Usually, horror comedies are a one-in-a-million, meaning that some work (the Evil Dead trilogy, Slither), and others don't (976-Evil, Vampires Suck), but fortunately for Richard Wenk's 1986 underrated romp Vamp, the horror and comedy actually mix very well, while adding a little satire that helps elevate the film to cult-like status. With esteemed actors like Chris Makepeace, Robert Rustler, and Dedee Pfeiffer, and amazing make-up/special effects by four-time Oscar-winner Greg Cannon, this film can surely add itself to the pantheon of great comic horror.
Makepeace and Rustler play Keith and AJ, two Los Angeles college roommates and best friends who try to join the best fraternity on campus. They decide that an alcohol-filled party with strippers, will be the surefire way to win over the frat boys and move out of their dorm. Duncan (Gedde Watanabe), a rich kid who will do just about anything to make friends, happily gives them his car and goes with them to downtown in the hopes of finding the stripper of all strippers. Unfortunately for them, they show at the wrong place at the wrong time, as they unknowingly enter a bar which turns out to be a coven of vampires led by the squinx-like Queen Katrina (Grace Jones), who has dire plans for them.
What makes Vamp stand out among '80s quirk and camp outings is that it doesn't set out to be a masterpiece; it is fully aware of what kind of movie it is. By not any means a perfect film, it has just enough cleverness and tongue-in-cheek camp to satisfy the biggest horror geeks, with myself included. The cast is a load of fun with Makepeace and Rustler playing off each other with a brotherly chemistry that actually works. Pfeiffer (Michelle's sister) shows up as Keith's forgotten love interest with just enough spunk to make her a little less annoying than her character Amaretto should be. Pop-culture icon Grace Jones is not given that much to do, but she manages to make an impression, even without any dialogue.
I think the real star of the film is Cannon's truly amazing effects. For a late '80s film, they are actually stunning and old-school without looking too cheesy. It is probably one of the last noteable films to have real effects until CGI came in and ruined everything. With all of these elements, Vamp has more thrills and chills than most horror films that came from the '80s.
Arrow, proving that they are the Criterion Collection of cult releases, manages to include some pretty neat special features: One of those Nights: The Making of Vamp is a revealing new documentary with director Wenk; cinematographer Elliot Davis; and actors Rustler, Pfeiffer, and Watanable. There is also Wenk's famous 1979 short film Dracula Bites the Big Apple, a behind-the-scenes/poster gallery, rehearsal footage, blooper real, trailers, and TV spots. Completing the release is a new essay by Cullen Gallagher, with reversible cover art by Twins of Evil.
In the end, Vamp delivers its fair share of scare and laughs, with in-jokes and enough cleverness to make it a bonaifde cult classic that many horror fans and new ones should check out.