Starring Tommy “Tiny” Lister, Glenn Plummer, Fred Williamson, Richard Roundtree, Daniel Baldwin, Rio, Fredo Starr, Bernie Casey, Alex Wilkinson, Kurupt
Directed by Fred “Hammer” Williamson
What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. Unfortunately, the plot to this movie must have been one of the things that got left in Vegas because this movie damn didn’t seem to have one. A character gets introduced an hour in and begins explaining in detail just what the hell is supposed to be going on, and even though what follows still only makes a modicum of sense, thank goodness that character came along because other than seemingly random and (for the most part) unconnected vignettes involving these characters in Vegas, eventually having run-ins with vampires, I had zero clue what the hell the point of this mess was supposed to be. All the jumping around doesn’t flow like it should in movies that balance multiple storylines that ultimately intersect and little of what happens in these vignettes ever form of a coherent narrative. Vegas Vampires is a case where the film’s title isn’t just a title – it’s also the plot synopsis.
Given the cast is predominantly African American, two icons of 1970’s blacksploitation have predominant roles; the campy tone and the rough around the edges nature of the filmmaking, there’s an unmistakable vibe emanating from the production that harkens back to the often silly blacksploitation horror flicks of that era, and a modern day blacksploitation film is what writer/director Fred “Hammer” Williamson (though I find it hard to believe that there was much to actually write) appears to have intended Vegas Vampires to be. Williamson’s enthusiasm to make the movie as such may have overridden his common sense and explain why a good portion of the film feels more like one colossal in-joke that the audience isn’t entirely in on. This is a very hard movie for me to review because the film’s narrative is such an incomprehensible mess, and yet at the same time there are a few genuinely entertaining moments, some even intentionally so.
You have three random sets of characters involved in a series of disjointed scenes that for the longest time don’t do anything to develop the characters or the plot and much of the dialogue feels improvised, too. I’d love to have seen the script for this thing. It plays like a collection of scene ideas scribbled down on notecards as the beginnings of a workable screenplay that ended up going straight into production.
“Tiny” Lister (No Holds Barred, The Fifth Element) and Glenn Plummer (The Day After Tomorrow, Saw 2) play Vegas policeman that have a back alley encounter with vampires. Their superior officer naturally doesn’t believe them. Lister gets enlisted by this rich dude whose daughter has gone missing in Vegas. Lister’s investigation eventually leads him back in the direction of the vampires. Plummer has so little screen time following the back alley vampire encounter that his role is really more of a cameo, though still more significant than the likes of Daniel Baldwin, Bernie Casey, and a few other recognizable names in the credits that show up for little more than one scene cameos.
A young L.A. police recruit and his girlfriend head off to Las Vegas in a dumpy Winnebago with his best friend for a quickie wedding. They, too, eventually encounter vampires and the best friend has the bite put on him. It’ll also turn out that the young soon-to-policeman is the nephew of Lister’s cop character, pretty much the only reason their two characters eventually join up.
Blacksploitation icon Fred “Hammer” Williamson plays an (ex?) cop that calls up another (ex?) cop to join him for a trip to Vegas. Their vignettes for the first half hour consists of nothing more than Williamson and his still unseen friend driving around while Williamson waxes on about how much he loves Vegas to such a degree that you’d think you were watching a Vegas tourism commercial. Entering a titty bar we’ll finally get to see that Williamson’s old buddy is none other than Richard Roundtree AKA the original Shaft. The two of them eventually find some random vampires just loitering around their convertible outside a Vegas nightclub and proceed to kick some fanged honky ass.
The stuff with Williamson and Roundtree is just plain odd. They have little interaction with any of the film’s other characters and even when their on the screen interacting alongside those in the other two character groups they still seem completely detached from the goings-on, almost as if they’re ghosts that have just wandered in to help out the good guys. The are basically grumpy old blacksploitation men; trash talking, swearing a lot, making cracks about women’s breasts, and then whipping out their guns to bust some caps in some undead asses. The way they behave, it’s almost like Williamson and Roundtree have broken out of the old folks home, both suffering from a depreciated mental state where they can’t help but behave in the same manner that the blacksploitation characters they once played used to talk, act, and react, for one last Las Vegas adventure where they stumble upon a vampire conspiracy. On the plus side, at least their antics are somewhat entertaining. Shaft holding a vampire down while ex-football player “The Hammer” gets a running start and field goal kicks the vamp’s head clean off, and then both swagger off like fighting vampires and kicking a human head off is all in a day’s work for them, even making a joke playing off the lyrics to Shaft theme song – quite a scene.
