Review Date: August 22, 2001
Released by: Anchor Bay Entertainment
Release date: 8/21/2001
Region 1, NTSC
Widescreen 1.85:1 | 16x9: Yes
Almost as long as there have been horror movies, there have been horror movie parodies. Long before Scary Movie and Scream (and yes, I consider Scream to be a parody) there was Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein and Spooks Run Wild. The vampire film, long a staple of the horror genre, has been skewered (no pun intended) dozens of times. Some of these vampire/comedies (Vomedies? Compires? OK, I need to work on the terminology) were actually quite good, from The Fearless Vampire Killers to From Dusk Till Dawn. Coming somewhere in between was 1986's Vamp. This one pretty much slipped into obscurity almost immediately. Is it an overlooked gem, or is it just a mediocre knock-off? Actually, it's a little of both.
Keith and A.J. (Chris Makepeace and Robert Rusler) are two fraternity pledges, who aren't too impressed with the whole initiation thing. For some reason, they decide to procure a stripper for a frat party and together with their new friend Duncan (Gedde Watanabe) they…
O.K., the first twenty minutes of this movie don't make much sense. Basically, it's just a plot to get these three into the "After Dark Club", a strip bar. There they meet the big-hair zebra-striped Spandex-clad (this WAS the 80s) Amaretto, played by Dedee Pfeiffer (Michelle's sister). Amaretto has a past with Keith, but we don't get to find out about that until later.
After a hot dance by Katrina (Grace Jones), they find out that the nightclub is actually a den of…well, see the movie title. What follows is a set of standard vampire movie devices and cliches, until we're left with our hero Keith, the virginal Amaretto, an Albino gang(!), lounge lizard vampires, and the evil but silent Katrina. How will this end up? I'm sure crosses, wooden stakes, fire, and sunlight will be involved.
Actually, Vamp isn't a terrible movie, but it's not a very good one either. Like I mentioned above, there are tons of vampire comedies (Vampcoms? Campires? Still working on it.) While it may not seem fair to compare Vamp to other movies of a similar nature, when you make a movie that relies on standard movie legends and myths, it has to be able to stand up to comparison. Sadly, it doesn't.
One of Vamp's main weaknesses is the script. It was written and directed by Richard Wenk, who shows his talent as a director far exceeds his writing skills. The first reel of this movie is almost a total waste. It's as if Wenk put Revenge of the Nerds, Porky's, Risky Business, and a few other 80s teen movies into a blender. Nothing rises to the top. Wenk knew where the real locale of his story was, the After Dark Club, but didn't come up with a good way to get there.
Then we come to the whole vampire thing. It's not bad, but since the much better Fright Night came out just over a year before, Wenk needed to be pretty original to make viewers forget Tom Holland's highly popular film. Grace Jones is memorable as the main vampire Katrina, but she's nowhere near as charismatic (and slyly evil) as Chris Sarandon in a similar role. To make matters worse, Jones has no dialogue, and while Christopher Lee can pull that off in Dracula, Prince of Darkness, Jones isn't quite so successful.
And if you can't have a memorable villain, at least make the protagonists a little more interesting (like say George Clooney and Quentin Tarantino as the Gecko brothers in From Dusk Till Dawn). A.J. seems to be a little more animated than Keith is, but he meets his demise early on in the film. Sure, he comes back (This IS a vampire movie) for a few good scenes, but Chris Makepeace doesn't carry the film on his own. Gedde Watanabe's Duncan comes and goes. Dedee Pfeiffer isn't so bad as the bubble-headed Amaretto, but it's some of the older vampires who are the best characters. Sandy Baron (Morty Seinfeld's Florida neighbor on the classic sitcom) plays a Renfield-like host, with great lines and great delivery. But when we're rooting for the vampires almost from the moment they appear on screen, it's not a good sign.
