Vamp (short) Blu-ray Review (originally published 2016)
(Chris Makepeace) and AJ (Robert Rusler) want to make the right impression at college, so they devise a plan to get them into the best frathouse on campus. They head to the After Dark Club where they want to find a stripper for a party their friends won’t forget; instead they find themselves among vampires led by Kinky Katrina (Grace Jones)! (From Arrow’s official synopsis)
Richard Wenk’s Vamp (1986) tends to be absorbed into the larger cluster of vampire comedies from the mid-’80s and forgotten, outside of the participation of the incomparable singer/songwriter/supermodel/all-around badass, Grace Jones. Revisiting it for the first time since the VHS days, I realize that it is better than I had given it credit for. It’s funnier than Howard Storm’s Once Bitten (1985), a more clever indictment of youth culture than Joel Schumacher’s The Lost Boys (1987), and the trashy albino gang that threatens our heroes throughout the film are a fun precursor to the nomad biker vampires of Kathryn Bigelow’s Near Dark (1987). Wenk’s plot might have been an influence on the likes of Quentin Tarantino and Bob Gale/Robert Zemeckis when they wrote From Dusk ‘Till Dawn and Bordello of Blood, both 1996 releases that feature secret vampire strip clubs that feed on low-life drifters (apparently, this part of the plot was producer/co-writer Donald P. Borchers’ idea). The biggest pluses are the full-bore ‘80s insanity of the vivid, increasingly surrealistic neon lighting schemes and Jones’ no-holds-barred performance. However, Vamp falls short in terms of its bulky pacing (the first act manages to be a total slog), ambivalent identity (sometimes it’s a frat bro sex comedy, sometimes it’s a wacky Grace Jones vehicle, other times it’s a vampire gangster spoof...), and underwhelming horror elements. The vampire and gore effects are fun enough, but there aren’t any scares or credible threats.
Wenk’s directing career has been brief and spotty. Vamp is one of only two feature films that he completed as a solo director, the other being a Andy Garcia/Andie MacDowell romantic comedy Just the Ticket (1999). Otherwise, he worked on group projects, a short, and a single episode of Sweet Valley High (1994). His bigger contributions have been as a writer and, in fact, the 2010s have been very good to him, including co-writing gigs on The Equalizer (2014), The Magnificent Seven (2016), and Jack Reacher: Never Go Back (2016).
Vamp enjoys a decent-sized cult following, but was not very consistently released/re-released on home video. In the US, it was put on VHS via New World Video, R1 anamorphic DVD via Anchor Bay, and on R2 UK DVD from Arrow (the same SD transfer showed up on German and Italian discs). Arrow released the first Blu-ray option in 2011 and that same transfer showed up on German BD from ‘84 Entertainment. This is a completely new transfer, made from Lakeshore Entertainment’s HD scan (there is no more information other than that). I don’t own the older release for comparison sake, but can see that it was framed at 1.85:1, while this release has been opened up a bit to 1.78:1 (it’s possible that this is the same transfer that was used for Image Entertainment’s Blu-ray). It also appears that the original disc was darker than this one, which might be to its advantage, because the new scan looks sort of washed out at times. Grain levels are thick, but not unnatural, colors are rich – especially the aforementioned neons that slowly take over the palette – and the textures are relatively complex, aside from purposefully soft focus moments. This isn’t one of the studio’s best releases, but is nice enough to please stateside fans that have no other HD option. UK fans can probably hang onto their older Arrow release, though, assuming they aren’t excited about the new extras (see below).
The original mono sound is presented in LPCM 1.0 and sounds just fine. Outside of the relatively dynamic/bassy music – both score and popular music interludes – the mix is thinly layered and pretty flat. Fortunately, the lack of compression keeps distortion at a minimum and the vocal clarity is tight. Jonathan Elias’ music is a forgettable, but pleasant mix of keyboard pop and Jerry Goldsmith-inspired theatricality.
One of those Nights: The Making of Vamp (44:30, HD) – This new retrospective documentary features director Richard Wenk, cinematographer Elliot Davis, and stars Robert Rusler, Dedee Pfeiffer, Chris Makepeace, Billy Drago, and Gedde Watanabe. The subject matter revolves around Wenk’s script (which, again, was based around producer/co-writer Borchers’ stripper vampire idea), casting, Grace Jones’ involvement changing the film’s dynamic, amusing anecdotes from the set, the vibrant photography, and the ridiculously short post-production period (three weeks).
Behind-the-scenes footage (6:41, SD) – Raw, shot-on-video rehearsal footage of Jones practicing her vampire attack on Wenk.
Dracula Bites the Big Apple (22:03, HD) – Wenk’s 1979 short film shares some DNA with Vamp in terms of being a comedic take on vampire lore, but it plays out more like an Airplane! style spoof of the Hammer Dracula tradition than anything else. The musical sequences are a nice surprise.
Blooper reel (6:14, HD)
Trailers and TV spots
The 2011 release did have some different extras, including the commentary track with actor Robert Rusler (moderated by critic/author Calum Waddell), an introduction by Rusier, and interviews with Wenk, Pfeiffer, and co-writer Donald P. Borchers.