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So I guess many of you have heard of the Tarantino/Rodriguez action horror flick 'From Dusk Till Dawn'? Sure you have, well let me introduce you to the movie that I'm pretty sure inspired that whole franchise...inspired copied...however you wanna look at it. So sit back and allow me to introduce how this trashy 80's vampire thriller is easily one of the best horror comedies made, up alongside greats such as 'An American Werewolf in London'.
This story idea now seems pretty dated with the whole idea of having two plot lines. Starting out in one direction and then having a fork in the road (so to speak) that leads down another direction. Admittedly this movie isn't entirely like that as we know its gonna be about vampires, but the general genre here is an old frat house type affair which spirals into a gruesome undead horror flick. Its also interesting to note that the classic Arnie vehicle 'Predator' came out a year after this movie and as we all know that film has a famous familiar two plot line affair. So its entirely possible that this horror kick started the double plot line concept.
The story is, as I said already, exactly the same as the Tarantino/Rodriguez flick there abouts. A duo of college students are wanting to get into their kickass campus fraternity, for this they want a kickass stripper so its off to the seedy side of town to hire one. Of course the lads are out of their depth and soon begin to notice odd things about the stripper club. One thing leads to another as the more reserved of the duo (Makepeace) ends up having to team up with an old flame who works at the club (somehow unaware of its secret) to battle the neck biting horde and try to survive until dawn.
So lets look at the cast, its a little known group by today's standards but back in the day both leads, Rusler and Makepeace, were almost household names. Now I say household names but I mean with teenagers of the time, Rusler was already an 80's cult trash star with 'Weird Science' and 'A Nightmare on Elm Street 2'. Here he plays the cool stylish cocky Fonzie-esque ladies man who basically gets the group in the situation they find themselves through his arrogance. The visage of this guy is the epitome of young brash 80's males in the movies with the curly coiffed mullet hairdo and the obsession with his odd choice of mixed attire (a young Robert Downey Jr. if you will). At the same time Makepeace is also the typical poster boy of the 80's with his college jacket, chequred shirt, curly hair, blue jeans and white sneakers (a young Mel Gibson if you will). The duo are easily the pure personification of the 80's which obviously isn't much of a surprise but looking back its so damn cool.
Alongside the main duo is the rich perverted single and spoilt Duncan played by Gedde Watanabe, the comic relief. Although this character is truly cliched to the hilt with his prepubescent lusting he is undeniably amusing at times. In fact his character is so lovable with his bug eyes at anything in a thong and typical college dialog that you're sad to see him go. Can't not mention the uber cult star Billy Drago now can I, here he plays a gang leader with snow white hair hence his name is...wait for it...Snow. Drago doesn't have a huge part, in fact its a bit of a nondescript part really as it wouldn't make any difference if his character was taken out. But Drago emits such an air of utter coolness that I can fully understand why Wenk would cast him even for a bit part.
'I'm in the mood for love...simply because they're naked'
The shock casting (even for the time) was Grace Jones as the head (ancient Egyptian) vampiress. Although she had starred in a couple big movies prior to this film she was still seen as more of a model/dancer/singer rather than an out and out actress. I do think Wenk cast her as more of an attraction for the audience, a quirky hook or lure to get more bums on seats. Despite that she does do a really good job even though she hardly says a thing, her role is virtually mute accept for grunts, scowls, stares and howling laughter...right up Jones alley then. But in the looks department Jones appears every bit the sultry sexy lethal vampire with that strange red wig of hair and bizarre body jewelry that gives off a very sensual vibe which is kinda hard to explain why its sensual...it just is.
I simply can't not talk about the musical score in this movie. Wow! does this score really add another level to the film, it really lifts everything. For starters Grace Jones uses a track of her own for the stripper sequence where she is covered in white body paint. This sequence is an iconic moment in the movie not only for Jones extraordinary performance which is both highly erotic and mesmerizing, but the musical score which plays at the same time is truly unique and also hypnotically beautiful.
