Vamp - Movie Review

I can remember Vamp from my childhood. No, I didn't actually see the film when I was a kid, but I do remember it being listed in the TV Guide, schedule to play during a late night time slot on one of the premium movie stations. To this day I can remember reading the listing as a teenager and being tempted to set my alarm for early in the morning, tempted to sneak downstairs to watch on the family television. In my defense, the promise of both vampires and strippers contained within a single film is almost too awesome for a thirteen year old boy to ignore. I remember the box art on the shelf at the local rental store, the cool fluorescent lights glaring off the clear plastic sleeve covering the VHS tape. I may not have known the exact content of the film, but there was something about that lipstick kiss on the VHS box that told me this film was naughty. Despite renting countless R-rated horror movies, I never could work up the nerve to bring this one to the check out counter.

So why do I mention, at great length no less, my personal history of admiring but never actually watching this film? I think it's to impress upon you the feeling of nostalgia that overcame me while watching this film. While I possess no previous knowledge, or therefore love, for the film, I still felt an incredible affinity for its content. Vamp is the sort of film that, even if you've never seen it, might still hold some value if you grew up during the right period of time.

The film is a product of its time, a combination horror film and teenage sex comedy. It vaguely reminds me of a John Hughes film but with vampires, a feeling no doubt reinforced by the presence of Gedde Watanabe from Sixteen Candles. All of the characters are incredibly rooted in late 1980's culture, from their dated costumes and hair to the slightly too old actors portraying them. Still, the movie is sharply written and ably acted. The two male leads are fun to watch as they engage in snappy, rapid fire dialogue. Robert Rusler in particular is extremely watchable here, and horror fans will recognize him as Grady from the earlier A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge. Also deserving mention is the undeniably cute Dedee Pfeiffer who gives a strong performance while wearing her tiger-striped leggings and zebra-print jacket with pride.

The plot of the film almost seems like a predecessor of sorts to the Quentin Tarantino written/acted vampire-stripper opus, From Dusk 'til Dawn. As part of their initiation, two college buddies are tasked with traveling to the Big City (which one? I don't know) and bringing a stripper back for entertainment at a fraternity party. They borrow a car from the rich kid, played by Gedde Watanabe, and make their way to the After Dark Club. The boys quickly outstay their welcome, discovering first hand that this wannabe bordello is actually staffed by bodacious vampire stripper babes! Needless to say, the protagonists go on to have a pretty bad day.

For a film focused on obtaining the services of a stripper, there's surprisingly little nudity in the film. Although, that's not to say that scantily clad vampires don't fill the frame for a good portion of the film's ninety-three minute runtime. Most times clever costuming hides the naughtiest of naughty bits, leaving the film with only a few bare breasted shots. Rest assured, there are plenty of flat 80's asses on display though. Most perplexedly, the head vampire stripper is played by the androgynous yet striking Grace Jones. I can't be sure how it played back when the movie was first released, but her main-stage strip show doesn't even begin to approach the adjective we now know as 'sexy.' It's even more odd to watch the strip club patrons within the movie applaud her act, as though they were watching a different show than we, the viewers, were privy to. Story-wise, I'll just attribute it to her otherworldly vampiric allure and move on. I also appreciated the sarcophagus and other assorted Egyptian imagery. It suggests a much deeper back-story in regards to the origins of these vampires, even if it is never directly addressed.

There's not much here in terms of gore or creative deaths, but a few people do get munched on and a few vampires do get staked or burned. There are a few action sequences, car chases and the like, and the budget is clearly being stretched in those sequences. But really, special effect aren't the driving force of this movie. The fun teen flick atmosphere and constant tease of probably nudity makes this a schlocky if somewhat hollow good time. The charisma of the lead actors will probably be the deciding factor for you, and I found their performances to be engaging right from the opening scene.

The Bottomline: My experience with Vamp was a fun, nostalgia-fueled celebration of a begotten time in cinema. My only unfulfilled wish is that I no longer have the chance to take the suggestive cover art and slap it down on the counter at the local rental store. Three Bruces.
Read more

Alien Raiders - Movie Review

Alien Raiders (2008) is an entertaining, low-budget, alien-infestation flick owing much of its plot to John Carpenter's classic remake, The Thing. The biggest factor working against this film is its generic title, leaving the would-be rental customer with the distinct impression that this film might have been made as an Asylum or SyFy channel original. Don't get me wrong, I love Mega Shark vs Giant Octopus as much as the next guy, but its the sort of film that you watch when you're still waiting for Netflix to ship out your latest batch of celluloid goodness. With a title like Alien Raiders it would be easy to assume that this film shares a similar heritage whose results could only be described as dubious in quality. However, if you can overlook this unfortunate first impression and still happen to pick Alien Raiders up off of the rental shelf, I can assure you that you will likely be rewarded for your 85 minutes and the minimal monetary investment.

The premise is simple; a group of armed gunmen storm into a small-town grocery market and quickly announce their intentions to rob the place. Something is immediately amiss, as instead of taking the money and leaving, the gunmen take the customers hostage and chain up the exits. The situation quickly escalates when a small-town cop takes it upon himself to draw his gun and take out the gunmen, but not before notifying the local precinct. The cop is quickly subdued, but the police show up outside and we have the beginnings of a standard bad guy-cop negotiation plot-line.

Not exactly sounding like an alien-infestation movie yet, is it? It's an interesting set-up at a glance, definitely a refreshing approach to a film of this type. Story-wise, it turns out that the gunmen have no intention of robbing the market, but are instead searching for people infected with an alien parasite. Given that the alien host looks like a normal person, there is no knowing who is and who isn't infected, so the gunmen set out to test each and every customer in the store. It's a lot like The Thing, although the test is a bit more gruesome. I also appreciated the added intellectual element of the hostages versus the gunmen. In the early portions of the film, the audience identifies more closely with the hostages. We feel what they feel- maybe, just maybe, there are no aliens and  the gunmen are simply insane.

The film is competently made, but the low budget does begin to show in the special effects. Luckily, the movie is smartly scripted and the effects shots are actually rather sparse. Oddly enough for a genre film with such a campy title, Alien Raiders unfolds as more a slow-burn and is a better film for it. One choice affecting both aesthetics and story was having one of the gunmen run around with a camcorder. Some of this footage is interspersed into the movie proper, providing brief low-fidelity glimpses at the frequently chaotic proceedings. This same mechanic also serves to provide some back story. Although this does make for some interesting visuals, having a hostage taking, gun-wielding bandit running around with a camcorder is an odd choice from a story standpoint.

There aren't any stand-out performances from the main protagonists, but all of the actors are perfectly well-suited to the material they're given. Given the background of the gunmen as explained in the film, I thought the characters weren't written in a way that properly reflected their origins. This is not an issue with the acting, but rather scripting and maybe casting. I understand the desire for the gunmen to come across as some serious bad-asses, which they do, but this does not mesh well with the background they are given.

The Bottomline: Alien Raiders is an entertaining, low-budget film that offers some new twists on the standard alien-infestation storyline. Some scripting inconsistencies might rear their ugly heads, but overall it's a solid rental. If you can get past that ridiculous name. Three Bruces.

Read more