FRIGHT NIGHT's hilariously entertaining New World Pictures poor relation VAMP hits Blu-ray (again) from Arrow Video USA.
Fraternity pledges Keith (Chris Makepeace, MAZES AND MONSTERS) and AJ (Robert Rusler, A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 2: FREDDY'S REVENGE) are sent to downtown Los Angeles in search of strippers for a frat party. With geeky Duncan (Gedde Wantanabe, SIXTEEN CANDLES) in tow, they stumble upon the After Dark Club, the highlight of which is beguiling stripper Katrina (Grace Jones, A VIEW TO A KILL). While AJ disappears backstage to get to know Katrina better, Keith becomes entangled with spunky waitress Amareto (Dedee Pfeiffer, THE HORROR SHOW) who claims to know him well even though he has no recollection of her. When Keith goes in search of AJ and finds him dead and wrapped in a garbage bag, he returns to the club with the police only to find AJ very much alive. His relief is short-lived, however, when AJ and the club's strippers grow fangs and claws (and some really nasty toenails). Keith, Amareto, and Duncan make a run for it, but it appears that the city's vampire populace is not confined to the club – there's also a street gang lead by an albino Billy Drago (HUNTER'S BLOOD) to boot – so they must to double back and confront vampire queen Katrina.
VAMP is one of the better of a handful of vampire comedy films from the 1980s along with THE LOST BOYS and FRIGHT NIGHT, with others like ONCE BITTEN and MY BEST FRIEND IS A VAMPIRE on a much lower tier (FRIGHT NIGHT PART II might owe more to VAMP than its own prequel) and certainly the best of New World's string of horror comedies (TRANSYLVANIA 6-5000, RETURN OF THE KILLER TOMATOES, RETURN TO HORROR HIGH). Makepeace, Rusler, and Pfeiffer are all likable leads (Watanabe, fresh from SIXTEEN CANDLES, gets some standout moments like his variation on "In the Mood for Love"), but Grace Jones' Katrina is a striking presence in both her stage make-up and under Greg Cannom's exaggerated vampire make-up (Cannom also provided vampire make-up for FRIGHT NIGHT 2, THE LOST BOYS, SUBSPECIES, and BLADE and won an Academy Award for his make-up effects on BRAM STOKER'S DRACULA). Sandy Baron (TARGETS) is also entertaining as the club's owner and MC. Director Richard Wenk balances the comedy with some jump scares, cool vampire prosthetics, and demonstrates a first-time director's tenacity to stretch the film's low budget economically and creatively beyond the confines of the strip club set to create a distinctively nutty little corner of downtown. The cinematography of Elliot Davis (who returned to vampires by lensing the lesser TWILIGHT) combines MTV camera moves with bold neon green and pink color gels and expressionistic lighting and composition while the score of Jonathan Elias segues from the OMEN-esque Latin choral main theme to eighties synths fitting to the neon-lit club and rain-soaked LA streets (Elias scored several other pictures for producer Donald P. Borchers including CHILDREN OF THE CORN and its recent TV remake). Katrina's Egyptian sarcophagus would be pop up again in the background of the climax of Fred Olen Ray's HOLLYWOOD CHAINSAW HOOKERS.
Previously released on VHS by New World Video and laserdisc by Image Entertainment, VAMP was one of the New World titles to get the special edition treatment early on when Anchor Bay in 2001 had the rights to the Lakeshore titles with an entertaining audio commentary by director Wenk and stars Makepeace, Pfeiffer, and Watanabe, behind the scenes footage, bloopers, and Wenk's short "Dracula Bites the Big Apple." Arrow released the first Blu-ray edition in the UK in 2011 (followed by a 2014 combo repackage) which featured a different commentary track by Rusler along with video interviews with Wenk, Pfeiffer, and producer Donald P. Borchers, and the other video extras carried over from the Anchor Bay edition. When Image Entertainment dumped VAMP out onto Blu-ray in 2011 as part of their half-hearted Midnight Madness series, it was a barebones edition. Arrow's new Blu-ray gets off to a rough start with the opening credits seemingly taken from inferior elements. The New World logo is grainy, soft, and greyish, and the first few credits seem to have been superimposed on a still background with frozen grain evident, only cutting back to motion when the bell clapper swings into frame. The rest of the title sequence is grainier and greyish and stays that way until the first cut after the credits, at which point, the film starts to look the way we recall, with lesser grain in the blacks, sharper resolution, and more saturated colors in a high bitrate encode that also reveals slivers more information over the previous 1.85:1-matted presentations.
Fans of the film will want to hang onto the earlier editions for the commentary tracks since the new Arrow dual-territory edition (Blu-ray only in the US, a combo in the UK) features neither track; instead, the disc's major extra is "One of Those Nights" (44:29), a new documentary featuring interviews with director Wenk, director of photography Davis, and stars Makepeace, Rusler, Pfeiffer, Watanabe, and Drago. Makepeace, who has retired from acting, recalls being an unlikely choice for a heroic role and transferring the banterish relationship he quickly developed with Wenk onscreen to Rusler. Rusler discusses integrating his own personality into the role as well as being called a pussy by Grace Jones after she bit him a little too enthusiastically. Pfeiffer recalls the experience of shooting on location in dangerous downtown as well as going overschedule and the threat of the film being taken away from the director as well as one of the stylist's being fired for punching out one of the assistant directors. Watanabe recalls coming in off of SIXTEEN CANDLES and wondering if he would be funny acting without an accent while Drago conveys his preference for playing villains. The cast all have stories about waiting around Jones, who had her own schedule around which they were working, while Wenk recalls that Jones once did an ADR session nude because the technicians complained about the metal jewelry she was wearing. Davis recalls the film as his first work as cinematographer after having worked as a camera operator and doing pickups on TUFF TURF for producer Borchers, and taking charge of film's location scouting and the overall look. He reveals that that the look of VAMP was inspired by Scorcese's AFTER HOURS, and that the expressionistic visualization in terms of lighting, composition of the downtown L.A. locations was hinted at in the use of light and shadow in the opening college scenes. The participants also recall the short window of post-production mandated by the distributors, the film's reception, and their own takes on the finished product.
The aforementioned short "Dracula Bites the Big Apple" (22:03) is also present here in standard definition, but the individual interviews with Pfeiffer, Wenk, and producer Borchers (who did not participate on any of the Blu-ray extras) have been dropped. The rehearsal footage (6:41) excerpted in the above featurette is also included here, with some footage of Jones getting into character while straddling the director in place of Rusler while the blooper reel (6:13) actually features only a handful of gaffes, consisting mostly of outtakes and a funny bit where director Wenk takes Jones' place in her chair during the striptease. Also included are two trailers (1:27 and 1:58), TV Spots (3:43), and a photo gallery. Not supplied for review were the reversible sleeve (featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by the Twins of Evil) and the first-pressing-only booklet with new writing on the film by critic Cullen Gallagher. A VAMP completist will want to hold onto the Anchor Bay and earlier Arrow Blu-ray or DVD, to supplement the new disc. (Eric Cotenas)
BACK TO REVIEWS