Category Archives: Vampire Movies

Near Dark (1987)

near dark

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.

near dark 2

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: October 2, 1987

Runtime: 1Hour 34Minutes

Rated R

Director: Kathryn Bigelow

Studio: De Laurentiis Entertainment Group

Available: DVD, Blu-ray

My Best Friend is a Vampire (1988)

my best friend is a vampire

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Teen turns into vampire.

Jeremy (Robert Sean Leonard) is just your average teen attending high school in Houston while also working as a grocery delivery boy part-time. On one of his deliveries he meets a mysterious, but beautiful woman named Nora (Cecillia Peck) who bites him on his neck, which slowly turns him into a vampire over the course of several days. It also causes a vampire instructor named Modoc (Rene Auberjonois) to appear who helps mentor him on what life as a vampire is like while also giving him a vampire instruction manual to read. Once the initial shock is over Jeremy begins to enjoy the change, but still must avoid a couple of overzealous vampire hunters (David Warner, Paul Willson) who are out to pierce his heart with a wooden stake.

The film starts out amusingly enough and has a nice balance between being funny and still maintaining an interesting plot. It even manages to throw in a few original spins to the genre, so it doesn’t come off as just another mindless vampire movie retread, at least initially. Leonard is engaging in the lead and the dialogue between the teenagers is more realistic than in most other high school flicks from the ‘80’s.

Unfortunately the film starts to go south when, after faced with all these changes, Jeremy still decides to ask a geeky looking girl named Darla (Cheryl Pollak) out on a date, but I would’ve thought with all the stresses he was going through that starting a relationship would be the last thing on his mind. The romantic angle is boring and adds nothing to the mix. Pollak is a weak actress and her character’s presence could’ve easily been cut out altogether.

The finale is a real letdown and comes off like a typically uninspired farce where the writers have run out of creative ideas and thus try to wrap things up with a benign car chase and frantic running around by the characters. The story is full of logic loopholes and the promising elements at the start ultimately devolve into inane silliness by the end.

I’ll give director Jimmy Huston credit for managing to raise himself up from his humble beginnings, which was as a director to an Earl Owensby produced movie, which is about as low as one can go, but this film becomes just another tired casualty in a long line of films hoping to be the next vampire cult classic, but not making the cut.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: May 6, 1988

Runtime: 1Hour 29Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Jimmy Huston

Studio: Kings Road Entertainment

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video

Vamp (1986)

vamp 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Stripper is a vampire.

A.J. (Robert Rusler) and Keith (Chris Makepeace) are two fraternity pledges hoping to avoid a hazing by promising that they can bring in a stripper to the next frat party. They then drive into the city to check out the clubs and find a pole dancer willing to take them up on their offer. One place, which is run by the sleazy Vic (Sandy Baron), has an exotic dancer named Katrina (Grace Jones) that immediately catches their eye. A.J. is invited backstage to meet her only to ultimately be attacked once he finds out that she is really a vampire. Keith is then forced to try to escape from the place on his own with the help of a friendly waitress Allison (Dedee Pfeiffer), but finds that the entire neighborhood is infested with vampires and more popping up wherever he turns.

It’s never a good omen when the film’s first day of shooting coincided with the space shuttle challenger disaster, but on the whole writer/director Richard Wenk does his best to breathe new life into a tired genre. The humor at the beginning is amusing although it goes a bit overboard and the whole fraternity angle could’ve and should’ve been avoided as it comes off as too contrived and the story would’ve worked just fine without it.

Jones, who never speaks a word of dialogue, gives a provocative performance. I enjoyed her white-faced sultry dance and her make-up effects are frightening during the times when she morphs into a vampire.

Rusler makes for a brash and believable college dude and the film only works when he and Makepeace are together, but on his own Makepeace is quite boring. I thought he was fantastic in My Bodyguard, but here he shows no charisma and probably one of the main reasons this film has never attained much of a cult following despite being ripe for it. Gedde Watanabe and Pfeiffer are equally useless and their character’s presence wasn’t needed at all although Baron camps things up nicely as the scheming club owner.

