Review Date: October 23, 2013
Released by: Anchor Bay
Release date: October 15, 2013
Codec: AVC, 1080p
Widescreen 1.78 | 16x9: Yes
Released in 1995 right at the tail end of the direct to video boom, just prior to DVD and as the Internet was starting to emerge as an influential pop cultural force, the no-budget erotic thriller Embrace of the Vampire
is the perfect example of “right time/right place/right movie.” A year earlier or later and it gets lost in the shuffle but at the right moment, it becomes a mini sensation. It certainly helped revitalize the career of Alyssa Milano and helped her break away from her sitcom good girl image from her role on the long running Who’s the Boss
. That kind of career boost can be a doubled edged sword and, though Milano’s adult years have seen her go on to a respectable career, the embarrassing spectre of Embrace of the Vampire
has shadowed her every step of the way.
It’s usually pretty interesting to look back on movies like this, as they date themselves they also serve as a time capsule for the zeitgeist of the era in which they were made. Admittedly, although I’ve “seen” Embrace of the Vampire
before, watching it for this review is the first time I’ve sat through them film in its entirety.
Oh, don’t lie. You’ve never watched it start to finish, either.
Martin Kemp plays the titular vampire. Red flags immediately start going off when he’s not given a name on screen (the end credits list him simply as “Vampire”). Immediately we are given a bit of the Vampire’s back story: hundreds of years ago, he had secret romantic trysts with a princess (Playboy Playmate Rebecca Ferratti
) in what looks like a low budget rendition of the forest from Ridley Scott’s Legend. After one such encounter, as he lays in post coital bliss by a wading pond, he’s beset by three naked vampire nymphs who bestow him with a glowing ankh necklace and then bite him. Say what you will about the film, one can’t realistically accuse it of delayed gratification. Anyway, now he’s an immortal bloodsucker and as the film proper begins, he’s been waiting hundreds of years for the reincarnation of his lost love (if this sounds familiar, it’s not surprising: director Anne Goursand served as an editor for Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula
). Kemp spends his screen time alternating between looking like Nicholas Cage and a younger Jackie Early Haley. The resemblance only served to remind me how much better this movie would have been with an actor with any sort of screen presence or energy in the title role.
Seemingly haven taken up residence in the upper levels of a university, Vampire’s set his sights on Charlotte (Alyssa Milano
), a naïve and chaste young girl who just recently left the convent in which she was raised to conveniently attend said university. His plan is never really explained, though: he needs to turn Charlotte into a vampire before her 18th birthday, which is in three days, though why this timeline is so vital is never explained. And, despite having numerous opportunities to bite her, he seems more concerned with making her wear his ankh necklace. Again, the reason behind this is never explained. Yeah, it glows and looks cool in a cheesy rocker sort of way, but what does it do? You’d think the purpose of an object seemingly so central to achieving his goal would be explained, but no.
And…yeah. That’s really all the movie’s about. Oh, more things happen: the school floozy lives across the hall from Charlotte and draws the ire of Charlotte’s bitchy friends (Rachel True
and Jordan Ladd
) and nearly lures Charlotte into a full-on lesbian encounter. But everything seems disconnected: the characters kind of drift in and out of the movie, taking up screen time but never really advancing the story. At one point, Vampire (that never gets any less lame) heedlessly starts chug-a-lugging students at a frat party, yet nobody ever seems to care or even acknowledge that half a dozen students went missing in a single night. I did, however, get a kick out of Vampire inexplicably sneaking up on and biting his victims through what looks like a giant net. After what seems like an eternity, all this ridiculousness leads up to a total anticlimax of an ending: Vampire is not vanquished or killed, his plan isn’t foiled, he just sort of…goes away. To sulk. And look goth. Or something.
Even by the standards of direct to video time fillers, what passes for a story in Embrace of the Vampire
is exceedingly lame. It seems like the movie was custom designed for thirteen year old boys to huddle in groups around TVs or computer screens and fast forward to the “good parts.” And, to its credit, Embrace
does do its best to provide them a good time. A good time must’ve been had by at least a few: the movie was produced in a few weeks for under a million bucks and was a top renter on VHS and late night cable mainstay for years. It’s surprising considering just how silly the film is: its awkwardness gets in the way of it ever generating anything close to erotic tension.
There are major problems in every area of the film, but one of the worst is the casting. The radiant Jordan Ladd makes an early appearance as the bitchy antagonist, Eliza. Though she’d go on to do great work in films like Grace, here’s she relegated to doing a bitchy Drew Barrymore impersonation. The beautiful Rachel True, too, is given nothing to do besides patting Charlotte on the head in a couple of scenes and then falling prey to the Vampire. The movie gets an eleventh hour shot in the arm in the form of Jennifer Tilly, who plays Vampire’s female alter ego, Marika, and it’s a welcome appearance. With her jutting cleavage and husky baby doll voice, Tilly is the only person in the cast who really knows how to work what’s she’s got and has an opportunity to do so. The woman can produce erotic sparks by reading off a grocery list, but here she’s consigned to only a few scenes. Compare her fully clothed scenes to Milano’s various states of undress and Tilly still wins, hands down. Nothing could have saved this movie but I can’t help but wondering how much more genuinely erotic it would have been with an actress with Tilly’s presence in the lead.
