it is. Considering you can get this collection for less than $10 in most places, it's certainly quite a bargain. Tainted alone is worth that much, as it's a nice reminder that passionate, independent horror artists exist out there. Buy it!

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