There are a few interesting moments here and there including a rather surreal one inside an elevator, but overall it’s not too exciting. I think the biggest issue is the fact that it’s too easy to kill these vampires off. Whether it’s a wooden stake, daylight, fire, or even a cross these guys seem to have the odds stacked against them and no matter how many of them surround this novice college guy hero he somehow finds a way to off them with relative ease until it seems almost like swatting flies from a wall. At the end when he walks away from it virtually unscathed and giving the impression that it had been ‘no big deal’ resonated with me as a viewer as I felt the same way about this movie.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: July 18, 1986

Runtime: 1Hour 34Minutes

Rated R

Director: Richard Wenk

Studio: New World Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video

Once Bitten (1985)

once bitten

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: She needs virgin blood.

A sexy vampire Countess (Lauren Hutton) who lives in a sprawling Beverly Hills mansion along with her male servant (Cleavon Little) needs a regular dose of blood to keep up her youthful looks. The problem is that the blood must come from a virgin and since this is the ‘80s, where every teenager is fooling around, it becomes harder for her to come upon someone who still hasn’t had any sex. Fortunately for her she meets Mark (Jim Carrey) who has yet to lose his virginity and this is mainly because of the reluctance of his current girlfriend Robin (Karen Kopins). The Countess immediately takes Mark back to her place and gets it on with him and is able to get her much needed blood supply, but in the process she also turns Mark into a vampire and his friends and family begin to notice the changes.

The idea of mixing the vampire genre with an ‘80’s teen sex comedy was a bad one and should’ve been nixed at the concept stage and like with its main character never allowed to see the light of day. For one thing it’s much too tame and sterile. No scares or raunchiness and although there are a few mildly amusing bits there isn’t enough of them in a poorly paced film that quickly becomes quite boring. It also relies too heavily on broad stereotypes and caricatures with no footing in reality at all and a script littered with what today’s audiences will consider homophobic dialogue.

The vampire angle is poorly thought out. A person’s blood type doesn’t change once they’ve had sex making the ‘virgin blood’ idea quite stupid. Besides if she really wants to make sure to get someone who hasn’t had sex then why not just bite the necks of children? Granted it would be a very un-p.c. plot, but it also would allow for a creepier angle and besides it would then turn the kids into little vampires, which would bring in an extra edge to the story. The film also fails to explain what happens with the Carrey character as we see him slowly turning into a vampire a little bit each day, but not with what ultimately transpires once he fully does.

On the acting side I thought the two leads did quite well. Hutton is gorgeous and the idea of pairing a much older woman with a younger man is actually quite sexy. Carrey is also good. In some of his movies he overacts and becomes like a modern-day Jerry Lewis, but here he is more restrained and even genuinely engaging. My only complaint is that he is clearly past his teen years and at one point even states that he is going to college, but the scenes of him at school make it seem much more like he is still in high school.

If you are into vampire movies I’d say you could skip this one as it adds nothing new to the theme and for the most part treats the vampire idea in a very transparent way. As a teen sex comedy it also fails with a script that meanders too much including having an extended scene showing Carrey’s two nerdy high school buddies (Thomas Ballatore, Skip Lackey) trying to hit on two women at a laundromat that has nothing at all to do with the main plot and should’ve been cut. However, if your fans of Hutton or Carrey then it might be worth a look as they both give surprisingly solid performances despite the weak material.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: November 15, 1985

Runtime: 1Hour 34Minutes

Rated PG-13

Director: Howard Storm

Studio: The Samuel Goldwyn Company

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video

The Lost Boys (1987)

lost boys

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Vampire gang terrorizes teens.

