Reviewed by Gareth Jones
Directed by Richard Wenk
Starring Chris Makepeace, Robert Rusler, Dedee Pfeiffer
Distributed by Arrow Video
Back in the glory days of big-box VHS horror releases turning local video rental stores into veritable galleries of eye-popping pulp art, one title would always leap from the shelf: Richard Wenk’s black comedy-horror romp Vamp. Now, in their seemingly never-ending quest to provide maximum love to otherwise lost and forgotten classics, the UK’s Arrow Video breathe new life into the flick with a restored 2-disc set literally bursting with special features.
For those unfamiliar with the flick itself, Vamp follows collegiate best friends Keith and AJ (Makepeace and Rusler, respectively). As pledges for their fraternity, the smart-talking AJ agrees that their entry task shall be sourcing a stripper for a frat party so, accompanied by the annoying Duncan (Gedde Watanabe), they head off to a seedy downtown strip club to hire the night’s entertainment.
Car trouble and a run-in with an albino biker gang prove to be the least of their worries, however, when the employees of the club are revealed to be vampires ruled by the hypnotic Katrina (Grace Jones). With AJ gone AWOL, Keith enlists the help of waitress Amaretto (Dedee Pfeiffer) – seemingly the only human staff member – who also has an amorous eye for him since a tryst in years past that he just can’t quite remember.
Vamp is very much a product of the 1980s, almost quintessentially representative of the era’s comedic horror output. Surprisingly light on violence and gore, save for a couple of bloodier moments, it’s also (some might say criminally) lacking in nudity for a film set in a strip club. Rather than focus on these elements, or even on stronger scares and horror, director Wenk instead fashions a somewhat lighthearted adventure-cum-buddy-movie with an EC Comics vibe. The cast are great across the board, including a slimy appearance by everyone’s favourite cameo-junkie, Billy Drago. Leads Makepeace and Rusler’s friendship is effortlessly convincing, Watanabe’s Duncan a lovable idiot, and Dedee Pfeiffer just spot on as the bubbly young heroine. Of course, nobody can forget the iconic superstar Grace Jones and her rather… interpretative strip scene that forms the centrepiece of the flick.
The trappings of the era are evident not only in the music, production design, fashion (Jones’ costumes, especially!) and hairstyles, but in the visuals too – presented in a consistently garish illumination of green and pink. The film carries a fun, flippant tone and irreverent attitude the like of which is very rarely tackled with such fervour anymore. Unfortunately, unlike some of its cousins – such as the wildly successful Fright Night – this attitude never really gels completely with the proceedings of the narrative, leaving Vamp a rather uneven, but not completely dissatisfying, experience.
You only need glance at the special features list below this text to see just how much sheer love Arrow have poured over this release. The film itself looks and sounds fantastic, boasting the best transfer of Vamp that you’re likely to see outside of any potential high-def update. It isn’t as mind-blowing as their previous Street Trash offering, but it’s definitely up there. The first disc in the set includes the film, the theatrical trailer, and a commentary track by lead actor Robert Rusler and UK critic/journalist Calum Waddell. Running like an extended interview, Waddell moderates well in between Rusler’s own offerings of anecdotes and memories. It’s a fun track as Rusler proves a likable, humorous guy.
The second disc contains a smorgasbord of material from extensive interviews with Pfeiffer (almost 30 minutes long), director Wenk and producer Donald P. Borchers; a look through Wenk’s personal scrapbook of Vamp memorabilia such as on-set Polaroid photographs and newspaper clippings from the time of release; and behind-the-scenes rehearsal and blooper footage to an early short film of Wenk’s entitled Dracula Bites the Big Apple – which I found particularly enjoyable in a goofy sort of way as a bumbling 70s Count Dracula moves from Transylvania to New York to – ahem – enjoy the nightlife, as it were.
It’s an incredible amount of material to have dredged up for what is, undeniably, a niche release, so it’s even more mind-blowing when you take into account the physical extras also provided here. Punters get four – FOUR – differing options of sleeve artwork, all of which are excellent (and can be seen below along with at the beginning of this review); a fold-out poster, and a collector’s booklet written by Jay Slater (the last photo below). The booklet wasn’t included in the press pack so can’t be commented on, but seriously… would anyone ever expect a package like this for an 80s underdog such as Vamp? Arrow’s devotion to the genre is impeccable, and unmatched; and for that they deserve the utmost respect and an easy five knives for the special features.
3 out of 5
5 out of 5