Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Vamp (1986)

Written and directed by Richard Wenk (who was helped by Donald P. Borchers in coming up with the story), Vamp is one of those movies that I know isn't for everyone . . . . . . . . . yet I recommend to everyone anyway. It's a favourite of mine and the more people who come around to my way of thinking, at least in this matter, the better.

After almost being bored to death while pledging to a fraternity, Keith (Chris Makepeace) and AJ (Robert Rusler) offer to get the guys anything they want instead of being made to go through the usual humiliations. The frat guys, somewhat predictably, want strippers. So our two young men borrow a car from Duncan (Gedde Watanabe), and also allow him to join them, before setting off to procure some dancing girls. After a few wrong turns, a fair bit of lost time and a run in with an albino punk (Billy Drago), they get inside the After Dark club. At last. The After Dark club is quite a place. There's the guy who looks after the place but dreams of Vegas (a superb turn from the ever-brilliant Sandy Baron), a waitress who keeps trying to get Keith to remember her (played by the lovely Dedee Pfeiffer) and a star turn from the mysterious and animalistic Katrina (Grace Jones). Unfortunately, there is a side to the club that people only see if they're not getting out again. A vampiric side.

Yes, as you may have guessed, years before the enjoyable From Dusk Till Dawn used the strip club setting for some monster mashing, Vamp had already paved the way. Was Vamp the first? No, but it remains one of the best (especially when compared to, for example, The Monster Club, which I think contains a few similiar elements).

The performances from everyone involved really help lift this above numerous other vampire movies of the decade. Robert Rusler and Chris Makepeace play off each other superbly, Gedde Watanabe is great comic relief and Dedee Pfeiffer is adorable - like an '80s Meg Ryan but a Meg Ryan that I'd actually contemplate trying to hit on. The villains are just as good, if not better. Billy Drago is his usual intimidating presence, Grace Jones is her . . . . . . usual intimidating presence and Sandy Baron steals pretty much every scene that he's in.

The special effects don't overwhelm the movie but they're very well done and the same can be said for the score from Jonathan Elias. Wenk may do a great job as director but he's helped no end by a very talented team, including Alan Roderick-Jones in the role of art director and cinematographers Elliot Davis and Douglas F. O'Neons. I don't usually mention art directors and cinematographers in my movie reviews for a number of reasons. First of all, I usually KNOW more about the cast, writer and director. Secondly, a movie is always a collaborative effort and I worry that if I start to single out too many people I end up having to go down the list of credits to include absolutely everyone (which, in an ideal world, is as it should be). But Vamp has such a unique and wonderful visual style that I have to mention the guys who helped to get that onscreen.

At times it's a surreal, off-kilter world. It's very much a cinematic horror landscape - nobody helpful is around when the sun goes down, the sets are full of deep shadows and often lit with pink and green colouring, there's a lot of dry ice around - but it's one that just uses the artificiality of everything to make things more interesting and entertaining throughout. There is always the risk that these elements can pull a viewer out of the experience but it's a worthwhile risk when the viewers that go along with the whole thing can take so much away from it.

I can still recall, even to this day, looking at that garish VHS box and being both impressed and curious. Those feelings stayed with me as I watched the film for the first time and by the time the end credits rolled I wasn't curious any more but I was still impressed, mightily so. It's a horror movie that's easy to dismiss and forget about, it's a horror comedy with some teen elements that I'm sure will annoy quite a few fans who like their horror adult and serious, it's a film that will even have some viewers switching off by the halfway mark. But it's also a film that really delivers some great vampire moments, it somehow made Grace Jones even scarier than she already was at that time (and, by god, she was already terrifying) and it made such a great impression on me that I will always step up to defend it in front of those who don't appreciate its magnificence.



  1. I certainly didn't like it as much as you did, though I acknowledge the striking image of Grace Jones as the film's most powerful element. She's truly an unforgettable vampire.