Uncle Jasper reviews: Vamp (1986)

Vamp (1986)

Starring Chris Makepeace, Sandy Baron, Robert Rusler, Dedee Pfeiffer, Gedde Watanabe, Grace Jones, Billy Drago

Directed By Richard Wenk


 

Let me get this out of the way. Vamp is a fucking hoot. It’s a genuinely superb horror comedy in the same vein as Fright Night and Night of the Creeps, but it oozes enough style and a quirky tongue-in-cheek swagger to really set itself apart from the pack. There are a lot of vampire films out there, and a lot of those were made in the 80s, but only one of them features the 9 foot tall, Manute Bol lookalike Grace Jones as a freaky vampire stripper who partakes in jugular snacks from young frat boys and rips the hearts out from insolent servants.

Indeed, Vamp strikes its campy tone right off the bat and runs with it. From the clever first scene you know exactly what you’re getting into. The action follows Keith and AJ, a couple of college dregs doing what they can to enter some freaky, high-brow fraternity. With their hope almost lost, they pledge to bring in booze and strippers in a last ditch attempt to gain acceptance. With the help of uber-prep Duncan (played by Gedde Watanabe of Sixteen Candles fame) the trio embark on a trip to the big city in search of the alluring “After Hours Club”. Yeah yeah, I know what you’re thinking… this is no different from the goofy college boy antics I’ve seen before in Animal House and Revenge of the Nerds. Can’t argue with that, but it’s during Vamp’s second act that things take a turn for the better.

The boys finally make it to the door of the club and have to contend with age verification. Rule number one for college kids trying to buy booze / gain entrance to nightclubs / hire supernatural strippers… ditch your fucking letterman’s jackets! Luckily Vic, the sleazy proprietor, seems to have little concern for that stuff after glancing at the fat wad of cash in Duncan’s wallet and the trio gets inside with relative ease. What follows is a cavalcade of strippers ranging from tasteful topless acts, to whip-cracking, leather-clad bondage fetishists. But time seems to come to a standstill when the club’s main act takes the stage. I don’t even know where to begin here, as Grace Jones is already freaky as hell without the white zebra stripe body paint and blazing red synthetic wig. She sits on a throne made out of a mannequin of sorts while donning a bra made out of wire coat hangers and begins simulating oral sex with the dummy. The scene does definitely garner the accolades that have been heaped on it over the years, but at a great cost, as I’m pretty sure I’m scarred for life in some twisted way that will probably come up at a therapist’s meeting fifteen years from now.

After the show, she requests the presence of frat wannabe AJ, who comes up to her room and is seduced before she goes full-bore into vampire mode, baring her fangs and taking a mean chunk out of his neck.

From here on out it’s full speed ahead as Keith searches for his missing pal, combing back alleys, sewage tunnels, and seedy motels while unearthing the city’s dirty little vampire problem in the process. With the aid of a childhood friend, now working as a naïve waitress at the establishment, he is tossed into that much loved and oft-used “endless night” scenario of the 80s, think After Hours while being chased by a city full of vampires (most of whom are strippers) and you’ll get the general vibe that Vamp exudes. Some may see this film as the inspiration behind Robert Rodriguez’s From Dusk Till Dawn, and rightly so, but I much prefer the fun breezy camp on display here to the harsh, in your face antics of the latter.

From start to finish this movie is just crazy fun, I forgot to even mention that genre honcho Billy Drago is in here as well, playing a street punk gang leader palling around with some punk rocker soul sisters who simulate oral sex with licorice sticks (yeah, lots of blowjob innuendo in this film). Also somewhere in the mix is a ravenous, six-year-old little girl vampire who latches onto flailing limbs like a drooling Doberman with a bloodlust.

A point also has to be made of Vamp’s killer lighting scheme. The transition between bland daylight scenes and the eerie, supernatural night sequences are punctuated by multicolored lights which look like somebody had spilled acrylic paints onto the workprint. Rain slicked alleyways and dark dressing rooms are filled with pools of lavenders, dark greens, and deep reds. This really is some of the most creative lighting I have ever seen… Not to get all Extreme Makeover: Home Edition on your asses, but something has to be said for a film that has the ballsy fortitude to light a scene taking place in a sewer with bright pink floodlights.

Making a good horror / comedy is not an easy thing to do. Most films fail to tread that thin line between being genuinely funny while at the same time remaining genuinely scary. Vamp is a film that seemingly blends both effortlessly. Just give it a go, your entertainment is practically guaranteed here.

5 comments to Uncle Jasper reviews: Vamp (1986)

  • I’ve never seen this one other than a few clips, but have always wanted to. Your review convinced me! Great, funny stuff man!

  • Man, this was awesome. Truly funny and effective as a horror movie as well. I loved Gedde Watanabe. Great review! I’m glad you mentioned the lighting. While I was watching it, I noticed how everything was bathed in the rich hues of the 80s and thought it added a lot to the scenes. That kind of lighting always reminds me of the facial closeups in original series Star Trek where they’d be in front of deep colored backgrounds that might change from shot to shot.

    • Uncle Jasper

      Thanks! Gedde Watanabe was great in this. I could see how his performance would grind on certain folks, but personally I thought he added plenty of charm and enough sporadic silliness to keep things fun.

      Good point about the lighting as well. I know exactly what Star Trek moments you’re referring to! Modern films tend to favor sterile grays or washed out tan colors, making most newer films (even the good ones) look bland in comparison.

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