Summer of the 80’s: Vamp

Summer of the 80′s is a weekly column that will run until the end of August in which I watch a movie released during the summer movie season of the 1980s that I’ve never seen before. Every Friday, I’ll write about an 80s movie that came out on the same day, or near the same day, that correlates with the post here on the site. So follow me as I travel back in time to discover my lost summer at the movies.

About the movie

Vamp was released on July 18, 1986 by New World Pictures.  It was written and directed by Richard Wenk, who hasn’t had much of a directing career but has co-written some films like the recent Jason Statham flick The Mechanic and the upcoming The Expendables 2.  The film stars Chris Makepeace, Robert Rusler, Gedde Watanabe, Dedee Pfeiffer, Billy Drago and Grace Jones.  This R-rated film had an estimated budget of $1.9 million.  It grossed about $4.9 million domestically.  It is currently available on Blu-ray and DVD, as well as on Netflix streaming.


A frightening comedy.

My thoughts

I was originally going to watch Midnight Run for this week’s 80s column and I actually did sit down to watch it but abandoned it after watching about a half hour or so.  It’s not a bad movie or anything but I just couldn’t care less about what was happening on the screen and that doesn’t make for good writing material.  So I looked at my other options and saw Vamp on the list.  I originally had overlooked this title because Grace Jones creeps me the hell out.  Seriously.  Just looking at her gives me the willies and the blu-ray cover art didn’t exactly entice me to watch the movie.  However, it was an 80s cult genre film and that already sounded better than Midnight Run so I swallowed my fear of Grace Jones and started to watch Vamp instead.

Vamp starts off with a medieval looking scene where two men are about to be hung, set to an atmospheric score that made me think of Jerry Goldsmith’s music from The Omen just a little bit.  It turns out all that theatricality is just a fraternity initiation of which two young men, Keith and AJ, are partaking in.  AJ finds the initiation dull and boring and propositions the fraternity to put their pledges to good use by promising to get a stripper for the party that night in place of enduring the overly theatrical initiation.  The fraternity accepts AJ’s proposition and the two guys must now complete their assignment.  In order to go find a stripper, Keith and AJ must first find a car.  They go visit a dorky asian kid named Duncan who apparently has a fleet of nine cars he loans out to people (?).  Duncan tells them that they can borrow the last car in his fleet if they pretend to be his friends for a week.  It’s obvious Duncan has no friends and gets overly excited when they accept and become his new pretend friends.. for a week.  Keith and AJ head out to find themselves a stripper, with Duncan in tow.  They drive through the city and nearly get into an accident, spinning out in an intersection (for a ridiculously extended amount of time) and when the car finally stops they appear to be in a totally different part of town.  How that came to be is a mystery to me and is apparently of no consequence to the characters other than to drop a Wizard of Oz reference into the movie, “Well, I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore.”  From this point on, the story just gets more bizarre and incoherent, though still completely watchable surprisingly (for the most part).

As the story continues, we find out that the strip club they go into is a front for vampires who prey on loners and transients.  When the star stripper (and lead vampire) Katrina (Grace Jones) appears, the boys are transfixed on her.  She does her dance routine on stage and the boys find themselves in awe of her.  A mix up happens and the club employees mistake AJ for a transient and take him into the back room where Katrina seduces him before feeding on him until he’s dead.  Meanwhile in the club, Keith and Duncan are sitting around when a waitress/stripper comes to their table and claims to know Keith and AJ.  She introduces herself as Amaretto but decides to keep her real identity a surprise, wanting to reveal it to Keith at the right moment.  When Keith finds AJ dead in a dumpster and Duncan getting long in the tooth, he finds himself on the run with Amaretto as they evade vampires and a gang of thugs led by an albino looking Billy Drago.