Now, Vamp isn't a total waste of time. The lighting schemes are actually very good. Many of the outdoor scenes (in the alleys and sewers near the club) are bathed in neon pink and green lighting. It's not as tacky as it sounds. In fact, I was reminded a bit of some scenes in Dario Argento's Inferno (There's also a scene very reminiscent of the classic Tony Franciosa reveal in Argento's Tenebrae). Finally, Wenk uses several interesting camera angles that really make me want to see more of his directorial work (he's made few films since Vamp).
And finally, while Grace Jones' dance won't make one forget Salma Hayek's turn as Santanico Pandemonium, her makeup and set was done by artist Keith Haring, and I'm sure some people will want to see this movie for that reason alone. I'm not a big Haring fan, but the sequence is very unmistakably his style. Nice touch.
Well, the film itself may not be special, but the presentation on this Anchor Bay DVD is outstanding. Vamp is a 1.85:1 widescreen movie, with anamorphic enhancement. Like I mentioned above, many of the scenes are bathed in pink and green lighting, and the colors couldn't possible be more vibrant. The detail in the nighttime scenes is extremely sharp as well. I never saw Vamp on VHS, but I highly doubt it was anywhere near this good.
While I'm not much a fan of this film, I'm sure that somewhere there is someone who considers this the finest film ever made. He or she probably had this movie pre-ordered from the day it was announced. Anchor Bay made a presentation of Vamp specifically for this person. Nowadays, with DVD becoming more and more commonplace, and DVD studios catering towards customers' mainstream tastes, it's companies like Anchor Bay that still cater to the obscure film fan. They are to be commended for the attention to detail they showed on the Vamp DVD.
The cover of Vamp says that this is a mono movie. My decoder said it was Dolby Digital 2.0. Maybe it's a mono mix on both channels (I didn't hear any left/right panning), but it's a fairly good sound field for only two speakers. Dialogue is crisp and clear, and the music is at the right levels as well. I swear I heard the Hoodoo Gurus during Amaretto's brief scene on stage, but they weren't in the closing credits. For a 15-year old low budget movie, the overall presentation is quite good.
Once again, Anchor Bay provided a nice special edition for an older low budget film. First up, (and probably most important for any Vamp fans out there) is a full-length audio commentary from director Richard Wenk, and stars Chris Makepeace, Dedee Pfeiffer, and Gedde Watanabe. Watanabe is mostly silent, and it's apparent he hasn't seen the film in a long time. Pfeiffer actually dominates the commentary, mostly with jokes about her nudity policy. She seems a little prouder of this movie than I would have thought. All in all, it's a VERY lighthearted commentary, not very informative, but not dull and dry like so many commentaries are.
There are the standard trailers, TV spots, and stills. These are actually a bit interesting. One trailer is anamorphic and contains clips of several deleted scenes (where are those deleted scenes, Anchor Bay?). Grace Jones herself narrates one of the TV spots. And the stills show several making-of scenes, as well as plenty of promotional material.
Finally, we get a blooper reel (which is of pretty raw footage), a behind-the-scenes rehearsal footage (shot on video), and Richard Wenk's first film, the 22-minute short Dracula Bites the Big Apple. Make sure you have your polyester disco clothes on to watch this short.
Vamp isn't a completely worthless film, but there's so many better vampire/comedies (Vampedy? OK, I give up) out there. For a better strippers-as-vampires movie, go with From Dusk Till Dawn. For a better gangsters-as-vampires movie, check out John Landis' woefully underrated Innocent Blood. For a better 80s take on the vampire legend, buy a copy of Fright Night. But if those movies make you still thirst for more blood, there are worse ways to spend 90 minutes than watching Vamp.
Movie - C+
Image Quality - A
Sound - B-
Supplements - B-
- Running Time - 1 hour 34 minutes
- Rated R
- 1 Disc
- Chapter Stops
- 24 Chapter Stops
- English Mono (Dolby Digital 2.0)
- Audio Commentary with director Richard Wenk and stars Chris Makepeace, Dedee Pfeiffer, and Gedde Watanabe
- Theatrical Trailers
- TV Spots
- Behind-The-Scenes Rehearsal Footage
- Blooper Reel
- Short: Dracula Bites The Big Apple
- Poster and Still Gallery