By Richard Winters
My Rating: 5 out of 10
4-Word Review: Vampires in a van.
Caleb (Adrian Pasder) is a farm boy who spots the attractive Mae (Jenny Wright) one night while cruising around in his pick-up. He decides to take her for a spin and the two initially get along until they kiss and she bites him on his neck, which makes him very sick. As he is trying to get back to his farm where his father and sister live (Tim Thomerson, Marcie Leeds) he gets hijacked by a van carrying other vampires (Lance Henriksen, Bill Paxton, Jenette Goldstein, Joshua John Miller) who try to teach him how to hunt and kill humans, which is something Caleb isn’t ready to do despite his new found necessity of needing blood in order to survive.
Compared to other ‘80s vampire flicks this one is far and away ahead of the rest. I liked how Caleb’s transformation into a vampire is very emotionally and psychologically jarring, which is how I think it would be, even though other films from that period would gloss over this like it was no big deal. I also liked the way it circumvents the irritating erotic overtones by showing Caleb and others sucking up the blood from a human’s neck like a thirsty man coming from a desert instead of portraying it in some sort of cheesy sexy way. The film also has its share of genuinely horrifying moments including a long, drawn out scene inside a hick bar that is violent and ugly, but also quite effective and makes these vampires the menacing characters that they should be.
The acting is all-around quite good including having three actors from Aliens, which is amusingly displayed as the film being shown at a local theater in the small town that Caleb passes through. I was also impressed with the two child stars. Miller, who is the son of Jason Miller who played Father Karras in The Exorcist, is effectively disturbing as this baby-faced kid with a potential of doing some very nasty things. Leeds is also solid as a young, cute girl with some very down-to-earth sensibilities.
The special effects are great and I was impressed with how the vampire’s skin would burn when exposed to daylight, but I also had a bit of a problem with this as well. For one thing the burn would appear so severe that it looked like nothing short of grafting could repair it and yet we would see them in the next scene with their skin fully healed, or looking like it had been smeared with coal and nothing more.
I was also confused with how these vampires manage to obtain such super-human strength. They possess the same bodies that they had when they were human with no apparent additional muscle mass, so where is this extra strength coming from? Is it ‘magic’ and if so where does that come from? This film tries so hard to keep everything on a gritty and real level, but that unfortunately gets hurt by having this illogical and unexplained phenomenon thrown in.
The astronomical odds that these vampires would meet up with Caleb’s father and sister at some random, isolated hotel is a bit hard to fathom as well, but I was willing to forgive it as the one loophole every story is allowed to have. However, the scene where Miller’s character takes Caleb’s younger sister back to the motel room to watch TV and they find that all the stations have signed off for the night just doesn’t hold true. By the late ‘80s, which was when this movie was made and takes place, most broadcast stations where working 24 hours and most if not all hotels where offering basic cable, which included free HBO and these stations were definitely broadcasting throughout the wee hours making this scene completely false for the period it was in.
The film did poorly at the box office when it was first released, but has managed to attain a strong cult following since. I liked most of it, but didn’t care for the eternally thumping music score that gets played in literally every scene and gives it too much of a music video feel and the climactic finish, which is exciting and has some terrific special effects, became too protracted for my tastes.
My Rating: 5 out of 10
Released: October 2, 1987
Runtime: 1Hour 34Minutes
Director: Kathryn Bigelow
Studio: De Laurentiis Entertainment Group
Available: DVD, Blu-ray