Vamp – Special Edition (Blu-ray Review)

Vamp SquareThe first kiss could be your last!  Two fraternity pledges head to a seedy part of town to find some entertainment for their college friends, but are faced with bloodthirsty vampires in the comedy with bite – and of course Grace Jones – the 1986 camp classic Vamp now available on Blu-ray from Arrow Video and MVD Entertainment Group.  Vamp is directed by Richard Wenk and stars Chris Makepeace (Meatballs, My Bodyguard), Robert Rusler (A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge), Dedee Pfeiffer (Falling Down), Gedde Wantanabe (Sixteen Candles), Grace Jones (A View to a Kill) and Billy Drago (The Untouchables).  Almost certainly an influence on From Dusk Till Dawn, Vamp is superbly designed by many of Grace Jones’ own award-winning collaborators and features stunning effects by four-time Oscar winner Greg Cannom (The Lost Boys, Bram Stoker’s Dracula).  Delivering laughs and scares in equal measure, the new Blu-ray also includes special features Dracula Bites the Big Apple (1979) – Richard Wenk’s celebrated short film, behind-the-scenes rehearsals, a blooper reel
 and One of those Nights: The Making of Vamp – a brand new documentary featuring interviews with director Richard Wenk, stars Chris Makepeace, Robert Rusler, Dedee Pfeiffer, Gedde Watanabe and Billy Drago.

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Being a product of pure 80’s cinema, the underappreciated horror comedy Vamp might feel a tad dated for the uninitiated.  After all it’s got 80’s actors (a little Robert Rusler and Gedde Watanabe anyone?!), 80’s villains (Billy Drago AND Grace Jones – it’s a profligate party!) and distinctively 80’s effects.  (Nothing says cool in-camera effect like a fake head with eyes that roll backwards to reveal the white!)  But thankfully Vamp manages to stay relevant with a quirky campy quality and heightened visual palate that breaks through the high hair era and makes the film truly a hidden gem.

Keith and AJ are lifelong friends who find themselves pledging for the best fraternity on campus, but when the inane pranks assigned to them go nowhere the two bright boys come up with an alternative inclusion solution – providing female party favors.  So off the guys go, along with car owning geek Duncan, into town where they end up at a local dive called The After Dark Club.  It’s there they spot the ultimate in female exotic dancing – a mysterious and magnetic performer named Katrina.  Determined to not go back empty handed, the gang make their play to get the bathing beauty back to school.  But getting to the otherworldly woman is merely the beginning…

The story here isn’t rocket science – see guy having a bad night via After Hours – but rest assured there’s a ton of fun not revealed in the above.  The beauty of Vamp (and it’s definitely a trademark of the unbridled 80’s!) is that it wants to defy genre description.  Writer/Director Richard Wenk certainly does his part to continue to pioneer in horror comedies with bite – proving that scares and snickers can co-exist.  On the funny front Wenk employs a gaggle of guys and gals fully up to the funny including Sixteen Candles alum Watanabe (his dorky straight man is a hoot!), Rusler (who plays comedy with charisma like no other!) and a young Dedee Pfeiffer (yes, Michelle’s hot little sister!) who gets a little extra spunk out of her charming yet aloof character.

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But Wenk doesn’t skimp on the scares either, the best of which can be summed up in two words – Grace Jones.  As the tall, alluring and odd as hell club’s featured performer Katrina, Jones makes everything from a dark dance to a sexual seduction disturbingly ominous and weird.  (And that’s a compliment!)  Plus the 80’s effects still have practical power (the creature feature make-up is hair-raising!), there’s some leering Billy Drago as a local thug (“We be looking for ya!”) and even some creepy kid biting on albino bad guy action.  (How often you get to see that?!)  Top all of it off with a little post-Meatballs and My Bodyguard Chris Makepeace who goes from teen to tough guy and some sizzling 80’s song singles and it makes Vamp one fun flick.

But in the end it’s by far the experimental visual design that proves to be the crowning jewel of the film and thus gives it life beyond the bargain bin.  Wenk and Cinematographer Elliot Davis take the world of Vamp and give it a heightened sense of visual style and color to match the outrageousness of the events that unfold.  In a sea of powerful pinks, glowing greens and deep reds all under the cloak of night, the shot compositions work in tandem with the salacious story to make all things real and unreal equally believable and bright – a world outside of the real world where anything can happen.  And in Vamp it does.

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Encoding: MPEG-4 AVC

Resolution: 1080p

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1

Clarity/Detail: This is where the disc falls through.  Even though it says it’s from a “high definition transfer” it’s still damn grainy and frankly looks like it was taken off an old DVD copy.

Depth: There is a decent amount of depth with spacing in bright colors working well.

Black Levels: Not a lot of dark places in the film, but when there are they’re a tad too dark.

Color Reproduction: Colors are this films bread and butter and doe not disappoint here.

Flesh Tones: Decent, but not crisp.

Noise/Artifacts: Clean.

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Audio Formats(s): Original Mono Audio

Subtitles: English

Dynamics: Low dynamics which is understandable with a mono track.

Low Frequency Extension: Not hearing a ton of low sounds at all.

Surround Sound Presentation: None – front and center speakers.  (Old school?!)

Dialogue Reproduction: It can be heard – is that a good thing?


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Vamp – Collector’s Edition comes with a reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by the Twins of Evil as well as a booklet featuring new writing on the film by critic Cullen Gallagher.

One of those Nights: The Making of Vamp (SD, 44:30) – This dazzling documentary featuring interviews with everyone including Director Richard Wenk, stars Chris Makepeace, Robert Rusler, Dedee Pfeiffer, Gedde Watanabe and even a little Billy Drago.  (Yes, he’s just as scary as himself!)  There’s a ton of great stories here – best of the bunch being the myriad of Grace Jones tall tales from everyone!  This disc is worth it just for this!

Behind-the-scenes Rehearsals (SD, 6:41) – We get to see unknowing director Wenk rehearse the sex/kill scene with the unbridled Grace Jones – wow.  (He looks like a deer caught in the headlights – run Richard!)

Blooper Reel (SD, 6:14) – Some funny on-set stuff that ends – fittingly – with a montage of visuals to the Phil Collins 1982 classic “I Don’t Care Anymore.”

Dracula Bites the Big Apple (1979) (SD, 22:03) – Richard Wenk’s celebrated short film – quirky and clever.

Also included are TV Spots (SD, 3:44)Two Theatrical Trailers and an Image Gallery.


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As a film Vamp knocks it out of the horror comedy park – it would have ended up on my Forgotten Friday Flick for sure!  The Blu-ray is a good/bad situation.  The transfer and audio of this release aren’t going to win any tech awards, but frankly Vamp still stands tall regardless.  Up side is all the extras, including the mammoth 44-minute doc, make this version a must for any fan of the film. Bottom line – satisfaction is going to depend on what you’re looking for.

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I'm a passionate and opinionated film critic/movie journalist with over 20 years of experience in writing about film - now exclusively for WhySoBlu.com. Previous sites include nine years at Starpulse.com where I created Forgotten Friday Flick back in 2011, before that as Senior Entertainment Editor for The213.net and 213 Magazine, as well as a staff writer for JoBlo.com. My other love is doing cool events for the regular guy with my company Flicks For Fans alongside my friend, partner and Joblo.com writer James "Jimmy O" Oster. Check us out at www.Facebook.com/FlicksForFans.

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