Not ten seconds after the 1994 release of Anne Rice's Interview with a Vampire came the flood-gated influx of sleazy carbon copies and rip-offs – or what I called Rice-A-Phony cinema. Perhaps the most infamous of these was 1995’s Embrace of the Vampire – a movie that gained its notoriety for its blatant sexuality (via a special unrated version for horny videophiles), most prominently showcased by propelling TV child actress Alyssa Milano into a full-fledged pre-Kardashian skank.
In a 21st century world where most movie titles either have a sequel number behind it...or worse, attempt to remake iconic hallmarks of classic flickdom, the motion picture has descended to a new level. No longer satisfied by defiling the likes of The Manchurian Candidate...or even Ocean's 11, studios now are, like some bent ecologist, recycling the garbage. So, armed with the unfathomable blockbuster Twilight franchise, it was inevitable that someone would remember the earlier teen Girls-Before-Swine epic and, before you can say grotty-hottie, came up with the brilliant notion for this year's EMBRACE OF THE VAMPIRE: A Reimagining of the Cult Classic, now on Blu-Ray/DVD Combo Pack from Anchor Bay Films.
From a screenplay by Andrew Erin and Sheldon Roper (based on a story by Alan Mruvka), this BVFF (Best Vampire Friend Forever) edition is, to be honest, mostly based on the title of the 1995 masterpiece...which the filmmakers apparently thought enough of to believe that scores of hormonal Katy Perry fans would even remember...let alone flock to the theaters (or, the Blu-Ray/DVD racks for the obligatory “unrated” cut). Let's be fair: as with the remake of Psycho, how can anyone even hope to recapture the family values magic of the original?
The funny thing is that, unlike Twilight – which I have yet to be able to sit through in its entirety, this Canadian-made Silly Puttied rendition (slickly directed by Carl Bessai) is admittedly diverting in an Airplane sort of way...concurrently playing to the masses who regard New Girl as highbrow entertainment while unintentionally providing gales of laughter for cynics such as myself.
The movie opens in 18th century Eastern Europe. Before this credit fades, we know something horrible is about to occur...for the simple reason that nothing fun ever happens in Eastern Europe unless it's directed by Ernst Lubitsch.
EMBRACE OF THE VAMPIRE ain't directed by Ernst Lubitsch.
After a particularly loud “oh, that is SO not cool” blood sacrificial rite...we careen toward 2013 and an ultra-modern university that evidently also doubles as a ski resort.
Here young men and women – mostly women – enthusiastically line up in droves for their college education...and with good reason, as the only two classes in the joint are Romantic Vampire Mythology and Fencing (the latter being a requirement), both taught by the same hunky professor. Enter Charlotte (two words which soon become a narrative point), a detached Catholic School orphan, who drifts through the proceedings as if a bomb had just gone off in front of her. Excelling in all two of the paragon of academia's curriculum, Charlotte soon becomes the butt of her jealous fellow classmate's jokes (nice to know that in the twenty years since Night of the Demons 2, the only things that haven't changed when it comes to mean girls are their hairstyles). Little do they know that they are but one hemorrhage away from The Carrie Treatment. In fact, little do they know period!
There are university standards, however – most eminently being a 40” bust and a reference from Victoria's Secret. In toto, the nubile cast of EMBRACE OF THE VAMPIRE comprises a gaggle of twentysomething unknowns – the telltale sign that before long everyone will be naked and engaged in simulated humping...or Pouty with a Chance of Meet Balls.
“Stop thinking,” is the rule of dumb stringently taught by the aforementioned professor Victor Webster – a command duly obeyed by the student body. It also defines the emoting abilities of the cast, who unanimously utter their words of wisdom in annoying upspeak. Charlotte, the perpetually confused-looking Sharon Hinnendael, has a unique thespian approach all her own. Transcending Stanislavsky and The Method, Hinnandael seems to be a devotee of what can only be called The Von Bulow Style of Acting. Indeed her two favorite deadpan verbal expressions, which she delivers approximately 10,000 times during the picture's 91-minute running time, are “I don't know,” and “I'm sorry,” each which accurately critiques her talents.
Since acquiring knowledge is the key to college life – it is pertinent that we discuss the movie's major learning sequence: a midnight moonlit drunken strip orgy segment, conducted by the school's leading sadistic coed (Olivia Cheng) – the nastiest Asian woman I've ever seen with the possible exception of my Korean green grocer. It is here that the movie beautifully celebrates ensemble histrionics. When told that this nocturnal activity encompasses The Eclectic Circle, the camera records the en masse facial reactions – which stupendously suggest, “Hey, you spelled 'electric' wrong.”