Despite Lister’s insistence on vampires running amok and even having one locked up in the police station, the cops believe there’s a cult at work in Vegas but refuse to believe in vampires. One police inspector believes the explanation for the guy in the next room with no heartbeat, a set of fangs and a thing for biting people on the neck is just the victim of a mystery virus and that they should be contacting the Center for Disease Control.
Instead the police call in Sister Angela, a hot young thing with a sassy attitude in a nun’s habit, an expert on the occult, particularly vampires. She’s there to pretty much provide an explanation as to what the hell all the random vampire encounters up until this point have been about. Long story short, a master vampire known only as Q is in need of a new bride and he’s been increasing his numbers in anticipation of the big event. You’d never have figured any of this out on your own based on the vampire action seen up until this point. She’ll end up joining up with Lister to help save his nephew and new niece-in-law from Q and his minions. But first Sista Angela will whip out her crossbow pistol and strip off her nun’s habit revealing a low cut bustier and stretch pants ensemble – Vatican approved, no doubt.
Now about those vampires… excuse me, Vegas vampires. They enjoy hanging out in back alleys and empty lots where they dance the Batusi around a flaming triangle on the ground. They attack like fanged zombies of average strength and limited intelligence. Some can super leap through the air, possibly fly, and sometimes their presence is accompanied by unexplained ground fog. I also never knew how much vampires growl until I saw this movie. Some even make the same sound you’d expect to hear from some sort of wildcat and the main vampire’s growling reaches King Kong proportions. Vegas seemed to be crawling with vampires. The longer the movie went on, the more vampires they kept encountering and these vamps didn’t seem to care about trying to keep their existence a secret: bursting into flames in front of a crowd of people, attacking en masse out in the open, storming police station lock-ups, just randomly picking fights with the main characters in ways that would lead you to believe they realized these characters were the main characters and they needed to mess with them for that reason and that reason only…
Sister Angela assures us at one point that vampires are smarter than the ones portrayed in the movies. Had to have been sarcasm given how hard pressed I am to think of too many vampire movies where the vampires were as mindlessly idiotic as they are here. This movie actually has a scene of vampires walking around in the daylight, not realizing that they don’t really like sunlight until getting hit directly in the eyes by a ray of sunshine. Later on, some vampires will be shown out in the daylight with no problem whatsoever. Some vamps are bulletproof and others can be killed with mere gunfire. There’s just no thread of logic running through this film anywhere.
Q, this master vampire supposedly the catalyst for everything going on, is barely seen in the movie and I don’t recall him ever actually speaking – just a whole lot of hissing, growling, facial expressions, and hand gestures. He’s practically a mime – a mime that looks like a fanged Gary Busey with Ron Perlman’s hair decked out like a goth rock version of Ziggy Stardust. This dude should be on some cable access channel somewhere hosting horror movies, not playing the main villain in one. But like Williamson and Roundtree, he’s so silly it’s hard not to be slightly amused by his antics.
That’s again what makes this movie so hard to review. There’s no deny that the movie is awful. It’s poorly constructed and there are entire sequences in it that any real movie would have left on the cutting room floor for adding absolutely nothing but a few extra minutes of boredom to film. Calling the film gibberish would be putting it mildly. And yet there are isolated moments all throughout that are entertaining, whether they be intentionally amusing or just laughably bad. One scene has some petty thugs attempting to mug the gargantuan Lister, who reacts with amusement that these guys think they can take him. He looks up to the sky and recites a prayer, “God, forgive me for what I’m about to do. Luke Chapter 10, Verse 19. I’m about to kick some ass!” We next see him stuffing the young punks into the trunk of his car as they beg for mercy. That was intentionally amusing. On the other side of the coin, during the climactic battle at Q’s suburban vampire den, the actress playing Sister Angela flubbed her cue and damn near steps right in front of Lister’s shotgun blasting. The sight of her recoiling and ducking her head down from the shotgun blast so near her head is tremendously funny. But why was this obvious blooper left in? That it was again speaks volumes about the production as a whole.
I got the sense that Vegas Vampires was made for shits and giggles and that’s about all it’s good for.
2 out of 5
Discuss Vegas Vampires in our forums!