1986’s Vamp is a forgotten relic from an era when horror-comedy reigned supreme. Arriving a year after the much-beloved Fright Night, this similarly campy sex comedy attempted to capture the same lightning in a bottle––the vampiric seduction, the thumping soundtrack, the dry wit––but even as Fright Night continues to enjoy midnight screenings and regular cable broadcasts, Vamp can be primarily found in your local DVD bargain bin.
So what makes Vamp so inferior to 80’s horror-comedy classics like Re-Animator or Return of the Living Dead? I mean, consider the set-up, which is Grade A sex comedy gold: To be accepted into a fraternity, two college buddies are forced to drive to the big bad city of L.A to procure a stripper, so they hitch a ride into town with a rich Asian dork played by Gedde Watanabe (Sixteen Candles), only to stumble upon a strip club full of vampires. Sounds like the basic plot of From Dusk Till Dawn enhanced by the wacky comedic stylings of Long Duk Dong. Sign me up.
Once frat pledges Keith and A.J. make it to the city, they encounter a strip club that can only be found in 80s cinema, one of those joints where only a few of the girls are actually required take their clothes off. (About half the girls spend their stage time striking cat poses while clad in a full leotard.) When supermodel Grace Jones finally takes the stage and strips down to tribal paint and a spiral wire bra, A.J. declares, “Wait till the wimps at Dipsa Pi see this!”, as if her particular brand of non-sexual, Nubian gyrations are exactly what the fraternity needs to get its collective rocks off. I mean, she’s wearing a bright orange Ronald McDonald wig, for Christ’s sake. How sexy is that?
With just enough creativity going on behind the scenes, Vamp is a movie that‘s genial and likeable, but never lovable. It’s got with some fantastic (though sparingly used) make-up effects from Greg Cannom, a veteran of the industry who has worked on dozens of horror movies over the years, from Lost Boys to Blade and beyond. The use of lighting gels is exquisite, featuring a rainbow array of background colors that would make any Argento fan salivate. Horror veterans like Robert Rusler (Weird Science; Nightmare on Elm Street 2) and Dedee Pfeiffer (The Horror Show) appear in the lead roles, which adds considerably to the flick’s B-movie street cred. Vamp has the makings of an awfully good time for fans of 80s horror…too bad it completely stalls at the halfway point.
Jones is introduced as the main vampire at about 30 minutes in, but it takes the frat boys a good hour to finally get around to dispatching her. In the meantime, they soak up screen time by constantly switching locations. On the run from bloodsuckers, they flee the strip club and hit the nighttime L.A. streets. After finding brief sanctuary in the sewers, it’s back to the club. And then back to the streets again. It’s as if the movie knows that a fanged-up Grace Jones is its only attribute, and it’s completely content to have its characters run in circles until her next rare appearance. In fact, the final confrontation with Jones is so fun and exciting, you realize what a waste the previous 45 minutes have been. Why wasn’t the whole movie like this?