Vamp

Vampire comedies are all the rage, it seems, although only last summer’s Fright Night was a worthy entry in the subgenre (Love at First Bite and Once Bitten are among the more debased representatives). Now comes Vamp, which attempts a more stylish tack than most, but suffers from a thinning familiarity.

Coupla guys at a boondocks college need to drive into town one night to procure a stripper for a frat party. They borrow a car from a rich kid (who insists on tagging along). Nothing unusual there, except these guys stumble into the wrong place at the wrong time: the After Dark club, after dark.

The joint, it turns out, is crawling with vampires, and the queen of ’em all is a supple dancer (Grace Jones) who wears a wire bikini over leopardskin body paint. When she asks what the boys in the back room will have, they naturally answer: her.

She has a surprise for them; she loves the hemoglobin of college guys. After she drains the essence out of one of the kids, the hero (Chris Makepeace) just wants to get out of the place, while the third-wheel rich kid (Gedde Watanabe of Gung Ho in another amusing performance) is busy ogling the girls on the runway.

This film has some silly zip in its early reels, considerably buoyed by the zombified dance routine by Grace Jones, who wears (with the aforementioned costume) red geisha hair and blue contact lenses. It’s just hubba-hubba enough to nudge the boundaries of the R rating.

Director/co-screenwriter Richard Wenk clearly wants Vamp to have some visual style, so he tries to inject some by flooding the dark milieu with green and purple lights. Unfortunately, an armful of filters and gels do not a visual style make.

Most of the gags are tired, too. By now the jokes about stakes in the heart have been heard; and Wenk can’t marry the goofy stuff to the scary vampirization of some of his main characters.

He clearly intended a black comedy, though; in fact his model seems to have been not Love at First Bite but After Hours, Martin Scorsese’s nightmare comedy about a one-nighter gone bad. Wenk achieves a comic-horror balance once in a while. When Sandy Baron, as the club owner, wistfully muses about opening a vampire lounge in Las Vegas, it’s a good freaky moment.

Then there’s Grace Jones, who isn’t really in the movie much (although she’s been emphasized in the film’s ad campaign). She’s otherworldly enough to carry this sort of thing off, and the movie wimps out a bit when she’s not around. Wenk could have learned something about visual style from her; a smooth, hard enigma, she seems to exist – even in appearances “as herself” on talk shows – purely as an exotic figure of style.

First published in The Herald, July 25, 1986

Always nice to have a Sandy Baron reference. Also in the movie: Dedee Pfeiffer, Francie Swift, and Billy Drago. (“Dedee, meet Gedde. Gedde, Dedee.”) As for Wenk, since his screenplay 16 Blocks was filmed in 2006, he’s gotten a lot of writing work on action pictures. The trivia on IMDb claims Grace Jones’ stripper chair involved creative input from Dolph Lundgren and Keith Haring.

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