This review is the first of a series in which each Monday for the month of May we’ll take a look at a vampire movie from the ‘80s with this one being probably the best and most well-known. The story centers on two brothers named Michael and Sam (Jason Patric, Corey Haim) who along with their divorced mother (Dianne Weist) move to California to live with her hippie father (Barnard Hughes) in his ranch-style home. It is here that Michael comes into contact with a boy biker gang lead by David (Kiefer Sutherland). Michael is infatuated with the attractive female member of the gang named Star (Jami Gertz) and thus is receptive to becoming a part of the group and even drinking a strange liquid as part of the initiation. Unfortunately the drink turns him into a vampire like them and it is up to Sam and his two self-styled vampire hunter teen friends (Corey Feldman, Jamison Newlander) to kill them off.

For the most part this film is a lot of fun and has held up well. I enjoyed the way it captures the Santa Cruz boardwalk atmosphere and the eclectic mix of the teen culture that makes up southern California. I also found some of the dated elements to be kind of fun especially when Sam states he can’t be without his MTV even though teens and college kids of today, at least the ones I’ve spoken to, do not feel that MTV is the trendsetter that it was back then, or even hip at all.

Haim gives another engaging performance and deserved to be top billed. He outshines his Corey counterpart by a mile and in fact Feldman comes off as quite boring and has only one funny line, which doesn’t come until the very end.

Sutherland is effective as the baddie, but the guys that make up the rest of his gang are quite transparent and do nothing but laugh on cue and wear outfits that make them look like they are leftover members of some bad-boy ‘80s rock band.

Patric is bland as well and the way Keifer and his gang can so easily manipulate him into doing just about anything they ask during their first encounter with him makes his character seem too passive. I also thought it was ridiculous the way he goes back to the gang’s hideout and makes love to Star while the rest of the boys aren’t there. Don’t get me wrong having sex with a beautiful woman certainly tops every red-blooded male’s list, but here it gets shown in a cheesy, clichéd music video type way and I also thought he would be too emotionally freaked out to have any type of sex as this occurs just after he had found out he had turned into a vampire and even levitated in the air.

There are similar problems with the behavior of the Weist character. One of them is when she goes to her boyfriend’s house and has dinner with him while his dog sits at her feet even though this was the same animal who had tried to viciously attack her earlier, which would’ve been enough to scare anyone else from ever wanting to get close to that dog ever again. Her job as a clerk at a video store is another joke as most people who worked at those places, back during the dark ages when they actually existed, did it as a part-time gig as the pay was low and wouldn’t be enough to support one person let alone a mother and her two sons. There is another scene, albeit brief, in which Sam, who is a teenager, asks her if he can sleep with her in her bed as he is afraid to be alone and she agrees, which most viewers will consider to be quite inappropriate.

Yet despite these issues and even a few others it’s still a good movie with some exciting and imaginative special effects. Director Joel Schumacher creates a creepy atmosphere and infuses a good deal of humor although it could’ve worked even better had it been played-up as a straight horror film.

Spoiler Alert!

I do though have to also quibble about the Edward Herrmann character as the boys initially think he is secretly the vampire ringleader, but then when he is invited over to their house for dinner he does not react adversely to the garlic or water that gets thrown at him. In the end though it turns out that he really was a vampire and the only reason those things didn’t have an effect on him, at least according to his explanation, is because when the owner invites him into their home those things then have no effect. Yet it was the Patric character who had invited Herrmann inside even though it was actually Hughes who owned the place, so the logic of his explanation doesn’t work.

Also, earlier in the film we see Herrmann’s dog growl at Kiefer and his gang when they walk into Herrmann’s video store. This is before we learn that Herrmann is a fellow vampire and secretly familiar with the boys, so if that was the case then his dog most likely would’ve been familiar with them too and therefore wouldn’t have growled, but instead would’ve been friendly and even receptive to them when they entered.

End of Spoiler Alert!

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: July 31, 1987

Runtime: 1Hour 37Minutes

Rated R

Director: Joel Schumacher

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube

Lifeforce (1985)

lifeforce 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: Space vampires destroy London.

