DVD Review: Vamp (1986)

Vamp BR CoverDistributor: Arrow Video

BBFC Classification: 18

Director: Richard Wenk

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

When two fraternity pledges venture off into the big city to hire the services of a stripper to hopefully assist their application and entertain their new college friends, things take a turn for the worst when they enter the world of the After Dark Club and the nest of vampires that dwell within. Ever had one of those nights…?

Now30 years old, Vamp remains one of the most stylish and undervalued vampire movies of the era and possibly of all time. Sandwiched in between the teenage angst of Tom Holland’s Fright Night and Joel Schumacher’s The Lost Boys, and also a year before Katherine Bigelow’s Near Dark dropped the traditional vampire tropes and glossy production values in favour of something more gritty and ‘real’, Vamp was marketed as a vehicle for Grace Jones, then fresh from her iconic role in A View To A Kill and occupying that space that new and slightly strange talents often do when studios want to put them in everything but don’t quite know which roles are most suitable. A vampire movie set in a seedy strip club sounds like the ideal place for Jones and her bizarre mannerisms but although she is the face on the movie poster and her erotic dance is supposedly a centrepiece for the movie, it’s the comedy element and the other actors who have much more to do that makes the film so much fun.

Much of this fun is down to the pairing of Chris Makepeace (Meatballs) and Robert Rusler (A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge) as Keith and AJ respectively, the two pledges desperate to hire the services of an exotic dancer for the evening. As characters Keith and AJ are fairly generic – Keith is the sensible one while AJ is the wisecracking cool one – but both actors have such an authentic and likeable rapport that every interaction is like watching your favourite double act doing a routine. Even when Duncan (Gedde Watanabe – Sixteen Candles), the college rich kid who rents them a car in turn for pretending to be his friends for a week, joins them on their night out the wisecracks keep on coming, proving that three isn’t always a crowd and can often help lift the script into something joyous to listen to.

But it isn’t just the three lads on a night out who carry the charm as most of the supporting cast manage to create some memorable characters, most notably Sandy Baron (Sid & Nancy) as Vic, the manager of the After Dark Club who serves his mistress Katrina (Grace Jones) by supplying her with victims but dreams of moving the operation to Las Vegas, where they apparently have more class. Dedee Pfeiffer plays Allison, a waitress in the club who remembers Keith from when they were at high school together but he does not remember her, and although she is initially a bit of an annoyance due to her overly bubbly personality, by the end of the film she comes good, despite Keith’s ongoing suspicions about her. Also memorable but slightly underused is Billy Drago (The Hills Have Eyes/Children of the Corn: Genesis), whose appearance alone gives him a pass to appear in any horror movie you like but on this occasion somebody decided to cover him in bleach and make him an albino gang member, and he’s more terrifying than the vampires. He is only in a couple of scenes and his character isn’t massively important to the story but his presence is felt when he does appear, adding a little bit of intimidation amongst the goofy goings-on with Vic and his minions.

This re-issue from Arrow Video comes with no audio commentaries but does contain a brand new documentary featuring interviews with director Richard Wenk, actors Chris Makepeace, Robert Rusler, Gedde Watanabe, Billy Drago and Dedee Pfeiffer and cinematographer Elliot Davis, whose idea of lighting everything in neon  pinks and greens gave the film a unique look amongst the other vampire movies of the time and his use of Dutch angles helps keep the other-worldly vibe going in the rare moments when not a lot is happening. The picture quality itself is pretty flawless and those neon colours have never looked so vibrant, and if you haven’t seen the film since its original VHS release then you’re sure to notice things that you’ve never seen before (such as the crew member’s hand operating a skeleton arm near the end of the film, which had been cropped out of some previous releases).

Overall, Vamp is terrific fun and hugely entertaining but don’t make the mistake of calling it a Grace Jones movie as she doesn’t really have that much to do with the plot. When she is on the screen it is true to say that your eyes will always be drawn to her as she does cut quite a figure but, as with most of the films she was in at the time – her role in Bond excepted – there is the sense that nobody quite knew what to do with her once she had signed on to do the picture. However, there is enough going on without her keeping quiet and looking mysterious that you won’t mind that she doesn’t really take centre stage, and with a near-perfect blend of witty one-liners, ’80s camp and gruesome gore Vamp is one seriously underrated gem in need of rediscovery. What better time than on its 30th anniversary?

Vamp

Special Features: One of Those Nights: The Making of Vamp documentary featuring interviews with director Richard Wenk, stars Robert Rusler, Dedee Pfeiffer and Gedde Watanabe, behind-the-scenes rehearsals, blooper reel, image gallery, Dracula Bites the Big Apple short film, reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by the Twins of Evil, booklet featuring new writing on the film by critic Cullen Gallagher (first pressing only).

UK Release Date: 3rd October 2016

Arrow Films Website

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