Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #21
Number of Views: Multiple
Release Date: July 18, 1986
Sub-Genre: Vampire Comedy
Country of Origin: United States
Box Office: $4,790,926
Running Time: 93 minutes
Director: Richard Wenk
Screenplay: Richard Wenk, Donald P Borchers
Special Effects: Tom Chesney, Bruce D. Hayes, Jarn Heil
Cinematography: Elliot David, Douglas F O’Neons
Score: Jonathan Elias
Editing: Marc Grossman
Studio: Balcor Film Investors, Planet Productions
Distributor: New World Pictures, Anchor Bay Entertainment (DVD)
Stars: Chris Makepeace, Robert Rusler, Grace Jones, DeDee Pfeiffer, Sandy Baron, Gedde Watanabe, Billy Drago, Brad Logan, Lisa Lyon
Suggested Audio Garlic
Grace Jones “Seduction Surrender Longing Fix”
Personal preference can be a funny thing. There’s no rhyme or reason to it, occasionally a piece of work will connect with you in an intimate manner which can be impossible to pinpoint, whereas another may leave you utterly cold with the same vague reasoning. It’s all ultimately subjective. Take Richard Wenk’s Vamp for example, it wasn’t received with particular fondness or kindness and certain critics were particularly scathing in their reprisals but, for reasons I’m not entirely sure of, it is my all-time favorite vampire movie. Let’s not get it twisted, there’s a world of difference between favorite and best, and I would never suggest that it would count as the latter. But something about it makes me all warm and fuzzy inside.
While undisputed eighties classic such as Kathryn Bigelow’s Near Dark, Richard Donner’s The Lost Boys and Tom Holland’s Fright Night all went on to gain mass adulation from blood suckers worldwide, Vamp sadly fell by the wayside. It had a brief theatrical run-out and just about managed to recoup its $3m outlay before dropping off our radars faster than Salman Rushdie. None of this matters to a fan never concerned with keeping up with the Joneses. I always did have the courage of my convictions to form my own opinion and other folks’ opinions remain exactly that. It may garner a lower aggregate score than the above movies but this film holds the chalice from which the desire is strongest to take a sip. That’s just me, one voice amongst a million others, but I’m the one grasping the Crimson Quill so it’s time to sound the horns.
Lack of sexual interaction is seldom a concern for vampires. I’m sure that Dracula had no pre-requisite for Viagra, Jerry Dandridge likely spent most of his days nursing muscular aches after a hard night on the prowl, and even good old Nosferatu must have gotten his oats on the rare occasion. There has long since been a seductive allure to these creatures of the night, a promise of immortality too powerful to resist should you choose to bare your jugular. Try as we may to resist their charms, chances are that we’ll be well and truly siphoned from by the time they’ve had their way with us.
Enter Grace Jones (and believe me you will want to after watching Vamp, like it or not!) A true one-off, confident in her skin, and flat-out refusing to conform, she exudes primal sexuality and Wenk provides her with the perfect playground within which to express herself freely. Here she plays head vampire Katrina, and draws us in regardless of will with a tantalizing dance that is both grotesque and fiercely erotic. Hers is a seductive prowess also felt in no uncertain terms by confident keg crusher AJ (Robert Rusler) who finds it increasingly futile to resist her and eventually gets his wish, one which he instantly regrets.
AJ, along with younger brother Keith (Chris Makepeace) and quirky geek boy Duncan (Gedde Watanabe) unwittingly find themselves marooned at an after hours strip joint whilst performing their pledge week duties. At first, it appears as though they have hit pay dirt. While big bro is discovering the exclusivity of this particular men only establishment, Keith has developed a crush on ditzy, spritzy bubblegum blowing waitress Amaretto (a hugely endearing DeDee Pfeiffer) and the drinks are flowing freely. Unfortunately for the boys, the nightclub’s owner Vic (Sandy Baron) is so desperate to get to Vegas that he has sold his soul to a clan of bloodthirsty vampires and they have their own designs on the frat boys.
The first thing that stands out is Wenk’s neon-drenched coloration. Pinks and greens factor strongly in almost every scene and something informs me that he grew up watching a lot of Italian cinema work as Argento’s influence is there for all to see. This is especially evident during Katrina’s mesmerizing routine and really helps to create an exclusive dream-like vibe which serves Vamp particularly well. Also noteworthy is that this predates Robert Rodriguez’s From Dusk Till Dawn by a full decade and, whereas that was a film of two halves (the first of which I will always favor), this takes far less time to gestate into something darker. 93 minutes soar past like a vampire bat on amphetamines and not once does Wenk fritter momentum.
Moreover, the cast are all hugely likeable. Makepeace makes for a wonderfully reluctant hero, Rusler provides more than able support as the fuck first, think later AJ, Baron is delightful as the seedy nightclub owner, and Jones steals every scene she’s in along with our final breath. However, for Keeper, it is all about Pfeiffer. I will never understand why she never went on to greater things. While her older sister was owning that black PVC cat suit, poor DeDee consistently struggled to make any kind of impact. On this evidence, I would say that directors missed a trick as she strikes the perfect balance between vulnerable and feisty, lighting up the screen with her winning smile.
I’m baffled to this very day as to why this film received such a rough ride upon its release as it truly is a joy from start to finish and, in no way, deserving of the almost unanimous vilification it has been subjected to. However, it pleases me infinitely to report that Arrow Video have seen fit to release a deluxe edition on Blu-Ray and DVD as, while most may have long forgotten it, a select few still hold it very closely to their hearts. That’s correct, I’m not flying solo in my dedication to its cause. Should it sometimes feel that way for any of you Vamp junkies out there then take solace in the knowledge that you’re never alone. We just prefer to hang back in the shadows.
Much as I fly the flag for Vamp with great fervor, I have no intention of crusading against any successful or highly regarded vampire flick from the era. They are all accomplished works and more than deserving of their plaudits. However, none of them resonate as strongly with me on a personal level and here is where my true devotion will forever lay. Hell, one of my all-time favorite movies is The Adventures of Ford Fairlane which is widely regarded as one of the eighties’ biggest turkeys so don’t take my word as gospel. I can’t promise you it will change your life but should you pay a visit to the After Dark Club, grab yourself a margarita, sit back and simply enjoy the show, then you may just find it is love at first bite.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 8/10
Grue Rating: 2/5
For the Grue-Guzzlers & Pelt-Nuzzlers: As far as bloods feasts go, Vamp is hardly what you would call slap-up meal. There are as many tongues in cheeks as incisors puncturing throats but what splatter there is on the platter is well done and the make-up effects are top drawer. Where carnal pleasures are concerned, Jones tantalizes effortlessly and you possibly won’t talk to yourself for a week after springing the involuntary boner bought on by her enticing almost serpentine exhibition.
Richard Charles Stevens
Keeper of The Crimson Quill
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