Innocent Blood

Director: John Landis

USA - 1992

  Hoff! Hoff! 

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Vampires!  My favorite!

Previous 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.

Thereís something primal and visceral in using blood as the transferring medium, of course, and thatís why vampirism isIs this the face of a killer?  Surely not! 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.

In 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.

I 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.

Heís 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 Banzai and Martians Go Home.

Innocent Blood is 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.  Okay,"These?  Nah, I'd never do a commercial for these.  Now, breakfast cereal, that's where the money is..." 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.

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.

You know, Iím glad the French are so comfortable with their bodies.  But back to the movie.

Then 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.

One 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 "Um, you're French, aren't you?"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.

So 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.

Thatís 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.

In 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"This guy is the most attractive guy in the world!" 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.

Joe 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.

These 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.

I 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 See what a big role in a Tom Hanks picture will get you?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!

While 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).

This 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.

As 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 femaleNinety-eight...Ninety-nine...Just about ready for Cape Fear... 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.

Oh, and we do get a chance to find out just how bad sunlight is for vampires.  Yep, that guy blowed up real good.

Anyway.  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. 

The 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 American Werewolf in Paris.  And thatís no joking matter.

This 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 doNever, never, never do this with your cadaver.nít 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.

So 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?

Anyway.  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.

You've looked better, Mr. Loggia.

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These are the times of which to cherish...


- Them crazy glowiní eyes!  Yeah, itís representative of emotional states, okay, we get it, but other than a neat effect, whatís the point?

- Ainít nothing like them musical cues.  He did all he could do with ďmoonĒ and ďwolfĒ songs in An American Werewolf in London, and Landis does the same thing here, as best he can.  ďIíve got you under my skin,Ē indeed.  Music is a weapon, people, donít ever forget that!

- Our cute little charming killer.  Boy, she can crunch up your car and snap your vertebrae, but when men come up to her, cops or mobsters, she can just put on the charm, and sheís got them wrapped around her little talon.  No need for hypnotism when youíre just plain attractive; his brains lose too much blood and heís that much easier to manipulate.  Ainít that just like a man.

- What makes a good bedroom?  Meat locker!  What makes a good pillow?  Meat!  Love them mobsters!

"It's for a charcoal commercial.  Got a problem with that?"

Loggiaís braggadocio to the very last.  If anyone has the chutzpah to pull off tough-guy egotism while on fire, itís him.

- Whiny tough guy LaPaglia.  Actually, I kind of prefer my heroes with feet of clay; accident-prone Jackie Chan over invulnerable Schwarzenegger.  So his reactions in the face of super-strong, super-fast lady vampire are amusing to me; he knows heís outclassed, but he canít stop chasing her, or his Mafia target.  I really do like that kind of ďwhat the hell am I supposed to do nowĒ kind of expression he often had on his face.  Well done, Anthony.  Unless, of course, that was your reaction to the script.

- The credits.  Wow, they credit the actors in the film clips they showed!  Itís been a while since Bela got a fresh film credit.  And Linnea Quigley is there (I last saw her in our laserdisc of Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers).  Boy, with all the name-dropping, itís just like the end of Wizard of Oz.  ďAnd you were there, and you, and youÖ!Ē  Or the end of Fist Full of Yen.  ďThat was a dream of great magnitude!Ē  You also find out that Forrest Ackerman is in this film.  Why, dear God, why?  Just let the man make a career on his own merits, stop putting him in films as an in-joke!

 

 

 

-- Copyright © 2000 by E. Mark Mitchell


 

 

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