Darke Reviews | Vamp (1986)

So this is the first of the requests for reviews for this October Review-A-Day session. This also happens to be one I am ecstatic to review as I watched the VHS of this from my local video store back home so often the tape began to wear out. This underrated cult classic in the vampire genre bombed pretty hard in it’s opening summer release.  Granted it was against Aliens which made only 10 million in it’s first week that same time and was in the number 1 slot.. This is before the era of our modern summer blockbusters but to give an idea of other competition was Top Gun (10th week), Karate Kid II (5th week), Ferris Bueller (6th week).

But, Jess you obsess over vampire movies can you be fair about this one? Let’s see.

Written and Directed by Richard Wenk (The Equalizer) as his first film it perfectly captures the late 80’s cheese. It’s an interesting career since then with this as his oddest entry. Some movies can defy generation and time, others are locked in it so tightly they become near symbol of what that time was. This is the later.

The story is of two college frat pledges who offer to bring back a stripper as their initiation. In the wrong part of town the find more than they bargained for. Will any of them see the dawn?

It clearly has a mythos and a history to it’s world that it so intelligently doesn’t bother to explain like a more modern film would. It does fall into the horror comedy genre pretty solidly and while not truly campy, it does not take itself seriously either. It lives and breathes atmosphere through its tight sets, which do look like sets, and a near criminal abuse of neon lights. Neon is a character all to itself in this movie and it is an abundant living thing that permeates the film like the smell of bacon through a house.   It actually has some good dialogue beats in it that I’d appreciate more of in other vampire movies. It spent time to let a vampire and human have a conversation – when do you actually see that?

From an acting standpoint I am surprised anyone came out of this alive. The hero played by Chris Makepeace, who represents the typical 80s every man of the time, has a similar look and performance to that of Michael J Fox (duh), William Ragsdale (Fright Night) or Zach Galligan(Gremlins). Slightly nerdy, slightly all american white bread handsome.  He works in the film, but much like others kinda vanished into obscurity after. So few had the weight and raw charm of Fox. Robert Rusler, who plays the best friend AJ,  actually hits some good notes and gives a different performance than he did on Nightmare on Elm Street 2 (something I’ll have to be paid to review). He would go on to appear on Babylon 5 for two seasons but is otherwise also relatively obscure. The two stand outs and memorable are of course Grace Jones and Billy Drago. The film would be so much worse without their over the top performances (and wardrobe). They devoured scenery in all the right ways.

Effects wise, I’ve discussed the neon that functions as a set dressing and is otherwise impossibly over the top. I didn’t know pink and green neon were that abundant outside of a Joel Schumacher Batman movie.  From a make up and prosthetic standpoint they borrowed heavily from the influences of Fright Night and went full monstrous with their vampires with the overly enlarged mouths, claws, and extended appendages. Not your pretty vampires once they are ready to feed. Also it may include one of the few stakings by a shoe out there.


If this movie came out today, I would rip it apart. All things being fair, I would tear into it with gleeful abandon as another bad vampire movie. This, however, has the benefit of some very blood stained nostalgia glasses. It’s not a good movie by any stretch of anyone’s imagination, but it has a lot of fun with itself and the audience.

I can see hints of the conception From Dusk til Dawn in the concept of this movie and it’s make up. While it isn’t good and was a bomb – it’s just too enjoyable. It is a hard find, I had to purchase it on one of my streaming accounts, but I have no regrets.

If you need some awesome 80’s cheese and vampires, this is a good film for you. I’m happy to have it in my collection finally, even if it is only digital.


Darke Reviews | The Equalizer (2014)

Let’s see. The A-Team, check. The Muppets, check. Addams Family, Munsters, 21 Jump Street, and the list goes on.  TV shows are being adapted almost as much as books and comic books. Some better than others from the ability to watch and enjoy them. Some better than others in the box office. Some are even mutilated in their big screen transitions. Hollywood continues to mine the past for future generations, this time going back to the mid 80s.

The original TV series, which ran from 1985 to 1989 starring british born actor Edward Woodward as the title character. It’s the story of a retired intelligence agent of scary abilities who goes into the private sector to help those who need it. So you can imagine my surprise when I see they’ve cast Denzel Washington in the same role. Considering my soon to be coming rant on Hollywood White Washing, I can’t be too annoyed at the casting. I think I am just annoyed it was Denzel.

