Nowadays Richard Wenk is best known for authoring scripts to epic action films from 16 Blocks to Expendables 2 and 3 and the recent reboots of The Mechanic, The Equalizer and The Magnificent Seven however his first film as writer and director was a very different beast all together, one with fangs in fact.
After making a short in 1979 titled Dracula Bites the Big Apple Wenk went big time a few years later with Vamp in 1986 a cracking horror comedy delivering on both fronts featuring Grace Jones at the height of her acting career after A View to a Kill and Conan the Destroyer and co-written by Donald P. Borchers producer of several 80’s genre movies.
Opening like a medieval horror with two young men dressed in rags dragged through a church by hooded monks who prepare them to be hung on a sacrificial alter we quickly discover, when the soundtrack tape of evil chanting plays up, that this is in fact a college pledge ritual gone wrong on our two lovable leads A.J and Keith played by A Nightmare on Elm Street 2’s Robert Rusler and Meatballs Chris Makepeace.
Desperate to get in to the fraternity and away from their terrible school lodgings slick and smooth A.J promises the amassed brotherhood they will orgainse an epic party and get them anything they want but what they want is a stripper.
While the more sensible Keith worries about how they will orchestrate this erotic entertainment A.J already has ideas to head into the seedy side of the city and hit some strip clubs to hire a dancer. Borrowing a car from rich looser Duncan (Gedde Watanabe from Gremlins 2) after they promise to be his friend for a week and take him along they head for the enticingly titled After Dark Club.
As dirty and downright sleazy as it sounds the strip joint is filled with low life’s and ladies of the night however one in particular takes A.J’s fancy the entrancing, exotic and somewhat surreal strip artist Katrina (Grace Jones) who he arranges a private meeting with however the boys are way out of their depth because the club hides a secret, its full of vampires.
Historically speaking vampirism and sex have always gone hand in hand with the neck biting foreigners offering an erotic allure in nearly all their incarnations from book to screen large and small. The idea therefore of merging a vampire horror film with a teenage sex comedy is a perfect one with films like Fright Night and Pokey’s both blowing up box offices and setting genre standards during the 80’s.
Vamp is far more than a genre mash up however and Wenk does a great job with the script balancing out the comedic elements with more nasty horror and gore throwing in not only some serious scenes but holding a tense tone throughout and amping up the horror midway with all the elements merging perfectly much in same way Lost Boys did when it came out the year after.
Although very funny at times there is a more thought provoking side to Vamp dealing as it does not only with the usual themes of addiction, sexual deviancy and transgression and morality that other fang toothed tales do but also with the idea of the price of life.
It is put forward at one point that the club serves a purpose to rid the city of the worst elements in society the drunks, dregs and degenerates offering them as food for the vampire strippers and the fact that no one has discovered this den of devilish deeds before the preppy middle class boys arrival is because no one cares about the loss of these past hapless and hopeless victims.
The characters and performances are great and watching the trouble bound trio of A.J, Keith and Duncan bonce from an uncomfortable confrontation with an albino gang leader (played by genre legend Billy Drago) to the nuddie nightmare in the After Dark Club is thoroughly entertaining.
The introduction of some other interesting key characters such as super positive newbie stripper Amaretto (Dedee Pfeiffer) who seems to know the boys from way back and old school club MC Vic (Sandy Baron) who dreams of setting up his sinister sex joint in Las Vegas all push the story forward but most important of all is Grace Jones in a role she seems born to play as the ancient Egyptian vampire queen Katrina.
Perhaps one of the most perfect pieces of casting in horror history Jones exudes otherworldliness, sex and menace all in equal measure and all without speaking a single syllable. Looking flawless in every scene in some truly avant-garde 80’s fashions, including total black and white body paint, a bright red wig and metal underwear, her physicality is wonderful and captivatingly conflicting being both regal and beastlike simultaneously. The excellent effects by four-time Oscar winner Greg Cannom transform her outside into the cold malevolent monster she plays on the inside along with the rest of her horrific harem along with adding some great gore.
An obvious influence on From Dusk till Dawn Vamp is a brilliant horror comedy that provides plenty of both to keep any audience entertained and features an amazing villainess in the form of Jones as Katrine who is worthy of her own movie. If you love 80’s movies then you need to take a bite out of Vamp as soon as you can.