reviews have covered some of my opinions on vampires.
Mainly, that Iím amused by the Goth-chic of the beautiful
damned, particularly by those who think it would be nice and interesting
to wallow in their self-pity and murder for eternity (or at least until
they catch a sunrise). I
even wrote a vampire novel which spends a lot of time on the twin themes
of loneliness and boredom, which would most likely be a general
side-effect of any immortality, not just that which is granted by
bloodsucking. Though not
all bloodsucking grants immortality, mind you; a few folks I know would
be insufferable if they were going to be around forever.
something primal and visceral in using blood as the transferring medium,
of course, and thatís why vampirism is
effective as a horror trope. Further, the whole process can be seen as erotic, which will
always be a big selling point with humanity, even though there is no
protection from the transfer of fluids with vampires; that would rather
defeat the purpose, I suppose.
any case, so there have been innumerable vampire movies, some blatant
and some subtle. Most give
some nods to a vampireís great physical capabilities; presumably,
becoming an undead predator increases your predatory capabilities.
But few treat it so interestingly as the John Landis movie, Innocent Blood.
canít help liking Landis. Heís
a tall, gawky guy with glasses and a beard to cover up what is probably
a weak chin. Weak chins
arenít bad, in my view, but people who judge by appearance tend not to
like them, and in Hollywood, thatís everybody, so by all means, grow a
beard. Anyway, back to
Landis. Heís a quirky
guy, with a love for the macabre. Just
look at An
American Werewolf in
London, with the dead people talking to our lycanthropic hero.
Or the Thriller video,
with that creepy Michael Jackson. And
then he turns into a dancing zombie, andÖ oh, and then Landis tickled
Mikeís foot on camera, in the making-of special.
Thatís just wrong. But the point is, Landis does horror with a touch of the
absurd, which is pretty much how Iíd do it.
Actually, Iíd probably end up crossing Raising Arizona with Dawn of
the Dead; has anybody heard of a screwball zombie comedy besides Dead
Alive? Sorry, back to Landis.
got the absurd in him, thatís for sure.
Many of his comedies make good use of ridiculous situations
played straight by the actors to produce laughs with the audience.
So when he finally decided to do a vampire movie, I was pleased.
I can recall seeing this film on opening night (I used to do that
a lot when I lived in Florida, though itís no longer worthwhile to do
so in Chicago; the hassles outweigh the benefits).
I recall being wowed by it (well, maybe not wowed, but I
certainly had fun with it), but perhaps I was the only one in my group.
Everybody else seemed to like it, but not as much as me.
So thatís usually an indication that it belongs here; I feel
the same things about Buckaroo
and Martians Go Home.
one of those fun movies that takes one genre and mixes in a vampire.
An example of this phenomenon might be Near
Dark, which is The Wild One
or Deliverance with vampires.
Deliverance might be a bit
strong, but itís certainly not quite a Western.
The Alien series has
elements of vampirism (incubating the young in a human body, thereby
turning a person into a monster, amid all the blood, etc.), and numerous
more blatant space vampires have been presented to us. This particular film takes the mob movie and sees what would
happen if you put some vampires into it.
picks up in Pittsburgh, the city of brotherly love.
No, wait, thatís Philly. Pittsburgh
is the city ofÖ anyone? Anyone?
I dunno. We are
introduced to our lead vampire, Marie (French model Anne Parillaud, also
from La Femme Nikita, the
original movie. Note how
nobody made a TV series out of the shot-by-shot knockoff), who lives in
a room filled with candles. Donít
people know thatís a fire hazard?
I can understand a few candles, but when you have hundreds,
covering every surface, not only do you have to make sure youíve got
the long-burning type, but you have to go and light all of them. Some rooms, that takes a lighter on a pole and about an hour,
just to get a bunch of tiny open flames.
A candle-filled room seems like it would be hot and somewhat
lacking in oxygen. Flames
do that, you know. But
anyway, she has a nice little voice-over that sets her up as a
protagonist. She is okay
with her existence, mostly (excepting fits of conscience), but thatís
largely because she limits her choice of food to those who essentially
deserve it. Besides, it
gives her the means to hide the results of her eating.
know, Iím glad the French are so comfortable with their bodies. But back to the movie.
we get a bit inside the Philly mob.
Tony (Chazz Palminteri) and Joe (Anthony LaPaglia) accompany some
mook to a sit-down meeting with Sal ďThe SharkĒ Macelli (Robert
Loggia). Sal is a mob kingpin, naturally, who has just secured a
rivalís territory. The
meeting doesnít go all that well, and Joeís loyalty to the Family is
questioned. He saves a bit
of face by smashing in the window of the police surveillance van, but
itís not quite enough. He
runs into Marie, but she sees kindness in his eyes, so she lets him go.
Tony, though, she hooks up with.
She allows him to work his thuggish charm on her, then gives us a
lesson in the habits of a successful vampire.
of the neat things to do with a vampire film is to see how they
reinterpret the legends. Will
they bother with a stake in the heart?
Will they bother with mesmerism?
Will they do something else wacky?