Col. Tom Carlsen (Steve Railsback) is the head of the space shuttle Churchill who along with a team of astronauts investigate a strange form that is attached to Halley’s Comet. There they find some humanoids in caskets and bring them back to the shuttle where the humanoids then destroy the entire crew with only Carlsen surviving. When a rescue mission arrives they bring the humanoids back to earth only to discover that the beautiful Space Girl (Mathilda May) is a vampire bent on destroying the entire city of London by inhabiting other people’s bodies. Carlsen then joins forces with Col. Colin Caine (Peter Firth) to stop this dangerous breed of vampires before it is too late.

The saying ‘too much of a good thing’ has never been truer than with this film. The screenplay, which was co-written by Dan O’Bannon and based on the Colin Wilson novel, takes on too much. Had this been a miniseries or an ongoing television ssow like ‘Lost’ it might have worked, but the dizzying pace and myriad of twists here become mind numbing. The elaborate story does not equal the characters that are generic and dialogue that is dull. The scenes in-between the action are boring. The film lacks atmosphere or a linear production design. A little bit of a set-up would have helped as well.

The special effects are okay, but some of the backgrounds particularly the ones seen when the team investigates where the vampires reside look like drawings with the actors matted over it. The sight of the dead, shriveled bodies are not scary because they reminded me too much of the host of the old TV-series ‘Tales from the Crypt’.

lifeforce 3

May certainly looks great naked and I admired her courage to do a nude scene while in a room full of clothed men. However, we don’t see enough of her. There are long segments where she is not seen as she inhabits other people’s bodies, which takes away from the film’s erotic potential. The side-story involving her romance with Carlsen is cheesy and dumb.

Railsback proves once again why he is good in a psycho role, but not as a protagonist. The dark circles under his eyes and his intense Texas drawl make him seem creepy even when he doesn’t want to be. I also thought it was a strange coincidence that the date this story begins is August 9th, which is the same date that Sharon Tate and her friends were murdered by Charles Manon’s cult who Railsback famously played in the TV-Movie ‘Helter Skelter’.

Firth proves okay and I liked this jaded, hardened police detective played by someone with a very boyish face. It is also great to see Patrick Stewart in a small role as the head of a sanitarium.

The film gets more ludicrous as it goes on and is unwisely played with a straight-face where adding some humor would have made it more engaging and tolerable. Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg from Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz fame should remake this and I’m convinced would do it a lot better.

lifeforce 2

lifeforce 4

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: June 21, 1985

Runtime: 1Hour 56Minutes

Rated R

Director: Tobe Hooper

Studio: TriStar Pictures, The Cannon Group

Available: DVD, Blu-ray

A Return to Salem’s Lot (1987)

return to salems lot

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Town full of vampires

Joe Webber (Michael Moriarty) is a documentary filmmaker who is always looking to tackle the next shocking topic if it will help advance him and his film career. While vacationing in a small New England town of Jerusalem’s Lot with his teenage son Jeremy (Ricky Addison Reed) he becomes aware that the entire town is made up of a population of vampires led by elderly Judge Axel (Andrew Duggan). They are aware of Joe’s film career and give him an offer to film a documentary on them so as to give future generations a better understanding of the vampire lifestyle. Initially Joe is intrigued with the idea, but when he finds out that they want to turn his son into one of them he refuses and spends the rest of the time trying to escape and with the help of elderly but tenacious vampire hunter Van Meer (Samuel Fuller) save his son.

This flick is complete disaster from the beginning. It opens with Joe filming a documentary on a jungle cannibal tribe that looks like a real tacky rip-off of Cannibal Holocaust. The gore and special effects are abysmal and the story and characters have nothing to do with the Stephan King novel to which it is based nor the 1979 TV-Movie. Had the plot gone more with Joe filming a documentary on the populace it might have been interesting in an offbeat way, but the script brings up the idea and then never follows through with it.  There are shades of dry humor here and there and had it been more consistent with it the film could have been viewed and possibly enjoyed as a parody, but as it is it is nothing more than cheap straight-to-video fare.

