Wednesday, October 14, 2009

31 DAYS OF FRIGHT: Modern Vampire Tales

Vamps: Deadly DreamgirlsI recently blogged about The Knights Templar and how Amando de Ossorio delivered a different kind of undead horror with his quartet of flicks featuring the skeletal monsters.

Breathing new life into the vampire genre isn't quite as easy. The cliches are so shopworn that we know each and every one of them by heart. And, in the last few decades, the most enjoyable vampire flicks have been those that’ve stood the genre conventions on their heads, like NEAR DARK.

That said, I give a lot of credit to Mark Burchett and Michael D. Fox, the writer/producer/director duo that made VAMPS, an ambitious, if not always successful, vampire stripper flick. The hook in VAMPS (also the name of the strip club run by vampiress Tasha and her henchsluts Tabitha and Randi) is that the fresh meat dancer (Jennifer Huss) is a high school chum of Seamus (Paul Morris), a horror-flick obsessed priest who seems to be questioning his calling. Which would explain what the hell he’s doing in a strip joint in the first place. Once it’s established that Tasha (Jenny Wallace) wants to bring Heather over to the dark side while Seamus wants to bring her over to an entirely different dark side, it’s a race to see who gets the All-American Girl first: vampire girl-gang or horny priest.

Unfortunately, like many other stripper-in-peril flicks (Dan Golden's NAKED OBSESSION excluded), VAMPS feels like some of the folks involved have never seen the inside of a strip joint. The routines range from dull to pathetic, which explains the lack of patrons. Shit, how’re you supposed to recruit fresh meat when chunky Tabitha is up there shakin’ around like it’s a remake of ROLLER BOOGIE? Not that the rest of the cast fares much better, but at least they’ve got good bods even if they’re routines have all the passion of a cable access Christian dance show.

I certainly won’t spoil any of VAMPS’ inventive twists, but this is one genre entry I’d love to see remade with a bigger budget and maybe Ewan McGregor as the tortured priest. But keep the killer soundtrack!

Unfortunately, not all attempts at reinventing the vampire genre are as succesful as VAMPS. Take MODERN VAMPIRES for instance. Please.

I'm not a huge fan of Casper Van Dien. While his square-jawed good looks and smug overacting were right at home in STARSHIP TROOPERS, I've never found him more than, well, tolerable in anything else that I've seen (except for the awesome reality TV show that actually made him seem pretty damn likable). But with direction from cult fave Richard Elfman (brother of Danny and director of cult flicks like FORBIDDEN ZONE and SHRUNKEN HEADS), script by FREEWAY writer Matthew Bright, and special effects "consultation" by Rick Baker, I wondered how bad it could possibly be.

Oh boy. All I know is that when the flick opened with Van Dien cruising down the highway in a cool car, listening to rockabilly and poking holes in his cigar ends with his fangs I had a feeling I was in for a long, long 90 minutes.

Van Dien – also an executive producer – is Dallas, a vampire who has returned home despite having been banished by The Count (Robert Pastorelli). Once back he hooks up with his old crew, a gaggle of shameless overactors featuring Kim Cattrall (sporting an accent worthy of Sigfried from GET SMART), Udo Kier (who turns 65 today and is pictured at right with yours truly and friends), and future talk show host Craig Ferguson. He also gets mixed up with Natasha Gregson Wagner (also in the wretched vampire flick VAMPIRES: LOS MUERTOS), a rogue vampire causing problems because she's been slashing and mutilating victims.

At first I gave the flick the benefit of the doubt and thought that the filmmakers were creating some sort of alternate reality in which humans and vampires coexist. Fair enough, right? Especially since the creatures of the night have very, very obvious fangs. (Ill-fitting ones apparently since everybody has some sort of speech impediment caused by the prosthetics.) It wasn't long before I realized that, no, the humans are supposed to be shocked when the woman with giant fangs decides to rip into their neck.

It's all downhill from there as Rod Steiger bites whatever scenery he can find as Von Helsing, the a vampire hunter who recruits inner city gang members in one of the flick's few interesting twists. Frankly, it's hard to believe that this dreadful mess was written by somebody who had even seen the entertaining FREEWAY, let alone written it!

I'm not even sure what the appeal was for either the actors involved or the intended viewers. There's little original thought at work, it's not gory enough to appeal to horror fans, and the way it plays fast and loose with vampiric qualities (Wagner has tan lines, the superhuman vampires don't fight back against the mortal vampire killers) left me scratching my head while I was begging for this mess of a flick to be over.

I've seen a lot of bad stuff in my day. MODERN VAMPIRES joins THE CREEPS as one of the all-time worst, but at least that had lots of midgets in the cast!

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