I believe nearly everybody keeps the daylight taboo (even though Kindred
90210, I mean, Kindred: The
Embraced came up with a cheat), but other than that, itís anything
goes. Here, they pick their
limits, and they manage to stick pretty well to them, unlike some movies
(hello, John Carpenterís
Vampires, how are you?). You
have to set your rules, and stick to them.
Some movies do this well (Frighteners
is the best
one Iíve seen in a while), while most donít seem to bother. Ah, well. Regardless,
for the modern vampires, you donít need a wooden stake in the heart,
nor silver, nor crosses. Quite
simply, itís the central nervous system; disrupt the brain or the
spine, such as break the neck, and your vampire is down.
This is one of the more logical and reasonable requirements; it
does away with folklore and religious mysticism.
And the best thing is, you can easily handle it before they
awaken into undead monsters. No
muss, no fuss.
now Tony is dead, and Joe is out of luck, because now he doesnít have
a friend to vouch for him, so his real boss, U. S. District Attorney
Sinclair (Angela Bassett, who I loved in Strange
Days, regardless of the faults of that movie, otherwise) pulls him
off the street and puts him into protective custody.
Yes, Joe is an undercover cop, which is why he wouldnít murder
a man, which is why Sal distrusted him.
Ah, the tangled webs we weave.
So we get to hear a bit about the sorrows of being an undercover
cop. Ah, never mind.
His two comic-relief guards (including the reliable Luis Guzman,
from The Limey, The Cowboy Way, and others) are too occupied with the classic
monster movie on TV.
one of the things I like about this movie.
Whenever they watch TV, itís some kind of classic SF film.
Itís sort of like in Ghost Dog, when all the mobsters ever watch is cartoons, and
theyíre deadly serious about them, except there, the cartoons and
peopleís reactions seemed to be trying to make a point, whereas here,
itís just clever window dressing.
I do enjoy it, donít get me wrong; itís the kind of fanboy
detail you just have to expect from Landis.
Heís so good at that sort of thing.
any case, Sal the vindictive bastard is dead-set on wiping Joe off the
face of the planet. Of
course, even the meanest Mafia torpedo will tone it down in order to woo
a pretty woman, which happens when Marie comes calling.
As he comes on strong and slimy, she is convinced that he should
be her next meal. There are
a few moments when heís almost charming, and thereís a bit of a
moment when his choice of dinner (garlic-soaked Italian food) makes her
green around the gills (apparently, the garlic is
one of the things they decided to keep from the legends), but eventually
he pushes her too far, and she goes to town.
However, once she kills the most ruthless of the cityís
mobsters, sheís interrupted, and canít insure Sal wonít come back.
Which, naturally, means he will.
Otherwise, it would be a relatively pointless little movie.
ends up coming to the scene of the ďmurder,Ē against all better
recommendations, and itís soon thereafter that we see Marie in action
as a mature vampire in full possession of her faculties; this whole
section is heavy on the displays of vampire prowess.
There are some flubs, in my opinion, such as her climbing the
drainpipe (looks silly) or that crazy business inside the church (what
was she doing, how, and why did she never do it again?
Though I suppose all the candles made her feel at home), but on
the whole, they demonstrate her extreme capabilities extremely well.
You can do such wonderful things just by increasing the pause
between an actionís start and its finish, such as when you throw
something and when it hits. Also,
making things seem effortless is a good way to demonstrate your point
(hanging from the ceiling should not be so easy).
So we know that Marie has powers and capabilities far beyond
those of a normal French model-turned-actress.
are the kinds of things I like to see in such films. You donít have to rip peopleís heads off to show youíre
strong; you can do it in small ways that arenít as antisocial, and
thatís the choice that was made here.
In Commando, for example, Ahnuld would snap necks or hold a person over
a precipice with one hand to demonstrate his strength, while here, a bit
of wirework and foley does the same job in a much subtler, more amusing
manner. Thereís nothing
wrong with either method, but it depends on how heavy-handed you intend
to be. Being blatant is
cool on a purely superficial level, while being stealthy, working the
concept into the everyday actions of the character, makes it seem more
real. One is like a cartoon, the other seems like she lives with
her abilities. Making it
seem natural, even if itís outrageous, that makes the suspension of
disbelief needed for Speculative Fiction works like this one easier to
manage, and I appreciate the favor.
do want to say that Joe must really be a crappy policeman.
I mean, I know heís been undercover and all, but he has
forgotten basic procedures, such as securing backup (a partner, at the
least) and preservation of evidence.
With all his charging around alone in the dark, Iím surprised a
completely normal thug didnít pop out and mug him. It would have been the perfect time to have one of the mobsters
who should have been hanging around to whack him. Wait, he does have touchy reflexes at this point (for all the
good it does him), so maybe a conventional opponent wouldnít get away
unscathed. Then again,
thereís a later point where he gets waylaid fairly easily, so I think
itís just that heís reckless. A
fine undercover man you turned out to be, Joe!
we see all of this, Sal wakes up in the morgue. Frank Oz is the coroner.