Drunken Charlotte is even more baffled than “I don't know/I'm sorry” Charlotte...although far less inhibited. It is here that EMBRACE OF THE VAMPIRE becomes a primer for Women's Studies, as we all become privy to what every female instinctively knows: drinking and getting naked in the moonlight ultimately leads to lesbianism...and, as a subsequent locker room sequence proves...pictures don't lie.
Curiously, for all it's supposed hot unrated writhing and bareback (and front) riding, the sex scenes are spectacularly uninspired and actually way milder compared to the stuff directors Sergio Martino and Umberto Lenzi were doing within the giallo genre back in the Seventies. That said, there is an unmistakable stench of stale thong that permeates every frame of EMBRACE OF THE VAMPIRE.
While the energetic ladies' eagerness to make this movie a supernatural whore-de-force don't always succeed, ya gotta give 'em credit for that old Girls-Gone-Wild college try. But, of course, there are other stereotypes that populate this effective anti-STD outing. For instance, the “nice guy” warm-for-her-form coffee bar manager Chris (Ryan Kennedy), who must have watched every Eighties Robert Downey Jr. movie on a never-ending loop. Then there's Dr. Duncan (I’m not making this up) Johnson (Robert Moloney), the sensitive-to-daylight sunglasses-wearing Dean who can only be described as Bob Newhart possessed by Rutger Hauer.
Finally, there's my favorite: Euro-born Daciana (Keegan Connor Tracy), lifted right out of the 1942 Cat People universe; seeing Charlotte working for Chris as a barista gives the woman a shock – and not necessarily because of Hinnandael's performance. In an accent so heavy that you can barely understand what she's saying, Daciana warns the collegiate, “Yo muss came ant see me rot-a-way!” Whether she means this in a timely or physical way is inconsequential. Besides one should never take anything lightly mouthed by a hybrid channeling Ann Blythe and any Gabor!
And the strange mythology/fencing scholar/sometime lesbian coffee hostess doesn't; soon she is apprised of her mission in life – her hereditary undead disorder...and destiny. As unbelievable as it is, blood is even thicker than Charlotte.
As one might discern, I had a lot of laffs with EMBRACE OF THE VAMPIRE. It did prove one thing that I previously couldn't grasp. While the whole idea of contemporary teen soul-mate vampire pics thoroughly repel me, I couldn't figure out why the 2010 Scary Movie riff, Vampires Suck was even worse. EMBRACE OF THE VAMPIRE cleared this matter up for me. It's impossible to spoof this genre, as it's so silly to begin with. The best parody is to simply ape it. No foolin', EMBRACE OF THE VAMPIRE is probably the most hysterical movie I've seen this year. Indeed EMBRACE's supreme horror moments are akin to the finale of It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World – featuring teen victims catapulted through the forest with “WHOAAAAA!” Stooges hilarity. The blood-letting, too, is nebulous – as if some prop dude is pouring a bucket of Karo syrup over some unfortunate doofus's head...which…ummm…hmmm, oh…
In general, acne-prone vampires have always been problematic to me; I mean, come on – they're just not frightening...or remotely menacing. Honestly, how can one be terrified of any creature that you know Margaret O'Brien could beat the crap out of? (i.e. using her all-day sucker to bash an all-night sucker).
There are genuine reasons for viewing EMBRACE OF THE VAMPIRE – mainly the look. No kidding – the d.p. Bob Aschmann did an amazing job. The photography is often quite stunning; certainly the gorgeous locations help...ditto the outstanding clarity of the 1080p High Def transfer (the 16 x 9 DVD is also included in the Combo Pack). Michael Nielson's score aside, the stereo-surround track in 5.1 TruHD perfectly allows viewers to authentically experience each “OMG” and “Ew!” as if they were coming from everywhere in your media room which, now that I think of it, is a very disturbing thing.
EMBRACE OF THE VAMPIRE. Color. Letterboxed [1.78:1 1080p High Definition Blu-ray; 16 x 9 anamorphic DVD]. 5.1 Dolby TruHD MA Blu-ray; Dolby Digital 5.1 DVD. CAT # BD60119. UPC # 013132601199. Anchor Bay Entertainment. SRP: $26.99.