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October 11, 2009

'80s Cheesy Horror Double Attack!

With the month well under way, and several more serious films stealing my attention at times thus far, I thought it only fitting to stop and take a travel back to a simpler time. A time when music was big and hair was bigger. A time when Spielberg owned the world, and when Stallone and Schwarzenegger were kickin' ass at their best. And, most sadly, a time when I was too young to watch awesome movies like these.

1986, Dir. by Richard Wenk.

When it comes to vampire movies of this decade, my thoughts immediately turn to Tom Holland's brilliant Fright Night, which is probably one of the 5-10 movies I've seen more than any others. In fact, I've seen it so many times that I don't plan to watch it this month. Umpteenth viewings of the more famous The Lost Boys and the more indie Near Dark didn't sound necessary either, and that led me to picking up my copy of the more stripper-esque Vamp.

Our story starts with AJ and Keith (Robert Rusler and Chris Makepeace), two college kids trying to earn lodging in a posh fraternity house. After a hazing ritual goes awry, smooth-talker AJ makes a deal to get the guys "anything" they want to earn them entry and, being college-age males, the request is of course for a stripper. This leads AJ and Keith, catching a ride with a nerd (Gedde Watanabe of Long Duck Dong fame!), to the exclusive After Dark Club.

The club, is of course, a vampire hotspot. And of course, the "main attraction" of the evening is our head vampiress, played by former Bond villainess Grace Jones. AJ approaches her to propose a business arrangement after her performance draws him in, and you can probably guess where it goes from there.

Vamp isn't a film that's heavy on story or intelligence, but it does '80s goofiness well. The proceedings are eerily filmed and the music fits perfectly - in fact, all the technical aspects scream "Hey, we know how you guys are gonna remember this decade, and we're gonna revel in it!" If you're into the brand of wacky this decade is famous for, the odds are you'll get some enjoyment out of it.

The other positive standout in the film is Sandy Baron as the club's headmaster, Vic. Baron is a veteran character actor, who went on to earn his most fame as the astronaut-pen-owning side character on a few episodes of Seinfeld, but has appeared in many other films too. He fits this role perfectly, sporting a pale look that appears to have come out of a David Lynch film and a seedy charm that is enough to makes me dig his attempts at "working out" the situation while dealing with both the kids and the ladies of the night. Plus, he eats cockroaches. That's talent.

You probably don't need to seek out Vamp if you haven't had much experience with the vampire films I mentioned in the opening paragraph, but if you've seen all of them and are looking for something different, this is the place to be. It's a fun little diversion with some memorable images and characters that's worthy of being called a Solid Selection.

Dead Heat
1988, Dir. by Mark Goldblatt.

The only thing I really need to say about this movie is on the DVD box. It is, in fact, 'The Buddy Cop Zombie Comedy". Yes, that's right.

Cheesemaster Treat Williams and SNL-alumnus/meathead Joe Piscopo star as Police Detectives Roger Mortis (Talk about a stiff name!) and Doug Bigelow, two cops trying to figure out why exactly nothing short of dismemberment could stop a couple of violent criminals they caught robbing a jewlrey store. This leads them to a scientific lab where tests seem to be adminstered to more than just animals. In a brawl with a giant pig-man that looks like B-Bop from the Ninja Turtles, Roger is accidentally locked in a decompression room and asphyxiated.

But, the next thing you need to know is on the poster to the left - You can't keep a good cop dead. With the help of some unguarded Frankensteinish equipment and a too-knowledgable ex-girlfriend/coroner, Roger's back on the case in no time...but he only has 12 hours before his body decomposes. The game is set, and a supporting cast of no less than Darren McGavin of Madison Hotels, Gremlins' Keye Luke, and the late/immortal Vincent Price are all suspects.

As you can guess from my inability to keep this description serious, this movie has cheese all over the place. Piscopo and Williams banter back and forth with one-liners all movie, and in fact I don't think the latter has a line that's not a joke in the film. There are big gooey creatures, lots of blood splatter and shootouts, zombie slaughtered pigs, and more. There are tacked on '80s babe love interests, there are villainous actors revelling in villainous roles (Though Price is clearly limited here by his age and health, sadly), and more. This movie doesn't take itself seriously for a second, and the unashamed nature of it all makes it a most fun experience.

Being a second viewing of the film, I wasn't as enamored by the cheesy goodness on my own, so I think my biggest concern about Dead Heat lies in rewatchability. I noticed a lot more moments that just seemed tacked on to get a chuckle this time around, especially with Piscopo who slides from funny to annoying often in the role. I'm sure the writers wanted to capitalize on his "fame" at the time, but it goes too far at times. The plot is pencil thin, as well, and there's not much mystery to the proceedings, which makes for a few down spots when you're waiting for a reveal you've already figured out. There are, however, a couple of surprises that are pretty memorable, so I won't discredit the writers entirely. A bit of the comedy being cut for character developement or drama wouldn't have been a bad thing, but it's understandable considering the tools the movie had at its disposal.

Dead Heat's frantic energy and willingness to go all out in the name of cheese wins me over in the end. It may not be an all-out success, but I haven't seen a lot of films like it, and it knows what it is from the start. It also does a great job of putting '80s traditions together to make fans of the decade like me feel at home, which leaves me happy to call it a Solid Selection.

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