’80s horror comedy Vamp gets a special edition release from Arrow Video
Richard Wenk’s Vamp wasn’t a great film in 1986 and it’s not a great film in 2016. The quickly produced horror/comedy leans too hard on the latter genre which diffuses most of the former. The script borrows heavily from the previous year’s bloodsucking hit Fright Night, a movie that – under the guidance of writer/director Tom Holland – deftly balanced giggles and gore, as well as the superior 1981 classic An American Werewolf in London. In fact, Wenk’s script even “borrows” an entire chunk of dialogue from that film. The director himself even cites Martin Scorsese’s After Hours as an influence and yes, that vibe is certainly there too.
Indeed, Vamp is frustrating experience because what it gets right, it really gets right, namely the presence of the larger-than-life Grace Jones and some startling Greg Cannom make-up FX. And ultimately, the movie is just so damned likeable, a truth that is amplified with this fantastic Blu-ray package from Arrow Video. The new documentary hiding on the back-end of the disc brings most of the cast and key crew together to reflect on the labor of love that was the making of the movie and their warm camaraderie and fond, furiously funny memories are infectious. Only the hardest of hearts would hate on Vamp after watching this beautiful Elijah Drenner-directed retrospective.
Vamp stars Meatballs and My Bodyguard actor Chris Makepeace and A Nightmare on Elm Street 2 (and the Blood Feast remake) star Robert Rusler as a pair of smart-ass college kids who, as part of their fraternity initiation, are charged with finding a stripper for their big party. They head off into the skeeziest part of town where they stumble into the even skeezier After Dark Club. After Wenk meanders around the joint, allowing his supporting female cast to flash their lady bits while introducing the rogues gallery of hustlers and sleaze balls who work at and haunt the establishment, we meet the main attraction, the statuesque stripper Queen Katrina, played by the impossibly angular and toned Jones. While the rest of the movie flip flops with one-liners and unfunny banter, Vamp stops in its tracks when Jones begins to dance (to one of her own tracks, naturally); the film literally bends to her presence, she’s that good…
Turns out that Katrina is an ancient Egyptian vampire and that almost every stripper in the joint (save for spunky Dedee Pfieffer, who is adorable) is also a ghoul. After a hot and gory encounter between Jones and Rusler, all out war is waged between Makepeace and the booty-shaking bloodsuckers; many flat jokes and much biting and staking ensue.
Vamp has a great comic book look, with neon lit streets and perverse dutch angles and again. Jones is just too much. According to the cast and crew, she was just as grandiose a presence behind the scenes as in front. According to Wenk she was always late to set, sometimes upwards of nine hours late. When she was on, she was one but, as Rusler comments, when they filmed their big scene, she beat and bit the hell out of him for real; when he screams and tears up in the film, that’s legit agony and torment. When he complained about her berserk antics, she apparently loudly dismissed him as a “pussy.” Pfieffer recalls with amusement and even funnier anecdote that Jones was always wielding her vibrator on set, it’s archaic cord whipping around her and then losing it, causing her to stalk the set and demand that it be found.
But despite – or maybe because of – the Jones antics, everyone seemingly loved making the movie and you feel that affection in the film itself. Sure, Vamp doesn’t really work, especially in its repetitive last half, but it’s a sort of charming one-shot and this release stands as the definitive document of its legacy.