Vamp hooked me fairly early on as the interactions between Keith, AJ and Duncan were all pretty fun to watch.  Duncan in particular is just so overly dorky and provides much of the humor in the film’s first act.  I was actually really surprised by how much I was enjoying the film and then the Grace Jones intro/stripper scene happened.  She comes out in a freaky looking getup performing all these moves while making weird and creepy eye movements.  She gets fully nude (though her face is painted white and she’s got a bit of a tribal painting on her body) with twirly metal things covering up her bits and pieces (but not really).  The whole stripper performance ends up feeling like a bizarre performance art piece and at that point all the fun I was having with the movie started to diminish, replaced with a sense of unease.  Perhaps my aversion to Grace Jones seems unwarranted or exaggerated but damn it, it’s just how I feel alright!  I said it before and I’ll say it again.. she creeps me out (in any movie she’s in).  When Grace Jones, well Katrina, seduces AJ it rivals the stripper scene in its creepiness, especially when she vamps out.  I couldn’t tell which was more scary, her vamp face or her regular face, but either way I was a tad frightened.  It’s a horror movie after all, so I suppose I can say the movie was doing its job!

The one aspect of the film that I liked and had some hope for was the potential budding relationship of Keith and Amaretto, as well as her character’s mysterious link to Keith’s past.  Her character was all over the place, much like the movie, but she was pretty cute and seemed like a fun 80s bubblegum character.  The downside is that there really isn’t ever any payoff to her character or her identity.  There is a running gag of her dress strap falling off her shoulder constantly that happens so often I thought they were setting us up for a wardrobe malfunction joke but nope, never happens.  Amaretto also keeps her character’s identity in a constant state of mystery that just builds and builds until the reveal which falls rather flat especially since she states she wants to tell him when the time is right.  She randomly tells him while they are in a sewer that she played kiss the bottle with him back in the fifth grade and her real name is Allison.  Woh, hold the presses.  Perhaps the nature of the revelation and the fact that she randomly tells him in the sewer is meant to be a joke since Keith does sarcastically reply to her “Wow, you have great timing.”  It just didn’t hit me like a joke and instead felt like a failure of creative follow through.  I should stress though that despite all of this, I still really enjoyed the utter randomness of Amaretto/Allison’s character.

Vamp is a fairly fun mess of a movie that feels like it was just thrown together in a lot of ways.  The story seems rather jumbled and never quite seems to have a proper through line.  At one point, I thought an undead AJ said that they were on another planet, perhaps I just misheard.  AJ, by the way, despite being dead, comes back a few times during the movie and claims to be some sort of zombie vampire thing (again maybe I misheard the zombie thing).  The lighting in the film is full of bright green and pink light sources that don’t exist in the real world (since when do those colors appear in a sewer system?) and creates a comic booky/fantastical flair to the story.  The make-up effects aren’t all that bad and do add to the creep factor of the movie.  When Grace Jones’s character gets exposed to sunlight at the end, her death/face melting scene is admittedly pretty cool.

After having watched Vamp, I can see why it’s a cult movie.  It’s got 80s flair up the wazoo, it’s eccentric and bizarre and has a sense of fun to it.  I think I would have enjoyed it even more if I wasn’t so creeped out by Grace Jones.  I realize for some people she makes the movie but I just don’t get why she was ever cast in any movies in the first place, I just don’t get her appeal.  Hell, she doesn’t speak a single word in Vamp!  She just flexes her eyeball daggers at everyone and moves weirdly.  But all in all, despite my uncomfortableness during her scenes, there is still enough around those parts that would make me consider watching the film again with some friends.  I mean, the movie basically ends with a melted vampire skeleton giving the main character the finger before the remaining characters walk off into the distance holding hands while a rainbow shoots across the sky.  That’s genius right there.


Remember that creepy kid from Meatballs?  The one with the crazy hair that befriends Bill Murray’s character?  That’s Chris Makepeace who plays Keith in Vamp!  He’s pictured above on the left. (I had to make up my own piece of trivia since there apparently isn’t any fun trivia to be found on Vamp.)

by Ben McBride


2 thoughts on “Summer of the 80’s: Vamp

    Grace Jones – Love Bites (7″ Fright Night Mix Edit) (Vamp)

    I had seen this movie many years ago because I love Grace Jones but had forgotten how campy it was. Well we ordered it from Netflix and they actually didn’t have it and had to obtain a copy LOL. We watched it and well….campy and almost cringe worthy like it was before…as hubby said though….still better than Twighlight!!! LOL.


  2. I second you on the Grace Jones creep factor. I do like the lighting. It reminds me a bit of “After Hours” or “Blue Velvet”, in that it feel like this world but there is just something amiss. Good pull on the film, though. I remember watching this on late night Cinemax around 1988.


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