I guess I could get excited about the prospect of watching Alyssa Milano getting naked for an hour if it weren’t for the awful, earth-tone make up she sports and the obvious surgical enhancements she’d undergone. Plus, director Ann Goursand completely botches the reveal that we’re waiting for. There’s a bodice-ripping scene that would serves as the perfect pay off had earlier scenes not already revealed the goods in the most prosaic manner possible. It’s not difficult: you tease with a flash of bum, some bare stomach, maybe a flash of sideboob to build the anticipation, then you stage the reveal in a passionate, button-bursting manner. This movie doesn’t even have the good sense to know what it’s really about, what’s its main assets are and how best to utilize them. The direction is utterly clueless.
I’m always surprised when editors make their directorial debut with awkward, sluggish messes. You’d think someone who has had experienced editing would have an inherent understanding of what is needed to put together an effective scene. Even if she isn’t directly involved in the editing process, she should be able to shoot for the edit: to know how to compose her scenes so that even a child would understand how she intends them to be assembled. Most of all, the scenes should work. They should be intelligible in and of themselves and their relevance to the overarching story clear. Embrace of the Vampire
has none of those qualities. Even for low budget, quickly shot films, it’s exceptionally sloppy: poorly staged, flatly directed and damn near incomprehensibly edited at times. Maybe Goursaud thought she’d mix it up and be creative but it’s never a smart play to try and make a penny pinching, tightly scheduled movie your opportunity to reinvent the wheel. This wannabe erotic thriller commits the cardinal sin for which there is no forgiveness: it’s dull and unsexy.
As this was a direct to video release, the horrid 1999 DVD is the only reference point for how this movie should look. It pales in comparison to even some modestly budget modern movies but in comparison to its previous presentations, this Blu-ray is a massive improvement. Gauzy soft filters were still somewhat in style in the mid-90s so, unsurprisingly, the picture is still very soft with very muted colors; with the exception of Jordan Ladd’s red lipstick contrasting against her ivory skin, none of the colors really pop off the screen. There’s also a lot of noise in the dark scenes and even the biggest details, like arms and legs, can get lost in the murk. So much of the film is drenched in smoke or shot through a soft filter that the 1999 DVD was a nightmare of pixels and compression artifacts. Those are mostly gone in the 2013 re-release and, while it’s still no prize winner, fans of Embrace of the Vampire
will enjoy a much more pleasing visual palette than they’ve ever seen the film have.
Embrace of the Vampire
boasts a new Dolby True HD 5.1 mix. There’s not a lot of directionality to the mix or much in the way of discreet effects, but occasionally the surrounds come alive with low whispering of phantom voices. Outdoor scenes feature a lot more surround effects than I’ve become accustomed to in films of the budget level: I guess back in the 90’s crafting a decent audio track was still a priority. The dialogue is clear and audible and is never overpowered by the score.
Speaking of the score, it is uniformly awful like few scores I’ve heard before. While it’s obviously one guy banging away on a Casio, that’s really no excuse. Plenty of films from the same era have no bigger budget, yet still managed to produce decent scores; Alan Howarth has made a career, and a distinguished one, but being one dude banging away on a Casio. This score lacks a melody, and is just there for ambiance, to which it adds none. Where was Martin Kemp when they were composing this crap? Couldn’t he have called up one of his old bandmates? Didn’t he know some ex- Flock of Seagulls members who needed a paying gig?
Anyways, I digress. Bottom line: like the picture, the audio track for Embrace of the Vampire
is no prize-winner but it is a couple of notches above what one could reasonably expect of the movie.
There are no alternate language dubs, but a new Spanish subtitle track has been added.
Like the DVD release, no supplements are included. The original New Line DVD included R and Unrated cuts differing by about a minute, but in this day and age including the R rated cut is pretty redundant so its absence here is understandable. I can’t imagine anybody who goes out of their way to buy this movie will at any point think to himself: “Gee, this is cool but I wish it was just a tad less racy.”
If eroticism was measured purely in volume of tits on screen, then Embrace of the Vampire
would indeed be a legitimate contender for most erotic horror film of all time. I have to disagree with Mr. Skin’s assessment of this film’s place in the pantheon of sensual horror flicks, however. With the exception of a few minutes (far too) late in the game where Jennifer Tilly arrives to inject some legit erotic tension, Embrace of the Vampire
is about a titillating as a cold shower with Kathy Bates. I guess it’s kind of notable for its early Internet infamy, but that kind of notoriety has a shelf life and Embrace
’s time in the sun is definitely over. Even fans of low grade cheesecake will have a tough time sitting through this laughable attempt at erotic supernatural romance.
Movie - D
Image Quality - C
Sound - C+
Supplements - N/A
- Running time - 1 hour and 32 minutes
- 1 Disc
- Chapter Stops
- English 5.1 Dolby True HD Audio
- English SDH subtitles
- Spanish subtitles