December 2nd, 2008

INNOCENT BLOOD (1992) *** ½

Anne (La Femme Nikita) Parillaud stars as a French vampire in Pittsburgh who takes a bite out of crime by draining a bunch of gangsters of their blood and then blowing their heads off with a shotgun.  When she goes to put the bite on big crime boss Sal “The Shark” (Robert Loggia), she doesn’t get to finish him off and he becomes a volatile wild-eyed bloodsucker.  He then turns his crew of wiseguys into vampires and it’s up to the Frenchie broad and her cop boyfriend (Anthony LaPaglia) to kill off all the vampire gangsters.


John Landis is one of my all time favorite directors so I may be a little biased when I say that Innocent Blood is one of the best bloodsucker movies of the 90’s.  Landis has always been accused of having a flat style but I’d like to think of his style as an invisible one.  His style never calls attention to itself and the movie works because of this.  Landis has confidence in the material and presents it in a matter-of-fact way.  If he filmed the movie like a straight-up comedy, it would’ve been a disaster.  He knows the concept of vampire gangsters is absurd but never once beats the audience over the head with it.  The movie IS really funny too and the reason it works is that Landis allows the humor to come from the situations and characters' reactions.  He also films the more horrific scenes with dead seriousness and nearly all of them are effective.  I was especially impressed with the opening scenes of the film where Landis detailed Parillaud’s routine of stalking and killing her prey as well as the scenes that show Loggia’s viciousness (like when he clobbers a guy with a toaster oven).


Speaking of Loggia; here’s an actor that I think never really got his due.  You’ve seen him on countless TV shows and movies and he’s always been a classy performer.  In Innocent Blood, he gives an incredible performance that borders on operatic and gets some really great dialogue to chew on like, “I can hear an angel fart!”


Parillaud is just okay in the lead role.  What she lacks in the acting department, she makes up for with her body, as she shows it off every chance she gets.  Her sex scene with LaPaglia involving a pair of handcuffs is pretty hot and kinky and is a lot more erotic than anything seen in Basic Instinct, which came out the same year.


The hyper-color eye effects are pretty cool but it’s the special effects of vampires turning into ash when they get hit with sunlight that are the most memorable.  I still can’t figure out how they did that shit.  Credit Steve (A Nightmare on Elm Street 4) Johnson for some truly stellar work there.


Innocent Blood is a great companion piece to Landis’ An American Werewolf in London and it makes you wish the man did more horror movies (his episodes of Masters of Horror notwithstanding).  As with that film, Landis uses pop songs for ironic effect.  This time it’s mostly Sinatra tunes (like “I’ve Got You Under My Skin) and while it doesn’t work quite as it did in Werewolf, it’s still enough to put a smile on your face. 


As with any Landis flick, Innocent Blood features a lot of cool cameos by directors such as Tom Savani, Sam Raimi, Frank Oz, Michael Ritchie and Dario Argento.  We also get fleeting glimpses of Linnea Quigley as a screaming nurse and Playboy centerfold turned XXX star Teri Weigel as a stripper too.  And plus, you just have to love that swinging score by Ira Newborn.


To sum up, Innocent Blood is a criminally underrated vampire flick that deserves to be better known.  Bram Stoker’s Dracula came out the same year and stole a lot of this movie’s thunder, but Innocent Blood holds up a lot better and lends itself more to repeat viewings.  While the pacing is way too uneven and the film goes on far longer than it should’ve, any movie in which Don Rickles blows up is still top notch entertainment in my book.  


Innocent Blood has enough laughs, cool effects and scenes of Parillaud naked to land it on the Video Vacuum Top Ten of 1992 at the Number 6 spot; just above Batman Returns and right below the excellent Charlie Sheen biker picture, Beyond the Law.


AKA:  A French Vampire in America.

EASY MONEY (1983) ***

Rodney Dangerfield stars as a foul-mouthed, hard drinking, pot smoking baby photographer who is in line to inherit a $10 million fortune from his domineering mother in-law.  The catch is that he’s got to stop drinking, quit smoking (cigarettes and reefer), give up gambling and lose a bunch of weight if he wants to get his hands on the loot. 


Easy Money was Rodney’s first starring vehicle and while the scenario seems a perfect fit for Dangerfield’s persona, there’s way too much plot and not enough of Rodney’s one-liners.  Oh sure, the flick is funny and is always watchable thanks largely to Rodney’s considerable charisma, it’s just that the script probably could’ve used another polish or two.  Most of the time, it feels more like a watered-down sitcom than an honest to goodness Rodney movie.  Hey, I’m not knocking it; it’s still a fun flick with some big laughs, just don’t be expecting another Caddyshack or Back to School.


