Vamp (1986, 1 hr 33 mins)
I’ve been sick for far too long. Hacking, coughing, and low-grade fevers have me yearning for perfect health like, say….a Vamp? Is there any other way to make myself feel better than a dose of immortality a la Grace Jones? I vaguely remember this movie when it was first run in 1986, but when my good friend “T-Bone” loaned me her copy a while ago, I had to get my own. I mean, Grace Jones as a vampire?! Too good to pass up! Well before From Dusk Till Dawn, Vamp‘s menacing stripper vampires serves up a large helping of classic ’80’s horror fare with a side of cheese.
This ridiculous story starts with 2 frat house pledges, Keith (Chris Makepeace) and A. J. (Robert Rusler) as they swindle themselves out of a botched pledging ceremony by offering to throw their future brothers a party they would never forget. That would of course involve a stripper, and after striking out with gals in A.J.’s black book, the guys enlist rich dork Duncan (Gedde Watanabe) and his car to go on a stripper quest.
They end up on the wrong side of town that gets suspiciously quiet after dark. Unless you are a gang of intimidating albinos lead by Snow (Billy Drago), or some loser regulars at the aptly named After Dark Club, which is where the boys intend to enlist one of the nubile ladies for their party. They get eyefuls of lady parts, and are virtually mesmerized by Katrina (Grace Jones), the star performer. A. J. feels this is their woman, and goes off for a private meeting to charm her into coming back to the frat house party. Keith meets a girl called Amaretto/Allison (Deedee Pfeiffer) from his past, but is preoccupied when A. J. goes missing, and becomes suspicious when sinister goings-on reveal the true intentions of the club and its bloodthirsty staff.
Sorry man, but I’m biased. I loved this movie. Yes, there were a few problems, like a couple overly long scenes and some lame jokes, but this movie took me back to my teen years. First, I must mention Grace Jones’ bizarre stripper routine. She sported incredible kabuki-esque makeup, a red wig, and writhed on a man-throne creation by legendary ’80’s artist Keith Haring, who also did her body makeup. I feel like this scene alone was iconic as she was lithe, stunning and terrifying all at once. Her only utterances were maniacal laughter or demonic growls throughout the entire movie. Definitely one of the best vamps ever. Her seduction scene with A. J. was one of the hottest, cringe-worthy moments as well. I also loved the music, ’cause it doesn’t get more ’80’s than this! And with an orginial song “Vamp” sung by Jones herself, it’s just one more treat for us.
When watching the credits roll, I almost fell over! It read like a who’s who of the era. Along with Haring, Jones’ costumes were made by Azzedine Alaïa and Issey Miyake. Oh yes, and ANDY WARHOL as a contributing artist?! Did I read that right? Wow!! I shouldn’t be surprised, as Miss Jones was, and still, is a muse and friend to many artists and fashion designers around the world. Try to look around Katrina’s dressing room to catch glimpses of not only Warhol’s art, but sketches from fashion illustrator Antonio Lopez and Richard Bernstein’s iconic image of Jones. I would bet good money that all the artwork came from her personal collection, and that she has the Keith Haring man-throne in her living room to this day.
Another honorable mention goes to Vic, played by Sandy Baron. This veteran actor, who played Jack Klompus on Seinfeld, really brought out the creepy as the club manager and Katrina’s faithful lackey. I loved his crusty, Brooklyn accent and yearning to get to Vegas (I mean, who doesn’t want to go to Vegas?), where there was sure to be fresh blood. He had the perfect blend of menace and comedy in his toothy grin. One of my favourite ’80’s actors, Gedde Watanabe as the nerdy Duncan was great too. Although the character was rich and Asian, at least he didn’t have a heavy stereotypical accent. Duncan was a dude who just wanted to hang out with the guys. Of course Chris Makepeace was a treat to see as well. He represents the era for me to a T. Eternally fresh-faced, our unlikely hero ran through sewers, fought albinos, and rescued his friends, all in one night.
O.k., so here is a list of the mild annoyances I found in this film. The weird neon lighting started to wear on me. Pink, red, green, and a combination of all three in literally every scene. Of course the film was set in a bad part of town, at night, in a strip club, but I felt the lighting was overkill. Dedee Pfeiffer’s character Allison, was annoying. Bubbly and shrill all at once, her mysterious ditzyiness was too transparent of a ruse for me. But I wanted her zebra print coat. I could totally rock that. Also, even though the cast was richly multicultural, they were, in the end, a bunch of strippers. Jones’ character did have a position of power as an Egyptian Queen of the Vampires, and their role was to lure their literal meal tickets the easiest way they could. So if you can get past the objectification of women, which wasn’t overly offensive, and take it for the classic ’80’s romp it is, then you’ll be o.k. Lastly, I’m not sure what purpose the albino gang had. Did we really need two antagonists? Although I loved seeing Billy Drago in that weird get-up, their scenes seemed drawn out. And speaking of drawn out scenes, the final confrontation between Keith and Katrina the Vampire Queen will elicit a loud groan at the cheap 80’s humour.
If you buy the dvd, the extras are well worth a watch. There is a really fun and silly short film Dracula Bites the Big Apple by director Richard Wenk which was the inspiration for Vamp, bloopers, and weird rehearsal footage that showed Grace Jones and Wenk going over the seduction/feeding scene. Let me tell you, I don’t know who was having more fun, Jones attacking Wenk, or Wenk being gnawed on by Jones!
If you were an ’80’s nerd like me, and still are, like me, I highly recommend a trip down memory lane with Vamp to watch pop icon Grace Jones do her thing as one of the best vampires out there!