Back in the day I remember this movie being a bit of video nasty or simply a naughty adult movie merely down to the fact there is plenty of stripper ass on show. The girls walk around in bondage gear and thongs bearing all which is...I guess realistic, obviously sexy and yet it also adds to the general unease in the atmosphere (kinda). Of course the other iconic moment (yes there is actually two) is when Grace Jones seduces and attacks Rusler in her dingy room which had all us kids wetting our pants with excitement, fear and simple intrigue (those that were lucky enough to see the movie behind our parents back). I think this scene is easily one of the most erotic sequences in modern cinema, even when Jones vampiress finally drains Rusler out its still very erotic.
The scene also displayed some of the well created hands-on makeup effects and prosthetics. By today's standards of course its nothing special as we've all seen this type of thing a billion times before now. But back in the day it was quite terrifying to see Grace Jones change from this sexy metal spiral bra clad stripper to a hideous bald monster with these huge fangs and teeth (not to mention her long ugly finger and toe nails). The other female vamps are all made up in similar fashion and they are all quite horrific looking with their glaring contact lenses and mutated faces. So yes despite the fact all the vampires are clad in tight thongs with firm bodies you don't really want one transforming and sucking on your throat...or maybe you do, I had to think hard.
Wenk and his crew really do a great job in making the stripper club look incredibly grimy, dark, dirty and utterly unwholesome overall (seedy is the best word but I can't keep using it). What is really impressive is a lot of this is purely down to the excellent use of lighting. You can see the set wasn't huge and neither was the budget but they manage to make the club look bigger and better than it clearly was, strategic shadows everywhere. At the same time the world outside the club is also brilliantly realised again through the use of obscure lighting (mainly using greens and pinks), and the cliched stereotypical visuals you'd expect like dark alleys, trashcans everywhere, rundown stores, rubbish blowing around, graffiti, bums hanging around etc...I know the lighting colour palette sounds really peculiar but it does work wonders giving this dead end part of town a really sinister ambience. Add to this some wonderful camera work with low angles, Dutch angles, off kilter angles etc...every trick in the book to give this little world a freakish unearthly appearance.
Admittedly the finale does get a bit overblown if you can even say that. The movie does slightly turn from a comedy horror into more of a comedy action horror as Makepeace and Pfeiffer (Michelle's unknown sister) run around shooting vamps with arrows. But again I can't deny the final moment for Jones vampiress is a classic moment of good old fashioned traditional practical effects. The movie offers everything an 80's horror fan could ever want, its jam packed with all the conventional tricks of the trade and visual moments that we have all come to expect from the vampire genre. The blend of utter cheesiness, adult humour, gallows humour, blood, gore and lots of tits n ass all combine to give you a rip-roaring adventure through the underbelly of this vampire world. People say that 'Fright Night' 'An American Werewolf' and 'The Lost Boys' are the best 80's horror flicks...and they are very good yes, but for me Richard Wenk's sordid sleazy tawdry vampire thriller is by far the best 80's trashfest to come along.
If nothing else, films like 'Eaten Alive' and 'Vamp' with their overriding influences to Tarantino represent important springboards. Regardless of the 'From Dusk Til Dawn' connection, 'Vamp' begins as a sublime hybrid of frat boy chemistry (the hanging hazing opening is a good misdirection) and vampire seduction, but it soon meanders aimlessly. One can accurately indicate when the film derails, it's after Robert Rusler departs midway through the film and the pink-neon lighting of a Joel Schumacher 'Batman' film becomes more incandescent. The androgynous Grace Jones is a rapturous creature in her Kabuki theater makeup and slender body, but she is hardly present until the deus ex machina finale. Additionally the puerile one-liners of a freshly vampiric Rusler is pure shtick ("I can work on this. Ever heard of night class?").
Fun cult horror from the 80s about a couple of frat boys who travel to a seedy stripclub with the aim of enticing one of their performers back to their college campus to impress the guys. Unknowingly to them, the club and surrounding area is full of vampires. It's limited with what it has to offer but it's energenic, fast-paced and quite amusing. The Vamp make-up effects and nicely done with Grace Jones looking terrifying with and without her vampiric appearance. Must-see for fans of 80s vampire films like Fright Night and The Lost Boys.
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