Vampire Knights (1988)

Kenny is a young man obsessed with vampires and the occult. He is a follower of a very unsuccessful televangelist called Sir Peterson, who promotes an alleged vampire hunting society called “Vampire Knights”. Membership (including membership card, shiny medallion, etc.) only costs $29.95…
Kenny’s two room-mates do not share his obsession with vampires, but they are obsessed with girls. But their very different kinds of interests are going to unexpectedly overlap one night…

 

I went into Vampire Knights with very low expectations, but in some regards this horror comedy surprised me. The film’s plot is not really any dumber and its writing not really any worse than that of Once Bitten. And since that comedy came three years before it, it might well be that Vampire Knights was influenced by Once Bitten’s tacky “humour”. Possibly the film’s writer/director/producer Daniel Peterson (who reportedly shot this film in just 7 days on a budget of just $7000.-) aimed at the same audience, just more via the home rental avenue.

 

Which brings me to the list of the film’s shortcomings. A lot of the humour, especially the not-so-subtle sexual innuendo is rather lame. That is one of the things we reminded me of Once Bitten, where the vampirism=sex analogy was also overplayed and lame – although that Jim Carrey film somehow seems to be the worse culprit in that respect.

 

The writing, especially the dialogue, is uneven at best; and there is relatively little happening in the film as the plot is rather limited. So you have a lot of “lulls” in the action as Kenny and other characters are stalking around the house, looking for someone or something. And the very limited sets (basically only two indoor locations) make these scenes even more dull, as the characters are repeatedly walking up and down the same few yards of corridor, somehow managing to miss each other. That could and should have been played for comedy, but it wasn’t.

 

The acting is one of the film’s biggest problems as most of the actors are not particularly good – not really surprising in a film without a budget. The actors are not particularly bad either, but a lot of the smaller roles are simply marred by near-amateurish acting. So whereas in other comedies those smaller parts might be used to dress up an otherwise mediocre script, there is no chance for this here. And the writing is certainly not helping the actors, as the characters are one-note and we do not really get to know any of them (except, maybe, Kenny). So Ann Michaels, Robin Stille, Billy Frank, Thomas Kingsley, and Lee Martin are bit-acting their way through this film – at times successfully, but more often not so. They have a certain grip on their characters, or what little there is of a character, and try to embody it, and sell it, but it mostly falls flat. A particular problem seem to be scenes in which these actors have to interact with one another; while poor Anne Michaels‘s acting efforts are additionally hampered by fake vampire teeth that barely allow her to speak properly.

 

But it is not all bad. Mary Logan is delivering an almost good performance, and her chemistry with Ken Abraham’s Kenny works. Abraham is not bad either, but his character (although the most “elaborate” in the film) is not developed enough by the script. That becomes a problem, as Kenny has a lot of screen-time, often alone, and Abraham often cannot carry the film in these scenes, simply because Kenny is too poorly written, and that includes many of his lines. Kenny “works” better in scenes in which he is interacting with the rotting skull prop he made in his spare time, and tellingly Abraham’s interaction with the skull is much better than his interaction with either Kingsley or Frank, who are playing his room-mates.

The strongest performance may be that of Pierre Turson as Sir Peterson. He knows exactly what he is doing, as he hams it up to imitate televangelists, TV home shopping hosts, and similar sellers of snake oil.

 

Which brings me to the film’s stronger moments. Sir Peterson seems to broadcast live on some tinpot local channel, and we can witness (via Kenny’s TV screen) his battle with inept camera work, missing props, and the general shoddiness of that TV station. Sir Peterson himself is portrayed by Turson as a highly-strung, insecure presenter who lashes out at his co-workers and displays all the negative attitudes and streaks of paranoia that a good comedy usually uses when portraying a Hollywood diva. Turson fully embodies that character and throws himself into this role whole-heartedly, and the lines he is given (or makes up) in these moments are rather good as well.

 

Another pretty enjoyable set-piece in Vampire Knights is a slap-sticky running gag involving a fold-down bed with a mind of its own. The gag is used rather judiciously and for me never gets old or tired. Still, after a while it dawns on you that it is not actually a good sign that this bed has far better comedic timing than most of the cast.

 

Another positive element is that the film has a certain stylistic coherence. Whatever one may think about the quality of the acting, it has to be said that tonally the actors are all on the same page. This is not a given, as not even a multi-million-dollar production like Vampire Academy managed to achieve that. If you add the (contemporary) clothing, costumes, and hair/make-up, as well as the genuine 1980s soundtrack, Vampire Knights is one stylistic and tonal unit. It does not fall apart at the seams as so many other cheap horror comedies do.

Which means that, if only the acting and writing were (much) more solid, and if the budget had been a bit higher, Vampire Knights could be quite an enjoyable film on par with similar mediocre genre comedies of that era.

As it stands, it is not a totally bad film, but it is definitely not a good film either. I guess a 3-out-of-10 rating would be in order, and considering its soundtrack and its occasional amusing elements (and considering the fact that there is barely any plot that you could accidentally miss) this might be a suitable film to have running in the background at a Halloween party.

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