The characters are poorly defined and at times even contradictory. Joe starts out as this callus man who puts his directing career first and has no concern for his son and hasn’t seen him for years, or even mentioned him to his friends. Then suddenly they get to this town and he will stop at nothing to save him. The son also does not like the father when he first sees him and yet magically and quickly bonds with him the minute they get to town. He is also described to be deeply troubled psychologically, but shows no sign of it during the course of the movie.

There is also the issue of Van Meer shooting Judge Axel in the head twice with a gun, but even as bullet holes spew out blood from his forehead he still goes on walking and talking like nothing happened. Supposedly this is to signify that the only way to kill a vampire is to stick a wooden stake through their heart and if you try to kill them any other way it won’t work, but this still doesn’t make sense. For instance if you break a vampires kneecap wouldn’t that effect the way they walk? If so then the same logic should hold true if you put two bullet holes into their brain. It would more than likely turn them into a complete vegetable a vegetable that may go on living forever until you drive a wooden stake through its heart, but a vegetable nonetheless.

Moriarty gives another great performance that completely exceeds the quality of the material. This one is even more impressive because he actually plays a normal person here and does so effectively, which is interesting given the nature of his sometimes offbeat behavior off-camera. The person though that really steals it is famed film director Fuller as the elderly vampire hunter. The guy shows an amazing amount of charisma and energy and plays up the character to an amazingly amusing degree and helps save what is otherwise a disaster.

Veteran actresses June Havoc and Evelyn Keyes appear as two of the elderly women vampires. Keyes really plays-it-up and the way she sucks the blood from one of the victims off her fingers looks down right erotic. The scene where Havoc, Keyes and writer/director Larry Cohen’s then real-life wife Janelle Webb chew on the dead body of Cohen’s real-life daughter Jill Gatsby gets a few points for audaciousness. This is also a great chance to see Tara Reid in her film debut as one of the vampire children.

The final thirty minutes is an improvement namely because of Fuller’s presence, but it does nothing to hide the film’s many other flaws, which is a perfect example of bad 80’s horror.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: May 18, 1987

Runtime: 1Hour 41Minutes

Rated R

Director: Larry Cohen

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: VHS, DVD (Warner Archive), Amazon Instant Video

Let’s Scare Jessica to Death (1971)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Crazy lady versus vampires.

Jessica (Zohra Lampert) is recovering from a nervous breakdown and taken to a secluded Connecticut home for rest and recuperation. Here she starts to see strange visions, but nobody believes her making her the only one aware of the dangers that are brewing around them.

Haunted houses, ghosts, zombies, weird townspeople, madness, vampires, and even a tacky séance this film seems to want to take all the elements from other horror movies and mix it into one. The idea may sound great, but the approach is tepid. This may be due to its low budget, but either way the final result is unexciting. Yes it is creepy and eerie specifically at the beginning, but it never manages to get to the next level with no real scares or even a few minor ones.

The film is also slow with some stodgy drama used as filler. The special effects are minimal and the little that is shown looks unrealistic. Only at the very end do things start to get interesting.

Director John Hancock adds a little flair and had the script been able to reach the level of its scintillating title this film might actually have been special. His framing and photography of the outside of the old house is good. There is also a shot of an early morning sun rising off a foggy lake that makes for a perfect creepy atmosphere. I also like his placement of the howling wind and the whispering voices although he does go to this well a little too often.

One good reason to watch this film is too see Lampert. Although always a supporting player this was to date her only starring vehicle. She has a distinctive look and style that doesn’t match the glamour of a conventional leading lady. Her face exposes a nice fragility to the vulnerable character that she plays and her performance of a tormented person is excellent.

Although she has a pair of unique blue eyes like actress Meg Foster Mariclaire Costello, as the ghost/vampire, is just not frightening. The rest of the characters are boring and seem almost like stand-ins.

I got a kick out of the antique dealer (Alan Manson) who tells Jessica about the death of the original owner of the home that she is now living in. The tale is bland and transparent even though he insists, several times, that it is ‘quite extraordinary’.

Released: August 6, 1971

Runtime: 1Hour 29Minutes

Rated PG

Director: John D. Hancock

Studio: Paramount

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video