With horror industry heavy hitters already in place from the 1970s, the 1980s built upon that with the rise of brilliant minds in makeup and effects artists, as well as advances in technology. Artists like Rick Baker, Rob Bottin, Alec Gillis, Tom Woodruff Jr., Tom Savini, Stan Winston, and countless other artists that delivered groundbreaking, mind-blowing practical effects that ushered in the pre-CGI Golden Age of Cinema. Which meant a glorious glut of creatures in horror. More than just a technical marvel, the creatures on display in ‘80s horror meant tangible texture that still holds up decades later. Grotesque slimy skin to brutal transformation sequences, there wasn’t anything the artists couldn’t create. It Came From the ‘80s is a series that will pay homage to the monstrous, deadly, and often slimy creatures that made the ‘80s such a fantastic decade in horror.
Poor Robert Rusler. One year after stealing scenes as the smart-mouthed Ron Grady in A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge, only to get dispatched shortly after starting up a bromance with lead character Jesse (Mark Patton), he suffers a near identical fate in horror comedy Vamp. In it, he plays A.J., the lifelong best friend of Keith (Chris Makepeace). Keith and A.J. are smack in the middle of fraternity pledge week, and to escape the hazing ritual, A.J. promises to deliver anything the fraternity’s heart may desire. In this case, it’s strippers. So, off to the scary big city the best friends go, with fellow college student Duncan (Gedde Watanabe) at the wheel. Using sleazy newspaper ads to find their strippers, they wind up at a dive strip club that happens also function as a cover for nightly vampire feeding frenzies.
If that sounds familiar at all, it might be because Vamp has often been considered an influence for From Dusk till Dawn, released a decade later. Both begin and hinge with the chemistry between its two brother-like lead characters, both wind up in vampiric strip clubs, both feature a very magnetic dance performance by the lead vampire (Selma Hayek in From Dusk till Dawn and Grace Jones in Vamp), and in both films one brother falls victim to that lead vampire pretty early on in the story, resulting in a survive the night nightmare for the other. Both even rely heavily on humor, but the similarities end there. Vamp places its emphasis on the comedy side of this horror comedy, and isn’t just relegated to the strip club setting post vampire reveal.
Against a crumbling urban landscape washed in pink and green fluorescents, Vamp seems to be making a case for the dangers of the city in a decade where horror mostly turned its focus on suburbia. As Keith and his surviving friends flee the club into the night, it’s not just the vampires that pose danger, but seedy characters like Snow (Billy Drago) and his gang. Of course, vampires are the apex predator here. For the most part, these vamps are straightforward with contact lenses and vampire teeth prosthetics. Occasionally, though, they get a bit more monstrous.
The special makeup effects were handled by Greg Cannom, who did such an effective job that he was tapped to handle prosthetic effects on The Lost Boys. It was his design work on the vampire contact lenses in particular that lead to his work on The Lost Boys, but he intentionally designed a different look not wanting to be repetitive. Though Cannom has an extensive list of credits and won an Oscar for Best Achievement in Makeup on The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Cannom is a vampire expert. He was also the special makeup creator for two of the vampiric characters in Fright Night Part 2, worked on special makeup effects for Subspecies, and earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Makeup for his work on Bram Stoker’s Dracula.
Glimpses of Cannom’s future Academy Award distinguished work can be scene in the film’s big bad, Grace Jones’ Katrina. Katrina is mesmerizing thanks to Jones’ force of nature personality (watch the making of feature on Arrow Films’ Blu-ray release for some insane stories about Jones behind the scenes). Katrina doesn’t even speak a single line in the entire film, and yet she’s one of the decades most compelling villains. It’s when Katrina goes on the attack that Cannom subtly transforms her from alluring eccentric to full-blown beast, her nose more aligned with a bat to complement her large double fangs.
Vamp is an underseen horror comedy that definitely looks and feels of its time. But the vampires are well done, and Jones is an amazing villain. Moreover, the chemistry between Makepeace and Rusler is great, and the twists their friendship takes in the film gives a little more depth. Some aspects of Vamp may be aged, but its sense of fun remains timeless.