Monday, February 7, 2011

DVD REVIEW: Vamp (1986)

VAMP (1986) DVD
Release Date: February 21st 2011

LABEL: Arrow Video
DIRECTOR: Richard Wenk
CAST: Grace Jones, Robert Rusler, Dedee Pfeiffer, Sandy Baron
TAGLINE: The Lady is a Vamp!

PLOT: At school, getting into the right fraternity can be a matter of life or death. Keith and AJ need to hire a stripper to entertain the brothers or their college days are over. In a shady after hours joint they find an adult entertainer like no other when they step into the world of sharp-fanged Katrina. Have these two freshmen bitten off more than they can chew? Stuck on the wrong side of town, on a dark night and surrounded by a plague of alien blood suckers... The answer is definitely yes!

FILM: Typically when an Arrow Video releases something I've seen it, it's been a part of my cinematic life and I've owned it several times over and the Arrow edition is an easy upgrade due to the superior audio and visual presentations plus the amazing extras; booklet, posters, art options. In the case of BATTLE ROYALE (2000) and DEADLY OUTLAW: REKKA (2002) they were titles I've long heard about and intended on catching up with eventually and the Arrow editions just sped up my viewing of these films. Then there's VAMP (1986) a film I've seen time and time again in the used bins at my favorite haunts for years and never once have I ever had the inclination to snag it. Full disclosure: I didn't seek this out either, it's a screener but that's neither here not there. Why didn't I want to see this film initially? I think it was a combination of perceived cheese and the novelty of 80's icon Grace Jones. I think that's what made me shun this title for so long. Was it worth the wait?

Two fun-loving and very 80's fraternity pledges Keith (Chris Makepeace) and A.J. (Robert Rusler) are taking part in a ridiculously over-the-top Gothic-themed college fraternity initiation when things go awry, it's very silly stuff. The frat seems pretty lame but they want in cuz what better place to meet girls and have a blast than in the den of inequity that is a frat house and it beats living in the dorm, right? To procure their entrance into the hallowed halls of keggers A.J. promises to procure some a stripper for a party. Why, cuz it's the 80's man, that's what college kids do! Problem is the campus is located quite a distance from the city and our duo have no wheels. They hit up young college entrepreneur Duncan (Gedde Watanabe) who will let them borrow a car but only if they pretend to be his friend for a week - such an 80's conceit, love it. The trio hit the road headed for the Big Apple and find themselves at a diner where they run into a gang of hoods led by an albino Billy Drago. After a brief confrontation the trio make for the suitably sleazy After Dark Club where Vic (Sandy Baron) the doorman/MC who makes sure they have the proper credential - cash and credit cards, meeting his criteria they are allowed in. Once inside they meet a cocktail waitress named Amaretto (Dedee Pfieffer) and then witness a very quirky striptease by Queen Katrina (Grace Jones) and what an avante-garde performance piece it is, not your usual titty jiggle that's for sure. Katrina comes out decked in a bright-orange fright wig, chrome brassier, piercing blue eyes, her entire face pained ghostly white and her body is painted with intricate markings. I can't say I was turned on but I was definitely weirded-out by it. After the stunning performance A.J. goes back stage to approach Katrina about stripping at the college kegger. This is when we discover that the strip club is a cover for a coven of vampires and Vic the MC is really a Vegas-style Renfield. Katrina seduces and drinks the blood of A.J.  leaving  Keith and his new found friend Amaretto to try escape the vampires or survive until dawn, whichever happens comes first.

The cover art of the previous Anchor Bay edition of Vamp featuring Grace Jone's Queen Katrina has always turned me off which is unfortunate because Vamp is a really enjoyable 80's horror comedy. Keith and A.J. exemplify the wise cracking bosom buddies of the 80's, they have great chemistry particularly Robert Rusler as Keith. He's the very likable asshole from every eighties film ever. Dedee Pfieffer as the cutesy Amaretto is an adequate love interest and Grace Jones as the exotic Queen Katrina is both sexual and frightening. I loved Sandy Baron's as the Renfield character though I think the film could have done without the character of Duncan as portrayed by Gedde Watanabe who displays none of the charm of his Long Duk Dong character from SIXTEEN CANDLES (1984) and is relegated to third-wheel Asian sidekick in a comedy here, it just didnt work for me. The humor is pure camp and borders on being satirical at times. The film definitely screams 80's with eighties music, zebra striped jackets, leggings, 80's fashions. The atmosphere is enhanced by the some garish 80's neon lighting that swaths nearly every scene in reds, green and purples. Not sure if they were going for Italian giallo feel or an EC Comics inspired visual here but it worked either way. I think the tone of the film is a bit uneven, it's comedic, then the horror ramps up and back to a comedy. It could have used a more even-handed approach bit it's still a fun watch.

DVD: Arrow Video's gives VAMP a brand new 16:9 enhanced 1.85:1 aspect ratio transfer with 2.0 mono audio which is adequate but I could not help but want for a sweet 5.1 surround sound mix if only for the filmscore. Vamp may be a 80's b-movie but Arrow have given it a generous amount of supplemental materials as well as including Arrow's great packaging extras; four panel reversible sleeve art options with new artwork and original posters, double-sided fold-out poster and a collector’s booklet written by Jay Slater critic and author of ‘Eaten Alive’.

- VAMP IT UP – Dedee Pfeiffer Remembers The After Dark Club(27:00)
Actress Dedee Pfieffer talks about the film, she's clearly affectionate about her experiences on the film, her feature film debut. She speaks about the director, her co-stars and Grace Jones plus her life after acting.
- VAMP STRIPPED BARE– An Interview with Richard Wenk (17:08)
- BACK TO THE 80's– Producing a Campy Cult Classic (21:41)
- SCRAPBOOK SCARES- Richard Wenk looks over his collection of Vamp memorabilia (8:08) Moderator Callum Wadell lokks though some scrapbooks with Wenk who apparently is an accomplished scrapbooker.
A rare look at the rehearsals for the film featuring Grace Jones and director Wenk as a stand-in for Robert Rusler. Jones is manhandling and licking and biting Wenk.
- DRACULA BITES THE BIG APPLE - short film by Richard Wenk (21:08)
This is the short film by director wank that aired on HBO and is credited with bringing him to the attention of producer Borchers, a good campy watch.

VERDICT: I sat down to watch VAMP (1987) assuming the worst and was pleasantly surprised at the film I found, an underrated campy 80's horror-comedy. It's goofy, very light-hearted and has some decent special effects. Not quite on par with FRIGHT NIGHT (1985) but in right behind it. Definitely a lower-level b-movie but with a few beers and a bowl full of popcorn this is a Hell of a watch. If you love kooky 80's horror-comedies this is for you.  *** (3 out of 5 stars)