The man who gave us possibly one of the greatest werewolf films of all time has mostly done comedies like Animal House but even in his comedies he loves to dabble in horror and shows a great love and affinity for it. After the box office failure of his adaptation of the play, Oscar he went on to try out another horror film in the vampire genre. The film would center on a female vampire who seduces and turns a Las Vegas lounge singer into a vampire, however the producer of the proposed film “Red Sleep” Joel Silver had just had another box office bomb with Bruce Willis’s Hudson Hawk and Red Sleep went into development hell. Fortuitously for Landis the director of another similar vampire film, “Innocent Blood” left the project before it got out of the gate and Landis then delivered us mafia vampires! A gangster Italian mafia film with a French vampire who hunts them down, fights them and accidentally turns some of them, forcing her to enlist the aid of an undercover cop to kill the mafia vampires!? Directed by the glorious bearded man who gave us Animal House and American Werewolf in London!? This was possibly one of the coolest ideas I had ever heard and this flick boasts a star studded cast of up and comers who would all be prominently featured in shows and movies such as Sopranos and Sons of Anarchy years later, not to mention the cameos by Landis’s friends and horror directors we love! Also thanks to Steve Johnson it’s nice and gory.
Marie is a hungry and sexually frustrated French vampire living in Pittsburgh, alone in her secluded apartment lit by candlelight searching through the papers for criminals to feast on as she has a moral code to her appetite. Crime Lord Salvatore “The Shark” Macelli’s body count and crime spree is on the rise as Marie begins feasting on his thugs, which is unfortunate for undercover cop, Joe Gennarro, whom has infiltrated the crime family but is outed when the first attack happens. Believing Joe to be the killer the family is on the hunt for him as he is stowed away in witness protection stewing over the fact that he can’t be in the streets to take down Macelli. Things get worse once Marie is invited to Macelli’s private hideaway by Macelli himself and Marie in a fit of hunger and rage feasts upon the mob boss but doesn’t quite finish him off as one of Macelli’s men comes in guns blazing. Macelli awakens in the morgue looking like a zombie and steals a car driving off into the night in front of a huge press release. The news gets out that Macelli is still alive and Joe goes after him with Marie hunting him down too. As Macelli discovers what he is and what he can do he begins turning his thugs into vampires as well to take over the city and be the biggest and strongest crime family there is, it’s up to Joe and Marie to band together and stop the bloodsuckers from overrunning the city.
Landis basically made a mafia movie that is interrupted by the existence of Marie as the vampire. Where this mafia movie could have gone in a dozen different ways, these characters whole outlook on life is changed in an instant to hilarious and bloody results. I’m a huge fan of mafia films and Landis very much shoots this like one and only changes the look and tone when the horror elements come in, which not only are gruesome scenes but also funny because he has wisecracking Italian mobsters watching a little French women tear them apart or some running around in utter confusion as they awaken to thermometers sticking out of them in the morgue! When Macelli awakens in the morgue and Frank Oz, Yoda and Fozzy Bear, is trying to do an autopsy on him is one of my favorite scenes. Macelli is screaming at Oz asking what the hell kind of hospital he’s in and Oz stutters to explain that he’s dead in a morgue, leading to Macelli screaming and knocking over other bodies as Oz and another coroner chase him down out of the morgue in front of a giant news crew where the police are making a statement on Macelli’s death. Simple slapstick combines with a nice bit of gore, as Macelli’s decomposing body ashes away in the wind.
The monstrous look of the vampires is great! Just as Landis changed the lore of the werewolf in American Werewolf in London, he changed up the vampires. In a day and age we live in now where vampires have become these pretty and over-sexualized perfect beings we can look back on Landis who decided, they can be sexy but what happens when they’re pissed? What happens when sunlight hits them? What about their transition from human to vampire? He treats the vampires almost as if they are constantly burning bodies, they have no blood and therefore need to feast on victims to obtain the flow through the body lest it whither, especially in sunlight where they completely burn and fall to ash. This is shown in an awesome scene where one of the vampires awakens in a hospital, his pulse completely stops as he turns and then the pulse comes back after the transformation as a nurse opens the curtain letting in the sunlight, he bubbles and cracks as the hospital staff try to hold him down as he’s screaming. One nurse completely tears off his arm on accident as it crusts off his body falling to the floor and turns to ash. It’s all practical FX and it is epic! The other cool thing I really liked was when Marie attacks her victims her eyes become these crazy dark reds with big black dots for pupils and throughout the film depending on what she was doing they would change color. In a battle scene between Marie and the mafia vampires their eyes changed from Green to Blue to Red throughout the fight and it was really creepy to watch.
Steve Johnson who headed the special makeup FX on this film funnily enough worked alongside Rick Baker on American Werewolf and stayed pretty busy working on both big budget and small budgeted films from The Fog and Return of the Living Dead 3 to Spider-Man 2 and Spielberg’s War of the Worlds. The eyes of the vampires were probably my favorite part about them as they creepily glowed at you. His FX from the roasting of the vampires to gunshots and all the way to bloody massacres in the film are just amazing to watch. The saddest thing about it though is it seems a lot of the gore had been cut down from the original cut and even in the bare bones Warner DVD release a lot had been cut down from the theatrical run. Supposedly the most complete release was the version you can only find in Germany where much of the gore FX work was left in. I hope we can eventually get an unrated cut because the FX work here is superb.
There are a few times where Anne Parrillaud who played Marie did seem to phone in a bit of her performance. Some scenes that called for a bit more urgency she seemed less interested in and at times it’s hard to understand her over her thick accent. She has a narration in the film that at times seems very uncaring and a bit cheesy but I’m not really sure who to blame on all this. As much as I love the film I’ve heard that the original writer doesn’t like Landis’s take on his material as much and I would assume there was production woes as Landis came off a box office bomb that would probably prompt Warner to micromanage him. Or some of these things could be character choices. While parts of the performances bother me a bit she definitely plays the part necessary for the film and it works well for it. Parrillaud works best when she is in the heat of an action scene and she definitely would be on my list of badass femme fatales thanks to how cool she is in this movie.
Even with studio interference trying to rename the film a French Vampire in America in some countries, I think Landis did an excellent job of making a horror flick that sets itself apart from others and apart from his former horror outings. It’s a badass mafia vampire flick and it’s funny as hell! Try and see if you can spot the Sam Raimi and Dario Argento cameos and enjoy a blood filled mafia horror flick!
11 More Days til’ Halloween! Halloween!
11 More Days til’ Halloween Silver Shamrock!