It’s kind of fun to watch, at least if you’re into this sort of thing, chiefly because of the general dementedness of the whole operation.
Len Anthony only directed three films, all in the 1980s, and the titles give you a good idea of his particular bent: Murderous Intent, Vampires, and Fright House. He also wrote and produced all three films, which gives you an idea of what kind of a budget he was used to working with. Yet Anthony has achieved something like cult status as a director—I suspect the mix of sex and horror in his films has something to do with that—which explains why Film Chest is bringing out a new DVD release of his 1989 film Vampires.
The soft porn doesn’t take long to begin in Vampires—less than five minutes in, we get to see a young lady undressing (with NYC parade rules—anything goes from the belly button up) and taking a shower. Ominous music on the soundtrack indicates that not all is well, as if we didn’t know that from the Rider-Waite tarot cards and doom-laden voice-over that opens the film. What’s that shadowy hand reaching toward this nubile young female? Boo! Oh right, it’s only her boyfriend, and the two of them proceed to get busy. Well, you know what happens in horror movies to young people who have sex, and this is not the film to upset your expectations.
Welcome to Len Anthony’s world of schlock cinema. The story proper begins with the arrival of a new student, Ione (Orly Benyar), at the apparently very posh Abadon school. Ione is a bit foreign and formal, particularly compared to the other students but is excited to take her place as a scholarship student. The school is located on an estate with appropriately Gothic buildings and lots of creepy carvings that go a long way toward establishing the right atmosphere for horror. As if the setting itself wasn’t enough, the head mistress (Jackie James) likes to wear a druid cloak and wander the windswept halls in a billowing white gown. She also seems to have the power to exert some kind of mysterious control over the on students, and wouldn’t you know, she’s cast her eye (literally) on innocent young Ione.
Vampires is pure schlock cinema, and as a such will likely appeal only to people who already like that sort of thing (it’s not the film to win converts, in other words). The plot is ridiculous, much of the dialogue and acting is absolutely terrible, music cues underline every twist and turn, and the whole film seems to have been shot on a budget of about ten dollars (which explains the frequent references to Tarot cards—when was the last time you saw something like that in a film that could afford real sets?). Yet, it’s kind of fun to watch, at least if you’re into this sort of thing, chiefly because of the general dementedness of the whole operation.
Another reason to watch Vampires is the cinematography of Ernest Dickerson, who went on to shoot many films for Spike Lee, as well as episodes of some notable TV series such as The Wire, Dexter, and The Walking Dead. Dickerson makes the most of the Gothic setting and does a lot with fog and shadows and unusual camera angles to make this film look better than it really is. Vampires is also notable because it’s one of few films including a major role for Duane Jones, who gave a memorable performance as the last man standing in Night of the Living Dead. I haven’t heard of any of the other cast members, and their average film experience seems to be about three low-grade horror flicks apiece.
Vampires is distributed on DVD by Film Chest Media Group, with a street data of May 10. There are no extras on the disc. The visual quality is not great—visuals are frequently soft, exposures are all over the place, and the digitization process did this film no favors—but not having seen the original, I can’t say whether Film Chest made a valiant effort to produce the best image from a bad master or whether they just took it as is. | Sarah Boslaugh