As Rodney’s drinking buddies, Joe Pesci and Tom Noonan get some good scenes and have an easy chemistry with Dangerfield.  A young Jennifer Jason Leigh turns in a nice performance as Dangerfield’s daughter and Taylor Negron is also a hoot as Julio, Rodney’s new son in-law.  It’s a Rodney Dangerfield movie, so of course Rodney’s going to get the best line of the flick when he tells his mother in-law:  “You were the inspiration for twin beds!”

RED (2008) *** ½

Brian (X-Men 2) Cox plays a lonely widower who goes out fishing one day with his trusty old dog Red.  Trouble brews when a privileged young upstart and his gang of miscreants come along and tries to rob Cox.  When Cox doesn’t have anything of value, the teen blows away Red with his shotgun.  Grief stricken, Cox turns to the teen’s wealthy father (Tom Sizemore) and asks him to make amends but he lies for his son and dismisses Cox’s claims.  He then gets a sympathetic anchorwoman (Kim Dickens) to run a story about old Red which infuriates the teens who throw a rock through his window.  Cox’s confrontations with the boys become increasingly more violent and personal until finally guns are drawn and bodies start dropping.


Red tells a story about the consequences of violence and the failure of taking responsibility for one’s actions.  The flick could’ve easily veered into Death Wish territory but directors Lucky (May) McKee and Trygve Allister Diesen keeps things grounded firmly in reality and never rely on cheap shock tactics.  The opening scene is a real grabber and the directing duo does a great job at showing the escalation of Cox’s retaliation against the boys.  It’s only near the end, when the directors opt for an ambiguous No Country for Old Men type conclusion does the film falter.  We the audience, have been waiting 90 minutes for the teens to get their comeuppance and when the time comes to pay the piper we unfortunately kinda get shortchanged.  I know, I know, vengeance isn’t the point.  The point is that things never should’ve gone that far if only the boy had ‘fessed up to what he did, but still.


Cox gives a riveting performance, one of the best of the year, and Red is worth catching solely on the strength of his acting chops here.  Sizemore also does some fine low key work in the film and shows that he doesn’t need a bunch of smack and hookers to make him a good actor.  I also got a kick out of seeing Robert Englund and Amanda Plummer playing Grade A white trash and it was also good to see Ashley (Hellraiser) Laurence looking foxy as ever as Sizemore’s abused wife.


Umberto (Cannibal Ferox) Lenzi directed this sick Italian slasher flick that plays like an inverse version of The Hitcher where instead of a crazy hitchhiker murdering motorists, we have a maniacal motorist hacking up hitchhikers.  (The flick was even marketed as The Hitcher 2 in Italy.) 


There’s a psychopath (Joe Balogh) driving around the countryside picking up cute hitchhikers off the side of the road.  Once they are in the comfy confines of his Winnebago, he gets his kicks by slashing their throats and taking Polaroids of their corpses afterwards.  When he sees Josie (Melrose Place) Bisset, he gets all kinds of hot for her because she reminds him of his whorish mother.  He goes so gaga over Josie that he drugs her, shackles her up in his RV and slaps her around for the next 90 minutes or so.


Hitcher in the Dark does has it’s moments of creepy ickiness, although things do get kinda redundant after awhile.  Psycho slaps Josie around.  Josie warms up to the psycho.  He freaks out because he can’t get it up so he slaps Josie around some more.  Repeat.  Add Josie’s boyfriend into the mix if necessary.


As the killer, Balogh looks and acts like a mannequin who miraculously came to life.  That’s not necessarily a criticism because he’s oddly effective in a weird sort of way especially when he says twisted shit like, “You’re cute when you scream”.  Bisset looks hot naked so I’m not going to sit her and critique her performance when she was nice enough to let the whole world see her magnificent rack.  Speaking of racks, this movie also features the most gratuitous wet T-shirt contest in the history of cinema; which naturally adds an extra half star to this movie’s rating.  If you are a card carrying misogynist, you’ll want to go ahead and give Hitcher in the Dark the full-on Four Star treatment as it sets some kind of record for the sheer number of scenes in which an up-and-coming television actress gets smacked around.


Special mention must also be made of the great scene early in the film where a bunch of idiot white people dance around in an embarrassing manner to some truly stupid music.  The shots of pasty people cavorting around the campground while shaking their groove thing and blasting their boom box will linger in your head long after you’ve ejected the movie out of your DVD player.


In addition to the admirable sleaze content of the film, Hitcher in the Dark is also rife with some wonderfully ludicrous dialogue.  No matter how reprehensible the movie gets, I can’t bear to give it any less than ***, just on the merits of the screenwriting alone.  Let me put it to you this way:  When a cop asks Balogh how he hurt his bleeding shoulder, his response is, “I injured myself while cleaning my spear gun!”  Brilliant!  My favorite line though came when Balogh first starts to get rough with Bisset and she asks him in all seriousness, “Hey who do you think you are, Mickey Rourke?”


AKA:  The Hitcher 2.  AKA:  Fear in the Dark.