Vamp (1986) Directed by Richard Wenk
Starring Chris Makepeace, Robert Rusler, DeDee Pfeiffer, Sandy Baron, Grace Jones, Brad Logan and Billy Drago
Vamp was structured around 80s iconic pop star Grace Jones and it is a film that she can really sink her teeth into. Following on the heels of films like Fright Night, that included the new upsurge of incredible make-up and photographic effects, first displayed in The Howling (1980), Ms Jones gets to wear some of the most frightening prosthetics applied in a vampire movie of the period – supervised by Greg Cannom. From the slinky bodypaint alluding to her past as an Egyptian Queen, to the bald, gopher mouthed sister of Graf Orlok in Nosferatu, with contact lenses supplied by the immortal Morton R Greenspoon. The mute vampire is only allowed a blood-curdling witches cackle whilst ripping out an errant minions heart. As leader/owner of the After Dark nightclub, she and her band of followers waylay drunks and vagabonds by putting on lowlife striptease acts before stripping the patrons of their last few pints of 100% proof blood. Sandy Baron is excellent as the club concierge, who has dreams of taking the dive further, to become a more classy joint in Vegas.
Into this nightmare bungle frathouse wannabes, Keith (Chris Makepease) and AJ (Robert Rusler) – perennial BMOC in films like The Nightmare on Elm Street 2; Freddy’s Revenge and Sometimes they come back. They have in tow Duncan, the stereotypical nobody with money and a car, played by Gedde Wattanabe. Offering Duncan friendship for a week on his terms, the three heroes embark on their way to find a stripper to play one night at the frathouse in which they covet a place. While cruising along the highway, their car is sent into a tailspin and they find themselves coming to a stop in a seemingly deserted neighborhood. Derelict buildings and endless back alleys are paralleled with shops that are securely locked and seedy motels. Quckly making enemies with the local street thugs headed by albino Billy Drago, they chance upon the After Dark Club. Rusler is vampirized by Jones and Makepeace spends the rest of the movie trying to escape and also figure out who the ditzy girl is that is following him around (Pfeiffer).
There are some horrific moments in Vamp that are all experienced by Makepeace’s college dropout. A man travels the sewers looking for his pet rat. A lift runs out of control and tries to crush it’s occupants in it’s doors. Rusler is led backstage and his hope of some quick sex with the stripper Katrina are scuppered as she rips his throat out. Outside the undead haunt the streets in the shape of various groundworkers, a bus driver and a half-naked nurse. A little girl sprouts fangs and launches herself at her prey. Garbage trucks come and go as they collect the residue left over from the club. The police don’t like to enter the area after dark! These admittingly unsettling scenes are offset by Porky’s style humour that doesn’t really gel and is only tolerated because the heroes are actually likeable. Rusler’s zombie moans that he can’t talk to these boring corpses before falling on his own stake so that he won’t have to drain his loyal friend. A vampirette is taken out with the heel of a stiletto and Jones’ Queen Katrina is eventually reduced to ashes by the rays of the sun, her skeleton still defying her foes by giving them the bony finger. Greg Cannom would supervise a similar meltdown for Julie Carmen in Fright Night part 2 two years later.
I saw Vamp in 1987 on rented video but was unaible to obtain it anywhere for a long time. I finally became the proud owner of an ex-rental copy in 2008! I always wondered why this film disappeared off the shelves very early? Maybe – as I answer my own question – it was because it’s framework bore similarities to earlier films like Martin Scorcese’s After Hours and Quentin Tarantino’s vampire bloodbath From Dusk Till Dawn, while the primary lighting colours that decorate the abandoned streets are cool additions that would turn up in Warren Beatty’s forgotten blockbuster of the period, Dick Tracy. “Who did you tell that you were coming here?” asks the cockroach-eating Baron, “No one. Because no one tells anyone that they’re coming to a place like this!” Again, this particular outlook would be utilised in the fun-filled wink, Tales From The Crypt; Bordello of Blood.
As a statement of growing up in the eighties, the film is in a class of it’s own as it makes a pointed reminder of how nasty the world could be in that time if you were a guy or a girl out clubbing in a lonely world on the heels of the recession and punk rock. The low-lifes of the movie were the old being ushered aside in favour of new blood that only had one thought – the urge to make a quick buck – and no redeeming features. It illustrates the rise of the ‘Me’ decade and the paranoia of those innocents caught in it’s wake who only had their humour and their wits. Those who didn’t would quickly end up in the garbage facing the long haul. Vamp isn’t a great film, but the message, for all those that insist that the eighties were nothing but fun times and Karma Chameleon, is there for all to see!