(Sterling Home Entertainment)

(A-Pix Ent.)

Straight to video no longer has the stigma it once had, since distributing a film costs so much now that studio lack of faith hardly means a bad movie. However, in the following two vampire epics, that’s exactly what it means.

“From the creators of FREEWAY” says the blurb on the cool box for MODERN VAMPIRES. After consulting IMDb, the only two names that are connected with FREEWAY are screenwriter Matthew Bright and composer Danny Elfman. One can assume Danny is related to Richard Elfman the director, and the film score he hands over appears to be very nearly note-for-note the same as FREEWAY – not the greatest vote of confidence in his relative. One can also gamble that this script pre-dated FREEWAY, much as FROM DUSK ‘TIL DAWN predated PULP FICTION. It is a primitive effort that had a bat’s chance in Hell if Bright had directed. As it is, Richard Elfman’s style evokes the flat, composition-less and hurried look of William “One Shot” Beaudine – only those Bowery Boys movies were at least entertaining. It’s startling to see such inept filmmaking in a time when even the shittiest American picture is decently lit and framed. The cast, clearly seduced by the same FREEWAY crap as I was, looks uniformly depressed and give some of the worst performances of their careers. Casper Van Dien, who is no great shakes anyway, is hopeless here. Natasha Gregson Wagner was so interesting in ANOTHER DAY IN PARADISE. Alas, here god-awful. Kim Cattral – sad.
In the credits but unbilled in IMBd, Ms. E. Thompson is the only one who gives a focused, competent performance as Dracula’s mistress – probably propelled by new actor’s desperation. It doesn’t help that the vampire teeth seem to make everyone slur. Even the elegant Udo Kier gives a bad one here. Rod Steiger, who has redeemed himself from earlier Richard Burtonesque hammy blatherings with a steady string of restrained performances, resorts to a screaming one-note role that still looks sober and is perhaps even more embarrassing because of that. Better to have a coked-out Hopper in a bad film than a sober one, even if you wouldn’t wish it on him. But can Bright’s script possibly have Steiger’s Van Helsing yell “Do it!” ten times as he begs the Crip he’s hired (no shit) chop off Udo’s head? Believe me, that sounds way funnier than it is. But I didn’t expect a whole bunch of Crips to gang rape the bound vampire skanky demon bitch. It would take more than a psycho with a barrel of Viagra in an everclear black-out to achieve tumescence for this reptilian item, courtesy of make-up wizard Rick Baker (billed as “Consultant” – which means he let one of his assistants do it, I bet). And Rod’s reaction? I am not making this up: “Forgive them, Father, these negroes know not what they do.”

RAZOR BLADE SMILE would’ve made a spectacular trailer, or a great series of rock videos for the new Goth music of the film’s composer, Richard Wells. About half of it is good. However, the remaining half is so juvenile, it cancels the pleasure of the intermittent flashes of creativity. At best, Jake West has lovingly studied John Woo and comic books (a redundancy?). At times, this is a pleasure not far removed from, dare I admit it, BARB WIRE. Many of Jake West’s ideas are very clever, not the least of which is grafting Vampirella to La Femme Nikita. He had me on that high concept alone, but it was the fear previously discussed, that innate distrust of straight-to-video (did you ever see the king of the worst, RETURN OF THE ALIEN’S DEADLY SPAWN?) that kept me from going there until I saw the “Femme Fatale” blurb and then read in another 3rd rate “Fangoria” clone (whose name mercifully escapes me, or they would feel my wrath) that it was worth a look. But I forgot, these sort of endorsements are by pud-puller addicts who are dreaming of getting bitten as they spurt that other life essence. Faire geeks, Dungeon & Dragon denizens, subscribers to “Heavy Metal” magazine…o.k., some of you must be getting laid. And who can fault Jake West’s astonishing collection of PVC corsets and stiletto-heeled thigh boots? He just has to ruin it with ridiculous shots of Eileen Daly turning to look in the camera and hissing (Jake is referencing the end of THE GREAT TRAIN ROBBERY, not Godard), a shot he must repeat about 3 times minimum. He also has most of the actors speaking their lines like the Agents in THE MATRIX (and I wasn’t wild about it there, either). This only increases the Faire Geek quotient – like the Aleister Crowley followers I knew who thought their spells needed to be recited in bad British accents. Here, the accents are real, they just sound bad. It is no surprise when the final twist has a ridiculous Dungeons & Dragons origin – I won’t ruin it just in case you’ve been naughty and are craving punishment.

Once more, my bodhisattvic duty has forced me to spend time reviewing this waste of human effort, so that you will be spared. As always, I remain your humble servant from the depths of DVD Astro-Hell. No, don’t thank me, just pass the word.

Marc Olmsted