Landis has this thing about casting other directors into roles in
his movies. Oz has a bit
part here, just like he had a bit part in Blues
Brothers, which also had Steven Spielberg.
Later on in this movie, Sam Raimi will make an appearance (against
the orders of his wife, who has forbidden him to act after his hamming
it up in the final scene of Evil
Dead 2, according to the commentary on the laserdisc), and Dario
Argento is there too, being all creepy, and Alfred Hitchcock manages to
make an appearance, as well. Okay,
back to the movie. Naturally,
the dead walking around is played for French farce laughs, but
eventually itís time for the mob boss to do what any mob boss would do
when faced with a situation he doesnít quite understand: he goes to
his lawyer, Manny (Don Rickles, in a rare mild-mannered character).
is really one of the good bits, where Sal starts to figure out what he
is and what he can do. With
a self-awakening, some folks might be scared of their powers, their
needs, but to a mean, ruthless shark like Sal, itís a good fit.
I mean, when youíre a bloodthirsty predator in life, itís not
all that much of a change when youíre turned into a vampire, except
you have to keep stricter hours and you canít pack in the pasta like
you used to. There are
further complications and surprises, a near-execution, and then
daybreak, when most of the main characters have to lay low.
Another good thing about being a mobster turned vampire, you have
a lot of businesses with dank basements and light-tight meat lockers. Your hired help might have difficulties with it, but hey, if
they donít like it, they can go make movies or something. I will say, however, that Loggia wins the prize for most
creative use of a rack of ribs that Iíve seen in a good long time.
People underestimate the comedy value of meat products, usually;
not so in this movie.
Marie and Joe are now teamed up in hunting down Sal (one to correct her
mistake, the other to complete his duty and prove himself), they have to
shack up for the day together, and this leads to a blossoming of their
relationship. As you might
expect after a few hundred years of existence, she has few inhibitions,
which, naturally, itís nice to see.
Iím all for womenís empowerment and equality; heck, I tend to
think women are superior to most men.
But that doesnít mean I canít enjoy an attractive female
vampire gettiní nekkid. Besides, itís not like she wasnít in control the whole
time. She may not have
mind-bending mesmerism, but she is entrancing in other ways.
At least to LaPaglia. Wait,
I mean Joe.
and we do get a chance to find out just how bad sunlight is for
vampires. Yep, that guy
blowed up real good.
So, the next night, now that heís figured himself out, Sal
starts putting his new Mafia together, and the Fearless Vampire Hunters
(or Vampire and Hunter) have to stop them.
Sal still remains the most entertaining of villains; I can just
imagine that Loggia had a great time with this role.
I mean, heís chewing the scenery and sucking it dry, all at the
same time. And his thugs
arenít as amusing, but theyíre still not bad. Thereís plenty of time for the one-liners and the simply
cool; by this point in the movie, attitude plays a large part in how
well it goes over with the audience, and all parties involved seem to
have the right kind of attitude.
whole thing builds to an action climax, soon followed by the emotional
climax, and then itís done. Much
like An American Werewolf in London,
thereís little aftermath; youíre not supposed to concern yourself
with the everyday events that must have followed; time goes on, broken
hearts mend, and life returns to normal, more or less.
Landis has never been one to leave much room for sequels; mind
you, that may not stop others from creating them, but as far as I have
been able to tell, Landis keeps his movies fairly self-contained and
independent. So I wouldnít expect to see a sequel to Innocent Blood, but if you do, itís likely to be as inept as An
Werewolf in Paris. And
thatís no joking matter.
movie is also one of the several Iíve seen that refrains from calling
vampires by that name. Near Dark doesnít bring up the V-word at all.
The other way to go would be the From
Dusk Till Dawn route, which is to say ďOkay, now I donít
believe in vampires, but what we just saw were freakiní vampires.
Can we agree that we all just saw vampires?Ē
It certainly wouldnít do to pretend like nobody ever heard of
vampires before; theyíre too much of a pop culture phenomenon at this
point for that to be at all plausible.
By either not bringing the name into it, or dealing with it
frankly, thatís about the best way you can do it.
Blood-drinking immortal super-people with an allergy to sunlight
are definitely vampires, and everybody knows it, even if they donít
want to say the name for fear of being considered crazy.
why the two, count Ďem, two Hoffs?
Itís a fun little movie, well-acted and obviously
well-thought-out, but letís face it, it was slightly cheesy
(intentionally, I think), and it really didnít have all that much sex
appeal for the female audience. I mean, sure, LaPaglia has a certain charm, but itís really
the guys who get rewarded the most in this film.
The Divine Mr. H. would help reverse that trend, and if he could
say his Knight Rider and Baywatch
lines with a straight face, he could certainly handle the demands of
this script. Why, oh, why wonít Hollywood let the man have his due?
If youíre in the mood for a funny little vampire flick with
about medium to low blood levels (relative scale), this is the one for
you. If you thought Dumb
and Dumber or The Waterboy were the epitome of comedy, then the humor might be a
bit too subtle for you, but thereís always nekkid vampires.