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CampBlood Reviews: Senseless Rants from a Picky Sissy

 

Vamp Richard Wenk 1986

Jesus, Jones!

Anyone who grew up with HBO in the late 80’s likely has vivid memories of the preposterous yet somehow endearing horror-comedy Vamp. Thanks to a nonexistent plot and a cast of vaguely-recognizable actors (wait – is Chris Makepeace the kid from Nickelodeon’s Going Great? Is Dedee Pfeiffer related to Michelle? And hold on – is that Long Duck Dong?), Vamp is probably best remembered for the fact that it features actress/model/cocaine receptacle Grace Jones (mute, thank the Lord!) sporting Keith Haring-inspired body paint and a magenta bob wig writhing around on a stage like a shaved panther in a catnip patch.

And rightfully so – Jones’s presence in this C-list vampire comedy is both vaguely puzzling and wonderfully, horribly entertaining. Jones doesn’t so much act as assault the camera in every imaginable way: from her wigs to her outfits to her somewhat bored predator’s stare (she may as well be gazing at a stale cruller as eyeing up the neck of a juicy young victim) to her centerpiece chair-fucking, Jones is like a bull in a Chinatown shop, simultaneously repulsed by her tacky surroundings and oddly turned on by them. Kind of the same way I felt watching this movie, now that I think about it.

Anyway, the wafer-thin plot goes a little something like this: frat pledges Keith and AJ (Chris Makepeace and NOES 2’s resident man-candy Robert Rusler) argue their way out of a hilariously botched hazing by promising to get a stripper for the frat’s party. They talk rich loser Duncan (Gedde Watanabe of Sixteen Candles) into driving them into L.A., and the three run afoul of some street punks (including The Hills Have Eyes also-ran Billy Drago as albino punk Snow) before finally making it to the “After Dark Club”, a seedy strip joint with a hilarious shot of Jones’s meaty mug in its newspaper ad. This place is obviously not safe, but as we’ve already established that there’s a gang of punks after them (mostly because AJ grabbed Snow in the crotch and squeezed him for 45 seconds in self-defense – hell, I’d be chasing him too!), they of course are forced to go inside.

Once inside, the guys see Katrina (Jones) do her horrifying body-paint interpretive dance number (easily the highlight of the movie and probably the best thing the woman ever committed to film in her life) and AJ goes off to meet her and convince her to dance for a bunch of drunk frat boys. Uh, like that’s going to happen. Meanwhile, Duncan gets unconvincingly wasted while Keith fends of the advances of cocktail waitress, Amaretto (the woefully underappreciated DeDee Pfeiffer, Michelle’s sister), who seems to think she knows him from somewhere. AJ meets Katrina and she vamps out on him (after some foreplay that fetishizes him just a bit too much to be comfortable – Christ, was Robert Rusler the Brad Davis of the teen horror set?), biting and apparently killing him. When Keith and Duncan try to find him, this gets the little Asian cookie who brought AJ to Katrina in trouble, as they are apparently only supposed to bring her lone stragglers. Vampy McBatshit punches the heart out of the poor little thing and probably tries to stuff it up her nose after they yell “cut!”.

Amaretto and Keith go to look for AJ at the hotel where the strippers all live, and they come up against a greasy manager and a killer elevator. Vampiness ensues, Katrina and her goons go after Keith, and eventually Keith and Duncan meet up again and try to escape, which is foiled when it is revealed that Duncan has been bitten and the car blows up with him in it. Keith and Amaretto (I just love saying that name) go into the sewers to escape and find the coffins where the vampires sleep, and they wait until they all come home from the club and set them on fire in their beds. But they missed Katrina, of course, and since Keith can’t use his newly-stolen crossbow to kill her for fear of hitting Amaretto (God I love saying that), he instead knocks out the planks above them, filling the cellar with sunlight and causing Katrina to dissolve into what looks like about three pounds of day-old Gravy Train (“Makes its Own Gravy!”). In a final gesture Katrina’s skeletal hand reaches up from the ground to flip the birdie. It’s unclear as to whether this is directed at Keith or her agent.

The sad thing is, even though Vamp has a lot going for it and I really have fond memories of it, it’s really not a very good movie. More than anything, the film has zero comic timing, making the jokes seem incredibly bad when in reality they for the most part could probably have worked (the opening mock-sacrifice ceremony gag is funny, at least, as are a few sight gags). Also problematic is the acting, which – aside from the luminous Miss Pfeiffer – is uniformly horrific. Chris Makepeace, who was great in Meatballs and My Bodyguard (although let’s face it – who was looking at him next to Adam Baldwin? Oh... PERVERTS!), sadly pulls the standard child-actor-swan-dive here, unable to carry a grown-up role. Imagine Zach Galligan in this movie and tell me it wouldn’t have been great. Oh alright, it wouldn’t. But Zach Galligan was cuuuuuute…

And am I the only one whose gaydar starts spinning like a top at all this? First, any film with Robert Rusler is obviously being made to titillate me, and only me, which is suspect. Second, the Bizarre Camp Triangle among Katrina, AJ, and Keith is all a bit homo (and forget about Amaretto – Keith couldn’t care less about her ass). Frat hazings? Gay. Keith Haring? Gay. Grace Jones? GaygaygaygayGAYgaygay. If you have the DVD, watch the blooper reel that shows director Richard Wenk doing Katrina’s chair-fucking dance on the set, and tell me if you don’t get a glimpse of his gay when he rides the thing like he was auditioning for the role of Sissy in Urban Cowboy.

But gay-seemingness aside, all anyone really wants to see Vamp for is Grace, whose silent performance (apparently they didn’t pay her enough to talk) is like the twitchy, erratic behavior of some sort of ocelot or something. Her dance is stunningly unerotic, her costumes are HIDEOUS, and she has all the screen presence of a scarecrow in drag. In a word, she’s fabulous. But don’t miss out on the little details that make Vamp actually watchable: when club manager Vic (Sandy Baron) puts a tiny umbrella in a drink and says “Class!”; the flying vampire girl; basically anything that DeDee does. This is no Fright Night, but it’s no John Carpenter’s Vampires, either. Worth a trip down memory lane, but make sure you have the bus fare home.

Rating (out of 5):