Vamp (1986) Movie Review

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Arrow Video continue to endear themselves to all fans of cult and old school horror with yet another gem of a release in the slinky form of the 80s bloodsucker “Vamp”. Infamous mainly for its starring the one and only Grace Jones, one of the most terrifying creatures every to stalk the planet, in the lead, the film is a strange and somewhat obscure, though very welcome choice for the re-release treatment. The film is definitely one to stir memories of anyone who spent many of their formative years trawling video shops for genre fun, with an awesome cast that includes Chris Makepeace (“Meatballs”), Robert Rusler (“Nightmare on Elm St 2”), Dedee Pfeiffer (“House 3: the Horror Show”) and Sandy Baron (“Leprechaun 2”), not to mention sinister character actor Billy Drago.

As usual, Arrow have pulled out all the stops, with the usual gorgeous custom DVD box art and collector’s booklet, and an amazingly comprehensive set of special features spread across a couple of discs, packing in more information on the film than most people would have thought was possible. The extras are likely to be a real treasure trove for fans not only of the film, but of 80s trash in general, with commentary and an introduction from Robert Rusler, interviews with Dedee Pfeiffer and others, and a series of features with director Richard Wenk, including his short film Dracula Bites the Big Apple”.

The plot is classic stuff, following fraternity pledges Keith (Makepeace) and AJ (Rusler), as they travel to the seedy side of town to try and hire a stripper for a college party. Unfortunately for them, the dive they end up in, run by the sleazy yet oddly philosophical Vic (Baron), just happens to be populated by dancers with long sharp teeth and a thirst for blood. After a jaw dropping performance by the frighteningly impressive Katrina (Jones), AJ decides to head backstage to solicit her services for the frat party, while Keith runs into an old flame (Pfeiffer) who he can’t seem to quite remember. Soon enough they uncover out the club’s dreadful secret, and find themselves embroiled in a desperate struggle with the semi-clothed undead.

“Vamp” has pretty much everything an 80s genre fan could ask for – frat pranks, strippers, cringe-worthy racial stereotypes and a hilariously outdated sense of cool. The film is the genuine article and a real throwback in the best sense of the word, likely to bring a tear to the eye of older viewers with fond memories of those heady, carefree days of wacky excess. As well as the iconic cast, the film really does have the quintessential feel of a film from the period, and though it’s going a bit far to push it as a nostalgia piece, it definitely hits all the right notes. In general cinematic terms, the film is somewhat of a surprise, with a really weird, lurid look that stands out even from its peers. Wenk gives the proceedings a very individual, almost art house feel, with a truly bizarre choice of colours, saturating almost every frame with bright greens and pinks, and drenching the viewer with near-offensive levels of neon. Though this probably sounds nauseating, it actually works very well, and gives the film’s strip club set, where almost all the action takes place, a near other-worldly, theatrical air. The production values are above average for the form, and the film never feels cheap or even particularly cheesy.

Wenk’s greatest achievement here is the way that the film marries the often uncomfortable bedfellows of horror and humour, successfully mixing frights, gore and the kind of low-brow college gags so popular at the time. The film is genuinely funny in places, and really benefits from the fact that both Keith and AJ are basically quite likeable guys, rather than the kind of grating assholes who have sunk many a similar outing. Makepeace and Rusler make for an appealing pairing, with plenty of banter between the two, not to mention a definite suggestion of something a little more than bromance going on, at least for those viewers prone to reading subtext. Though Wenk never really produces any nerve-shredding scares, the special effects are good, and the film packs in a reasonable amount of grue and splatter, with some decent set pieces and a few instances of genuinely impressive vampire makeup.

All of this should make “Vamp” pretty much irresistible to 80s horror fans, and with such a fine set of special features it stands as a real must-buy. The film certainly deserves to be better known than it is, and is a great reminder of how much fun the genre used to be.

Richard Wenk (director) / Donald P. Borchers, Richard Wenk (screenplay)
CAST: Chris Makepeace … Keith
Sandy Baron … Vic
Robert Rusler … AJ
Dedee Pfeiffer … Amaretto
Gedde Watanabe … Duncan
Grace Jones … Katrina
Billy Drago … Snow


Buy Vamp on DVD

Author: James Mudge

James is a Scottish writer based in London. He is one of BeyondHollywood.com’s oldest tenured movie reviewer, specializing in all forms of cinema from the Asian continent, as well as the angst-strewn world of independent cinema and the plasma-filled caverns of the horror genre. James can be reached at jamesmudge (at) btinternet.com, preferably with offers of free drinks.
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