Blu-ray Review: VAMP (1986)
Rating: 4 /5
In 1987, two vampire films came out which have become favorites of horror, and even non-horror, fans over the years. The first is, in my opinion, the better of the two - a dirty Southern tale called NEAR DARK. For one reason or another, it is way underseen by the masses, probably because the other fang film that year, THE LOST BOYS, mixed a little more comedy with the fright (the good-looking guys in the cast probably helped as well).
But a year before these hit theaters another vampire flick made its bitemark on the world that blends not only a bloodsucker tale with some comedy, but also aspects of the ever popular sex comedy. With a movie like first-time feature director Richard Wenk’s VAMP with its center on horny college kids, strippers, and vampires - how can you go wrong?
A couple of college fraternity pledges, Keith (Chris Makepeace, MEATBALLS) and AJ (Robert Rusler, WEIRD SCIENCE), set out to find some entertainment for an upcoming party. To find the kind of erotic dancers they want they must go to the city, but they need a ride. The two prey upon a rich student in their dorm who has access to cars and cash, Duncan (Gedde Watanabe, SIXTEEN CANDLES), but he insists that he come along. In the city, it soon becomes obvious that this is not going to be an easy or fun trip. They have run-ins with albino biker gangs, crazy girls from high school and, worst of all, strippers that turn out to be vampires!
If any movie fans out there are anything like me, and I’m sure some of you are, then this is a movie that you’ll feel was made just for you. Not only does the film have some scares and good gore scenes but there are the sex comedy elements of the other kind of late-night movies we all love. This is the brilliance of VAMP. It transcends genre boundaries to give something to the fans of films like PORKY’S as well as horror fans. Grace Jones doing a couple titillating dance sequences in The After Dark Club will turn you on before she drops her fangs, scares the crap out of you, and leaves your junk not knowing what to do.
This is one of those great films that takes place over the course of one night. Once things start to get bad, it only gets worse the rest of the night. They should have known to just go home after that first unfortunate encounter with a biker gang led by the great, yet a tad crazy, Bill Drago. I know I would.
The comedy really comes through in the performances of Watanabe’s Duncan, the overconfident ladies man with tons of money and no women, and Sandy Baron as the pink tuxedo wearing announcer of the club Vic. By far the craziest, funniest character is Amaretto (Dedee Pfeiffer), a waitress at the strip club who can’t seem to keep her shirt’s shoulder strap in its place and a singular goal. When we first see her she stops dead in her tracks at the sight of Keith because she knew him from high school and spends the rest of the film trying to get him to remember her, as well as catch his eye. She’s so determined that the she barely even notices all of the crazy otherworldly things unfolding around her. Keith spends the second half of the movie trying to figure out if Amaretto’s a vampire like all her co-workers, while she can do nothing but flirt with him. Her one-track-mind keeps things amusing, and her cute looks don’t hurt either.
There are still some scares brought to the table through the wonderful FX work of Oscar winner Greg Cannom and, of course, by the eerie mute performance by Grace Jones as Katrina. The performer takes turns going from flirtatious to frightening all without uttering a single word. It’s her scene of seduction with AJ where the film switches from a simple college age sex comedy into a real horror film. None of this pansy TWILIGHT junk, Katrina goes from sucking on his neck to lunging for that jugular with many sharp fangs bared. This is not to say that Jones is the only scary bit, there are other great villains in the film, and many other bloodsuckers. Actually Jones’ role helped to get this a lot of press, due to her fame and notorious reputation, but it also kind of detracts from the film overall to put her in the forefront. This move is so much more than just a vehicle for Grace Jones. They really put together a great horror/comedy flick and not shying away from anything was great decision for Wenk and company to make. VAMP would not be the classic that it is if they held back.
As if there was any doubt, this Blu-ray release by the UK company Arrow Video is treated with respect and given the special edition treatment in every sense of the word. From the newly commissioned, and beautiful, custom artwork for the cover (of which there are four separate sleeve options included) you can see you are getting something you will proudly display on your shelf. The transfer in the film is decidedly better and brighter than the previous Anchor Bay release, though there are still a few moments that look rather grainy. But that’s to be expected from a 25-year-old horror flick with a rather low budget. Still, it’s better than anything probably ever seen from this film. The exaggerated nightmarish exterior pink and green neon lit streets is a definite high point. Such great color, very SUSPIRIA-esque.
Arrow has also put together over an hour’s worth of interview footage with Pfieffer, Wenk and producer Donald P. Borchers, and even a brief, but awesome, look through the director’s personal scrapbook full of set photos, ads, reviews and other goodies. There’s a brand new commentary with star Rusler (who tells some great stories about the girls in the club he spent the most time with) and critic Calum Waddell, a poster of the beautiful new artwork, and a small seven page booklet with an essay on the film by author Jay Slater. Rounding out the extras are some behind-the-scenes rehearsal bits and other features ported over from the Anchor Bay release - trailer, blooper reel, and Wenk’s short film DRACULA BITES THE BIG APPLE (1979).
This is a film that horror fans should own and makes for a fun way to spend 94 mintues. Wenk showed he definitely had a good grasp on what was needed to make this dreamlike film and balance the horror elements with the comedy. Do yourself a favor and import this release (it’ll play on your US Blu-ray player) because I can’t imagine there will ever be a better, or even comparable, release in the States.
Commenting Rules: Comments are intended to open up the discussion to our readers about the topics at hand, and as such should be offered with a positive and constructive attitude. If your comment is not relative to the above post or is disrespectful to the authors and readers, we reserve the right to delete it. Continued abuse of our good nature will result in banishment of the offender. Additionally, if you have any burning issues to point out to the GATW crew - typos, corrections, suggestions, or straight-up criticism - please email us instead of commenting here.