St John Karp

Ramblings of an Ornamental Hermit

“Vamp” (1986)

Vamp title card.

Parker and I traumatised ourselves last week when we undertook Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker (1979). I had fond memories of his adaptation of Solaris, and I’d just finished reading Roadside Picnic so it seemed like a good time to watch his adaptation of that. We’d been talking about doing a Tarkovsky movie for years but they’re all a million hours long so they’re not always convenient. Stalker turned out to be even longer, with a runtime of approximately thirty-seven years, so by the time this week rolled around we were gagging for something lighthearted and short. We settled on Vamp, a 1986 horror/comedy starring… well, you’ll see.

Two hung twinks. I mean two twinks getting tied up. I mean...

We open with two twinks getting strung up in a sacrificial ritual that turns out to be a really lame frat-house initiation. I didn’t go to uni in America so the whole frat arrangement is completely bizarre to me. Near as I can tell there are these gangs named after Greek letters, but don’t let that fool you, they’re not ancient history clubs so they don’t actually learn Greek or anything. It’s more like when people go to jail they have to figure out whose bitch they’re going to be. And then the frat brothers have to do hazing rituals like eat dog food and play games like beer pong that deprive you of alcohol unless you can throw tiny balls into solo cups. Then when you graduate, after years of emotional abuse and psychological damage, you get Stockholm syndrome and look back on that day you got stripped naked and staked to an anthill as the best time of your life.

Some experiences tend to taint a person, you know? I have a friend who was so proud when his younger brother ate dog food in a frat. He beamed with pride as he showed me the photo of the quivering mound of dog food and his brother poised to scarf it all down. Now every time my friend says how smart his brother is, I think, “He ate dog food, how smart can he be?” And when I meet him from time to time, I can’t hear what he’s saying about politics or economics because all I can think is, “You ate dog food. You ate dog food. You ate dog food.” He bears the taint. It can never be lived down.

Where was I? Shirtless twinks, lots of rope, cult leaders in blood-red cloaks. Pretty tame, guys. I know people for whom that’s a slow Tuesday night.

Two teenagers breaking the fourth wall.

These two massively uninteresting teenagers are going on a road-trip with the university’s obligatory dorky rich kid because they have to find a stripper to bring to the frat party. They seem to know they’re in a bad movie because they clock the camera fairly dead-on in a few places. To be fair the audience is probably also questioning their life decisions at this point.

A newspaper ad for the After Dark Club.

They see this ad in a newspaper for the After Dark Club and decide yep, that’s where we’ll get ourselves a juicy stripper for the frat party. Because nothing says sex like a disembodied head staring down at you like kinky Stalin.

An Andy Warhol lookalike.

Somewhere along the way they get into a knife fight with Andy Warhol. This guy’s got to be one of the vampires, right? There’s no way he just looks like that. Wait, he’s not a vampire? That’s just his look? He wakes up in the morning and thinks, “My skin needs to be a lot more dry and flaky today because I don’t look enough like a space mummy.”

Grace Jones performing in the strip club.

Aaaaand here’s the bit we’ve all been waiting for, because you know who’s in this film? It’s Grace fucking Jones! She makes her big appearance at the strip club by performing a striptease as… what has she come as? A shell-shocked geisha? Straight men get turned on by the weirdest things, I swear, because our frat boys decide that this is the stripper they want to bring to the party — the alienating androgynous sex clown.

A withered man in a bad toupée.

Something something vampires, something something. You know the drill, they run around for a while, so-and-so gets bitten, this is the stage of the movie where I go get more wine and pistachios and start asking Parker who he is in this movie. It’s not hard to find me — this corpse in a toupée operating an elevator is giving me all the good vibes.

The Skinny

A weirdo in a pink suit and bushy eyebrows.

“Instead of making us go through all these stupid, immature, asinine tests, which by the way we find incredibly boring…”

Took the words right out of my mouth. This isn’t what you’d call a good movie. It isn’t even what you’d call a fun movie. It’s hard to guess what its draw was because it’s pretty lame as a road trip, frat house, or comedy movie, and it’s not all that great as a vampire movie either. All the best bits were Grace Jones being weird, but you can’t fill an hour and a half with that. I’m not sorry I watched it because bits are iconic as hell, and it has some great acting and design work. Plus this constant pink-and-green colour palette…

Livia from 'I, Claudius.'
Livia says: “Green? I’ve never seen green before.”

As I was saying, the pink-and-green colour palette is very otherworldly and sets a good mood. Someone put a lot of work into this, and I can appreciate all the things they got right, but ultimately even the talents of Grace Jones can’t make it good.