Before we get any further, let me be clear. I am not a fan of his.  I do not deny that he makes good movies – I just don’t enjoy him in them. Inside Man and Man on Fire being two of my favorite films of his. Though in his years since leaving St. Elsewhere he has countless films that are both critically and box office acclaimed. I find his performances largely one dimensional. I see so many of the same behaviors, mannerisms, and ticks in each performance that I could do an entire cinema sins on his personal tropes. I find him flat but that allows the others and the stories he picks to shine.

This is one of those situations. The film has a two and a half hour run time and it doesn’t need it; but at the same time doesn’t hurt too badly for it. I do long for the time of shorter films that we once had that were still entertaining. This film is bloated with multiple character stories that have Washington’s character, Robert McCall as the eye of the proverbial hurricane.

The movie carries a cast of extras you will know from other work but barely get to see in this, which is a bit of a shame. Chloë Grace Moretz, as a  call girl has one of the more humanizing and less tropish stories. Bill Pulman (Go get em President Whitmore!) and Melissa Leo (Oblivion, Flight) are used to give us more insight into what McCall used to be. Leo’s last line in the film brought a smile to my face.  New comer Johnny Skourtis is used well as a fellow employee of Home Depo…er Home Mart with McCall who wants to do better and finds help from McCall in multiple ways. He, like Moretz, brings much needed heart to the film as McCall is rather bland, but intentionally so.

The films Heavy is given to Martin Csokas, who you may (or may not) recognize from one of his three other films this year, Noah, Amazing Spiderman 2 or Sin City a Dame to Kill For. Prior to this, you were able to enjoy him in Kingdom of Heaven and xXx. I think he watched Javier Bardem on repeat from Skyfall as inspiration to this role. He carries the elegance of Christoph Waltz’s Col. Landa with him as well. He considers himself a force of nature who is then confronted with another one. It plays better than I expected it to.

This might be due to the writer, Richard Wenk (yay single writer credit). He previously had provided us films, such as Vamp (which I clearly need to review this October), 16 Blocks, and The Expendables 2. This tells me he is responsible for the pacing issues as much as he is for understanding how to write decent tension with minimal gimmicks in the script.

Of course, the Director gets some blame and praise as well. Probably one of my favorite action directors ever Antoine Fuqua once again delivers what I need from him. This of course isn’t Fuqua’s first time with Denzel either; having worked with him 13 years ago on Training Day. Fuqua also has directed such films as King Arthur, Shooter, and Olympus has Fallen. He has an eye for good , watchable action that is near unmatched. He is also one of a handful of successful directors who aren’t white. This is a very good thing. We need more like him. His sins, however, in this film are the pacing. There were too many stories. Too many moments that didn’t really add anything on the surface.

Now, between Washington, Fuqua, and Wenk they did something special in the film. They acknowledged mental illness without letting it be something apparent, spoken, or even really ‘acknowledged’ on screen. Yet, it was front and center almost the entire time. You can see by the trailers, and this is not spoiler territory folks, that McCall times things. This isn’t just professionalism or precision at work – it’s a disease. He is exhibiting through the film various stages of uncontrollable obsessive compulsive disorder. Some might say I am reading into it, but I don’t think so. It was too perfect each time it happened. I applaud them for doing it. They took a character like this and broke him in a very real, very tangible, and identifiable way. He isn’t just another Bourne, Bond, or Batman. He’s human and I like the movie for it.

From a technical standpoint. I LOVE being able to see fights. I hate shaky cam. The movie does not disappoint in this way. Yes, they use the slow walk trope a few times, but at least one of them is done to fantastic effect. Editing is good. Music is nice as a largely somber classical or jazz vibe with an electric guitar throne in from time to time putting an edge to it.


The Equalizer is very watchable. It is also very noticeable how long it runs.

It feels its length which isn’t all that good and some of the story elements largely feel unnecessary. I wish they had focused just a bit more and cut some of the fat from the finished work. A good 30 minutes less would have done this movie proud.  The action beats are spread just a little too far apart, but when they do show up they deliver nicely.

I also feel like I’ve seen this character from Washington before, especially in Man on Fire. There’s little different about Creasy and McCall.

All in all – if you were in any way interested expect a slow burn, but you’ll be rewarded for it.

If you were curious Matinee it at best. Wait for Redbox or Netflix at worst.

If you weren’t curious before and are now, the same applies. Otherwise you can give this a pass.

If nothing else it was nice to see another film worth seeing in September.



PS, I won’t be reviewing Box Trolls also out this weekend. One of the perks of being totally freelance is I can review what interests me and that one doesn’t.