Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #488
Number of Views: One
Release Date: September 25, 1992
Sub-Genre: Vampire/Crime Fiction
Country of Origin: United States
Box Office: $4,972,818 (USA)
Running Time: 113 minutes
Director: John Landis
Producers: Leslie Belzberg, Lee Rich
Screenplay: Michael Wolk
Special Effects: Steve Johnson
Visual Effects: Bill Taylor
Cinematography: Mac Ahlberg
Score: Ira Newborn
Editing: Dale Beldin
Studio: Warner Bros.
Distributor: Warner Bros.
Stars: Anne Parillaud, Anthony LaPaglia, Robert Loggia, Don Rickles, David Proval, Rocco Sisto, Chazz Palminteri, Angela Bassett, Luis Guzmán, Tony Sirico, Tony Lip, Kim Coates, Marshall Bell, Leo Burmester, Rohn Thomas, Tom Savini, Frank Oz, Sam Raimi, Linnea Quigley, Dario Argento
Suggested Audio Candy
 Frank Sinatra “That Old Black Magic”
 Frank Sinatra “I’ve Got You Under My Skin”
I have never been one to bow to convention. If you asked me for my favorite Martin Scorsese movie, for example, then I would say After Hours without hesitation, not Goodfellas as is the customary response. Meanwhile, Brian de Palma’s Scarface would have to be content with playing second fiddle to Body Double. That’s the beauty of a subjective viewpoint. Ultimately it is ours and ours alone. Another example of me going against the grain is John Landis. Mention his name to ten random people in the street and, chances are, the seven or so that know his name will all offer one of the following four responses. “That’s the dude that made An American Werewolf in London right? I love that freaking movie”, or words to that effect. This would be interchangeable with The Blues Brothers, Animal House or Trading Places I assume.
Much as I hold all the above movies in lofty regard, Into The Night is undoubtedly his finest work in my opinion. Who better to play an edgy insomniac than Jeff Goldblum and what better hand luggage than Michelle Pfeiffer at the top of her sassy A-game? This delicious black comedy would make my all-time top twenty list whereby the other four would all have to be content with top two hundred status, not that that’s anything to sniff at. I live in perpetual hope of him repeating the feat and it recently occurred to me that one particularly curious Landis stone was still yet to be turned.
He’d already done werewolves so it seemed only logical that vampires should get a run-out. Of course, this being a Landis presentation, he would need the correct contemporary setting to stand out from the crowd and it was time to call on the wise guys. Landis + Gangsters + Vampires = Healthy return right? Negative. Innocent Blood surfaced in the summer of 1992 and left precious little impression at the box office, fading into obscurity soon after. The fact that it was renamed A French Vampire in America for its international release without him even being informed didn’t help its cause any. It has taken over twenty years for me to relocate this film and give it the screen time it should have had way back but I have finally quenched from this long forgotten font and did so with fangs fully retracted.
We are instantly introduced to lonely nightcrawler Maria and she makes one helluva entrance. French actress Anne Parillaud, best remembered as the steely brunette assassin of Luc Besson’s La Femme Nikita, gives us the guided tour of downtown Pittsburgh where a Mafia gang war is raging hard and the ownership of turf currently being negotiated with mob boss Sal “The Shark” Macelli (Robert Loggia) up to his elbows consolidating his dominance. From the opening scene, where Parillaud mirthfully parades her lack of inhibition, she casts a spell and Landis makes the wise decision not to give her too much dialogue to choke on. Any talking is left to the wise guys and the usual suspects are all present and correct.
Among Sal’s goodfellas are buddies Tony (Chazz Palminteri) and Joe (Anthony LaPaglia). Palminteri has a face that just screams gangster and unfortunately he’s taken out of commission way too soon and in no uncertain terms as Maria deems him surplus to requirements. LaPaglia, on the other hand, offers a far more attractive proposition and one look into his sad eyes discourages her from siphoning his coulis. Joe is an undercover cop and her nocturnal dining habits coupled with his lack of discretion soon blow his cover wide open, leaving him desperately short of allies and looking over his shoulder rather nervously.
In no time, Maria has infiltrated the ring in her own inimitable manner and, after a little playful foreplay, top dog Sal finds himself at the receiving end of the old eternal hicky. The entire empire is crumbling before our very eyes and we’re barely at the end of the opening act which begs the question “where do we go from here?” As far as I am aware, big time gangsters don’t just lay down and die, and it seems that Maria is fast running out of necks to puncture. However, in the same way that Griffin Dunne still managed to delight after being torn asunder by a passing lycanthrope, Loggia ain’t done yet by a long chalk. Sal has absolutely no intention of being bagged and tagged just yet and makes a hasty exit from the mortuary slab, hell-bent on fortifying his empire.
This leaves Joe to get over his initial trust issues and join forces with Maria while they plot to take Sal down before the inevitable occurs and the whole state becomes overrun with his red-eyed foot soldiers. Their union is gradual and Joe is forced to overcome his grave doubts before succumbing to her unmistakable allure. There exists a certain unspoken chemistry between them which manages to make up for their slightly chilly interactions and we eventually buy into their shared affection although it is rather a long time coming. LaPaglia, resembling a younger Robert De Niro, makes for a fairly solid leading man and carries any weight placed on his shoulders decidedly well. Meanwhile, Parillaud uses her obvious assets to pull us in close for the vampire’s kiss.
If I have a criticism of Innocent Blood then it would be that it is perhaps a touch overlong, clocking in at just shy of the two-hour mark and struggling to hold our attention during it’s drawn out middle act. However, this being a Landis picture, we are guaranteed all manner of blink-and-you’ll-miss-them cameos and here he enlists the likes of Tom Savini, Sam Raimi, Dario Argento, Frank Oz and eighties scream queen Linnea Quigley doing precisely what earned her that particular accolade. He also laces the film with the customary jet black humor and reverential nods to past classics, and this ensures we remain invested through any stuttering spells. In addition, Mac Ahlberg’s photography captures the ass end of this smoke-filled metropolis perfectly.
Don Rickles is a joy to watch as Sal’s attorney Manny and gifts us one of the film’s standout scenes as he discovers his aversion to natural sunlight a little too late for his comfort. Ultimately however, all eyes are firmly fixed on Loggia every time he graces us with his presence and his smirking eminence is simply without equal. When all is said and done, Innocent Blood has all the hallmarks of a classic Landis movie but the marriage of mobsters and vampires isn’t altogether successful. It lacks a dash of warmth and I guess that is to be expected given the world we are exposed to. Both Parillaud and LaPaglia try their darnedest to keep our pulses racing and Michael Wolk’s smart screenplay exposes our arteries but, ultimately and somewhat ironically, it lacks that decisive bite.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 7/10
Grue Factor: 3/5
For the Grue-Guzzlers & Pelt-Nuzzlers: Landis knows the way to our hearts and ticks many boxes in typically magnanimous fashion. Explosions, burn outs, freefall, shootouts, blood, grue and dismemberment are all on the platter and Steve Johnson’s practical effects gift wrap each visceral candy particularly well. Parillaud keeps up her end of the bargain too by dropping that linen and affording us an exclusive look at her marvellous wares. I used to donate blood regularly and perhaps if she had been the one siphoning I would have kept it up. Having said that, if she were to be naked during transfusions, there’d be precious little topside to extract.
Richard Charles Stevens
Keeper of The Crimson Quill
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