Title: Vamp (1986)
Director: Richard Wenk
Cast: Grace Jones, Billy Drago, Chris Makepeace, Robert Rusler, Gedde Watanabe
During the 80’s three vampire movies really made a mark on the genre: The Lost Boys (1987), Fright Night (1985) and Near Dark (1987). Often times, all three of these films are mentioned together as the three vampire movies that stood out the most from that era. And yeah, it’s true, these three films were the cream of the crop as far as 80’ vampire movies went, there is no denying that. But I always held Vamp, the film I’ll be reviewing today in a close fourth place. Vamp isn’t the best vampire movie ever made, but it has a lot of elements that give it its own charm.
Vamp is all about these two college buddies that want to form a part of this fraternity. So they try going through all the normal channels in order to do so. You know, doing all these initiation gags they make you do so you can get in. But these guys aren’t going for any stupid initiation routine; instead, they offer the fraternity a stripper for their next party! The fraternity dudes say sure why the hell not. So off they go to find a stripper so they can be accepted into the fraternity. Unfortunately, the strip club they are headed towards is actually run by a group of vampire vixens and their ghouls! Will these college students escape the night with their lives (and throats) intact?
What makes Vamp cool for me is that it’s so very 80’s. There was this thing during the 80’s and early 90’s where neon colors took over the world. Everything was neon. Sneakers, t-shirts, bracelets, jackets…you name it, it was neon colored. And so where music videos. Back in those days, music videos always had that neon colored lighting in the background. No matter what the scene, everything was suddenly neon blue, or neon pink. Vamp has that neon colored looked that most films had back in those days. Vamp takes place mostly during the night and every single wall of every building of every street is lit with these shades of neon green or pink, it just reminds me of how much this was done in films and music videos back in those days. It gives the film that uniquely 80’s look and feel that I love, one look at Vamp and you’ll know it is a film that could have only been made in the 80’s. It takes me right back to those days. And the comedy, the silliness of the dialog reminds me of films from that time as well. How eighties is this movie? Gedde Watanabe, aka the funny/drunken Chinese guy from Sixteen Candles (1984) is on this one as the comedy relief. Most of the time he simply acts as the geekiest, dorkiest Chinese guy you could ever hope to meet, the rest of the time he’s ultra annoying which is exactly what the filmmakers were going for.
A word can be said about the kind of setting the film creates. This town is all kinds of weird, I mean, once the guys arrive to the “bad side of town” where the strip club is located, you feel as if you’ve walked into an episode of The Twilight Zone. The transition from ‘nice looking city’ to ‘bad side of town’ is kind of funny. The scene has the guys driving down the city, taking in the sights when suddenly, to avoid an accident they swerve the car around and it starts to spin around uncontrollably (and unrealistically I might add) and then, when the car comes to a stop, suddenly Toto isn’t in Kansas anymore and we find ourselves in ‘weirdsville’. A town where every street is lonely and filled with fog, a town where little girls are left to wonder the streets alone in the middle of the night while her prostitute mother takes care of business. A town with street gangs made up of albinos with an extreme desire to make your life miserable. A town where even the garbage man is a vampire!
While watching this movie, you won’t be able to ignore the similarities with Robert Rodriguez’s From Dusk Till Dawn (1996). They are too many. Strip bar in the middle of nowhere? Check! The strippers in the club are vampires? Check! The leader of the vampires is an ancient female vampire? Check! Said vampire gives a show stopping dance that makes all the guys in the strip club melt in their seats? Check! And trust me, the similarities don’t stop there! I won’t mention them all because I don’t want to spoil the fun you’ll have finding the similarities between both films. I’m pretty sure that when the time came to write From Dusk Till Dawn, Tarantino had just seen Vamp and said “I can do that better!” And that he did. From Dusk Till Dawn is infinitely superior to Vamp. It takes the same basic ideas and gives them that Tarantino twist, but we must remember: Vamp did it first! And Vamp is a good vampire movie on its own right. A little silly at times, but there’s no denying that Vamp has fangs. It’s got its moments.
For example, the make up effects on the vampires are awesome. These are the kind of vampires that look really demonic and evil; the kind of vampires we can find in films like Fright Night and The Lost Boys. The kind of vampires I miss in movies nowadays. Unfortunately, what passes for a vampire in today’s vampire films is sometimes embarrassing; nothing compared to the evil looking creatures we can find in an 80’ vampire film. Even the Fright Night remake had vampires that pale in comparison to the demonic brilliance of these old movies.
Queen Katrina wows her audience
And of course, I can’t go away without saying something about Grace Jones playing the head vampire, Queen Katrina. During the 80’s, Mrs. Jones was at the height of her popularity. She was an established recording artist, she produced a series of albums many of which where huge hits in their day, reaching the top of the charts. She also appeared in a couple of mainstream films like Conan The Destroyer (1984) and the James Bond film A View to a Kill (1985). But before the acting bug bit her, she was already a successful model, a singer and a performance artist. She performed acts that weren’t all that different from what we see her do in Vamp when Queen Katrina does her big striptease sequence. Mrs. Jones offers up some of the most interesting visuals on Vamp, and also, she adds a lot of weight to the Queen Katrina character. Mrs. Jones has always been an intimidating persona, and she brought a part of that to the film. She has two stand out sequences, one when she does her striptease, and the other is when she seduces one of the teenagers, that scene was pretty memorable. My only gripe is that she is underused in the second half of the film.
Ultimately what Vamp is, is a fun vampire movie with that undeniable 80’s movie feel. It plays with that delicate balance between comedy and horror. Not every movie is successful in this merging of genres. Vampire in
Brooklyn (1995) for example failed horribly at it. The comedy in Vamp falls a little on the silly side; it has the kind of humor you’d find in films like Revenge of the Nerds (1984) or Porky’s (1982). Basically, this is the kind of movie in which a bunch of horny teenagers are looking to satiate their libidos by visiting a strip club. Only thing is that the strip club in Vamp isn’t exactly the friendliest joint they could have found. So to close my thoughts on Vamp, this is a strange sort of vampire film; it has a weird vibe to it. Most of the time you’ll feel like you’ve just walked into an episode of The Outer Limits or something. It has that 80’s sex comedy humor which it chooses to mix with its more horrific elements. Vamp will remind you of the silliness that a lot of films from the 80’s had, but then again, that’s really part of this films charm.
Rating: 3 ½ out of 5
Behind the scenes of Vamp. Grace Jones gets body paint applied for her big striptease sequence