As a kid, I spent my time around many adults who used to rent videos from my neighborhood video stores. And often times they’d have viewing parties where they’d all hunker down, pop in one video after another and experience whatever title they took a chance on renting sight unseen. And as a child born in 1983 I spent a lot of my time watching with them. As such “Vamp” from 1986 is one of the earliest memories of a movie that continues lingering in my mind to this day. The climax of our protagonists escaping from the vampires in the sewer attempting to reach daylight has been etched in to my brain along with the lowering platform finale of “Day of the Dead.”
Director Richard Wenk’s obscure 1986 horror comedy is the original “From Dusk Til Dawn,” a movie about inept travelers seeking their fortune and getting more than they bargained for when they cross a night club filled with and run by the undead. The undead are all strippers who have the knack for luring in tourists, transients and thugs and eating them whole. With their canoodling with the city dump, they can dispose of the bodies easily. But when Keith and Vic go to the night club in the outskirts of town seeking a stripper for their impending fraternity initiation and venture in to the middle of nowhere to scam on new strippers. Things turn ugly when Keith (as played by a deadpan Chris Makepeace doing an apparent Matt Dillon impersonation) is taken backstage to meet the alluring and shockingly sexy Katrina (Grace Jones who has zero dialogue, is sexy here; that’s something I thought I’d never say). What starts as a mere seductions turns in to terror as she makes a meal out of poor Keith transforming in to a winged monster who devours him.
Now Vic, unaware of the meat market around him, and outside the doors, must search for his friend with ditzy club waitress Amaretto (Deedee Pfeiffer) and rich loser Duncan, all of whom are unaware that the neighborhood is nothing but vampires for miles on end. As night looms on, the pressure rises, and Wenk’s film becomes much of a creep fest with vampires galore, glossed with occasionally dark humor. I loved the gag with the street gang who is intent on ruining Vic’s efforts to escape, also oblivious to the vampire circuit around them, and the recurring gag on whether Amaretto is an actual vampire or just a moron is a welcome mysterious element that will keep viewers guessing until the final scenes. The tension within the fight for survival is often thick as Wenk opts for a dream-like nightmare where tints of greens and pinks fill the sewers where the vampires loom setting the stage for a frantic and occasionally funny battle to survive the night.
Meanwhile the make up effects are fantastic with Grace Jones taking on the form of clawed monster with grotesque results, while every vampire has their own distinct personality and form allowing them individual bouts of horror with every lunge at our characters. Sandy Baron is a considerably excellent reluctant hero who becomes a vampire hunter as the film progresses, learning to survive among the rats in the sewers who desperately want to kill him to save their goddess Katrina. “Vamp” is a wonderful trip down memory lane and a horror comedy that still holds up to this day with vampires who were actually horrifying at one point in time. Imagine that. Equal amounts darkly comedic and creepy, “Vamp” is an eighties gem that still holds up as a competent and engrossing vampire comedy with sharp performances, a thick sense of dread, and achieving the miracle of making Grace Kelly looks ravishingly sexy. Thank goodness one of my earliest movie memories is a damn good horror film.