Vampirella (1996)

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…: Ella lives a happy life on planet Drakulon, where all people are civilised and happily drink the warm blood that is running in the planet’s rivers. (No, don’t ask me, I don’t know either.) There is, however, a tiny group of radical renegades who drink the blood of their fellow Drakulonians in a cannibalistic manner. We do not get a clear explanation, but it seems that this happened more frequently in the planet’s distant, barbaric past and is outlawed in Ella’s time. But there may also be a connection to a drought, which is mentioned much later in the film but only in passing; or a connection to some poverty-stricken wasteland regions of the planet, which are referenced even more fleetingly. It seems we are not getting the full picture here. Be that as it may, the tiny group of four cannibalistic rebels kill the ruler of Drakulon, Ella’s step-father, and flee towards Earth. Vowing revenge, Ella follows them, but her ship gets damaged and she has to hibernate on Mars for 3000 years – a time in which the rebels, led by Vlad, establish themselves as “vampires” on Earth.

If some of this seems complicated or far fetched, it is still the simplest and most straight-forward summary of the back-story I can offer. The bits of exposition that we are given throughout the film are rather incomplete and incoherent. For example, it turns out that Vampirella’s involuntary 3000-year beauty-sleep on Mars helped her to avoid some vague cosmic condition on or near Earth that had affected the four rebels: they “mutated” into vampires, and because of that mutation they can pass on “vampirism” through their bite, and are allergic to sunlight, garlic, crosses and holy water. None of that makes sense, but we are relieved to hear that no part of this affliction is troubling our heroine.

What Vampirella and the vampires have in common is their strength, their ability to (somehow) hypnotise humans, and their ability to turn into bats. Yes, bats. That aliens from another planet should have this specific ability makes about as much sense as the rest of the film’s lore.

Of course, both the vampires and Vampirella have to drink blood. The vampires rely on human blood, but Vampirella received large quantities of highly concentrated artificial blood from her mother before she left Drakulon. Artificial blood which was only just that moment developed by Drakulon’s scientist. Isn’t that a happy coincidence? Lucky girl! Though we never learn why she couldn’t simply get a few gallons of the stuff from the nearest river and put it on her spacecraft.

The film is riddled with such logical errors and missing explanations, but also with a lot of plot holes that seem more blatant here than in your average bad B-movie. I do not know whether to blame the writing or the editing, but there are many scenes in which a character knows something they shouldn’t know because no-body told them.

All these mistakes aside, the plot’s premise would not be that bad: vampires as aliens; a good vampire assisting mankind in their fight against the evil vampires, etc. And some conflict, such as trust issues regarding this new ally. All of this is here, but almost all of it is botched. Vampire leader Vlad (a. k. a. Dracula) has an evil master plan, and by pure coincidence (and entirely unconnected) this plan, which was decades in the making, is about to come to fruition the very week that Vampirella happens to come to Earth, 3000 years late. That grand plan is also pretty lame and does not make much sense, but I would be willing to overlook even that. But the film just does nothing with the elements it introduces. The trust issues surrounding Vampirella are played out in the script, but not in a good or effective way. There could be a lot of tension and drama here, instead all we get is a bit of bitchiness and resentment. Then we have the fact that one of the rebel vampires has children, apparently with a human woman. None of the questions that raises ever come up – although I admit that that would have been a distraction as this issue was not part of the story. Another minor idea that could have been employed to great effect is the fact that one of the vampires is working as an academic, trying hard to debunk any belief in the existence of vampires. That is a beautiful idea, and could have been presented as part of a long-term vampire strategy, but it is never developed or used in any way.

And it is not like there was no time to explore any of these ideas further. Because – considering this film has under 80 minutes of net running time – not much is happening in Vampirella. In fact, there are a number of painfully protracted and empty scenes, including one completely unnecessary scene in which Lieutenant Walsh soliloquises in a chapel.

The film has some nice visual elements to it, and although the sets look very much like cheap TV sets, they are still not too bad for a low budget B-movie. One half of Drakulon’s architecture is reminiscent of airport terminals, the other half of outer-space, purpose-built, military-style buildings we know from the likes of Star Gate SG-1. Las Vegas and the Hoover Dam are used as locations or backdrops for some scenes, and for one scene they chose the YESCO boneyard as a location.

The costumes, however, are rather poor, including Vampirella’s costume which looks just sad. The visual low point are the “special effects”, because the effects used when a vampire turns into a bat are so painfully bad you have to see it with your own eyes in order to believe it.

The fight sequences are equally sub-par; even though they try to up their game for the final showdown, but even then it does not amount to much.

Speaking of sub-par: none of the actors are really good, apart from a few who do a decent enough job like Richard Joseph Paul (as Adam Van Helsing) and Lee de Broux (as Lieutenant Walsh). Singer-turned-actor Roger Daltrey gives a terribly hammy performance as Vlad, who always seems vain and deranged, but never evil or threatening.

There is also a pretty low standard of acting in many of the minor roles, but that is not all that important. Unfortunately, however, the sub-par acting also extends to our heroine Vampirella. Talisa de Soto’s acting in this film has all the hallmarks of daytime television and is clearly not enough to carry a film.

So, clearly, Vampirella is not a good film. I hesitate to claim that it is worse than other cheap comic book films or similar franchise projects that were tried in that era, some of which have achieved some notoriety. But many so-called cult films usually have at least one element (good or bad) that make them stand out. Vampirella not so much: Roger Daltrey, crappy bat-effects, and a cameo by John Landis are simply not enough. This film is a waste of a good basic concept and premise. Some genre fans might enjoy the heroine’s skimpy outfit and the film’s (few and limited) sexploitation elements. But as a vampire film, this did not work for me. I would rate it at about 2.5 to 3.0 out of 10.

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