Title: Vampire in Brooklyn (1995)
Director: Wes Craven
Cast: Eddie Murphy, Angela Bassett, Allen Payne, Kadeem Hardison, John Witherspoon, Zakes Mokae
Who knows why it happens, but sometimes audiences reject a film for the stupidest of reasons, for example, in an interview for Rolling Stone magazine, when Eddie Murphy was asked about Vampire in Brooklyn, he said that the movie failed to become a hit because of the hair style he used in it. According to Murphy, it was all because of the wig he wore for the whole thing, it made it look as if Murphy had straightened his hair in the same way that Ron O’Neil straightened his hair out in Super Fly (1972). To me it’s just another look, people can wear their hair however they choose to. I don’t know, whatever the case might be, apparently people hated Murphy’s hair for this film. Me? I think Murphy looks kind of cool wearing the straight hair and I certainly don’t think its reason enough to hate this movie. I just happened to give it the old re-watch and ended up liking it.
On this film we meet a vampire called Maximillian, who arrives at the New York City shore in a boat, filled with dead people. You see he is on the lookout for a female who unbeknownst to her is of his own heritage. Poor old Maximillian doesn’t want to go through eternity alone. It’s that age old vampire problem, who shall I spend the rest of eternity with? So Maximillian goes about it same way Dracula would. He chooses a ghoul, finds his woman (who happens to be Angela Bassett) and proceeds to charm the pants off of her, literally. Will she fall for his charms or see past his façade? So basically this is a retelling of Dracula, but in a modern setting. We go through the same beats as a Dracula film, but within a contemporary setting. Maximillian finds a place to live but it isn’t Carfax Abbey, it’s Brooklyn. He gets a ghoul, who of course eats insects and roaches, but he isnt a madman, he’s a street hustler. He meets the woman of his dreams, but she isnt a debutant, she’s a detective named ‘Rita’ which sounds a hell of a lot like ‘Mina’ from Bran Stoker’s novel. In Bram Stoker’s novel, Dracula sends a black carriage with black horses to pick Mina up, on this film he sends his limo. So yeah, a retelling of Dracula, but with a modern twist. Because of this, there’s not a whole lot of surprises in ways of story, this of course is the same problem that a lot of vampire movies face. They tell Bram Stokers novel all over again, they simply change the setting, or the era, but it’s the same story, so if you’ve seen your share of vampire movies, then you know what you’re gonna get with Vampire in Brooklyn.
But fear not, what makes this film interesting are other factors. First of all, the cast here is 95% black, so this is a black version of Dracula, something along the veins of what was done in the blaxsploitation classics like Blacula (1972) or Scream Blacula Scream (1973), so that’s a cool element about it. The other element is placing a vampire in the heart of Brooklyn, New York. So suddenly we see Maximillian the Caribbean vampire dealing with gangsters trying to kill him, going into night clubs in search of his love, he even ends up dancing the night way with Rita. So what makes this one set itself apart is the New York setting and the all black cast. Then, during its second half the film diverts to a passionate love story between the head vampire and the object of his affections, detective Rita. Funny how at heart most vampire movies are about love huh? And passionate love at that! Most of the time, vampire films serve as an allegory for the art of seduction, with the head vampire playing the role of the ultimate seducer, the guy with the irresistible words and the hypnotic stare that will make a woman forget the world; Vampire in Brooklyn is no exception.
The film comes to us from horror legend Wes Craven, the guy behind A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) and a myriad other horror films, like for example the entire Scream franchise. This was his first and so far only attempt at directing a vampire film, but he does it with great aplomb. The horror aspects of the film are handled rather well. The movie, while a comedy, does not lose its horror edge. I mean, Maximillian turns into a wolf, rips a gangsters heart out and then shreds another gangster to pieces limb by limb! When Maximillian vamps out, he looks pretty damn demonic! The ghoul pretty much ends up looking like a zombie, rotting away piece by piece, so it has some decent make up effects work, gruesome stuff. I’d say that Craven juggles the comedy, the romance and the horror aspects pretty well, never settling into one for a long time, the film is always shifting it’s tone. I am not a huge fan of the Scream films (actually I can’t stand em!) so to me, this was the last good horror film that Craven directed. After this he made the dreaded Cursed (2005) and My Soul to Take (2010), not exactly the cream of the crop in terms of horror. For me, Vampire in Brooklyn was the last good hurrah from one of the great horror directors.
And speaking of the comedic aspects of the film, having Eddie Murphy might give you the idea that he will play a “funny vampire”, but he doesn’t. He plays Maximillian like a cool, suave dude. The funny of the film doesn’t come from Murphy playing Maximillian. On this one he plays his character as a smooth ladies man who can sweep a girl of her feet with a few words. Murphy obviously wanted to play this character as a sensual force, not as a comedic element. What they did do to amp up the comical aspects of the film was surround Murphy with comedic actors, like for example, John Witherspoon who plays Silas Green, the landlord of the building in which Maximillian and his ghoul reside in, he has some pretty funny moments, I mean, Witherspoon just talks and I’m cracking up. We also get Kadeem Hardison playing the ghoul, who crumbles apart (literally) as the movie progresses, this aspect of the character lends itself for some funny moments as well. But I know what you’re thinking, so this is a comedy in which Eddie Murphy isn’t even trying to be funny? And you’d be wrong, there’s a moment in which Maximillian disguises himself as a preacher, which is just hilarious, quite possibly the funniest moment in the whole movie. Then, in typical Eddie Murphy fashion, he also plays another character, an Italian gangster wannabe with a big mouth. So be on the look out for this, Murphy plays a couple of roles on this one, same as he’s done in other films like Coming to America (1988) and The Nutty Professor (1996).
An interesting aspect of the film: this is a film that plays a lot with vampire lore; it doesn’t follow vampire rules so much. We’ve all seen this in many vampire films, filmmakers will make their vampires do the strangest things that vampires aren’t supposed to do. For example, in Vampire in Brooklyn Maximillian can make dogs turn into a flying ball of fire, he can make fire appear out of thin air, and that's just for starters…Maximillian’s got some strange tricks up his sleeve. So anyways, closing words about Vampire in Brooklyn is that it’s not as bad as you’ve been led to believe, I actually think it’s a pretty cool vampire flick. The ending promises a possible sequel which never came out because the film wasn’t a real success, still, I happen to think it received the stake to the heart unfairly. Time to unearth this one and give it a good watch come next Halloween!
Rating: 3 ½ out of 5