Monday, April 19, 2010

Wendigo Meets INNOCENT BLOOD (1992)

My friend Wendigo wants to be upfront about John Landis's vampire-vs-gangster story; he considers it a guilty pleasure. Let's start with the guilt: honesty compels him to admit that it's clearly not a good movie. He regards it as a half-hearted effort that brings no fresh viewpoint to either of its genres. On the surface, on pure storytelling terms, it's pretty sad. But once you get past the superficial details and consider the body of Anne Parillaud, you see how the film can still be a pleasure whenever she gets naked. Wendigo is willing to admit that the only thing Landis got right was to get the erstwhile Femme Nikita out of her clothes as often as possible.

Anne Parillaud plays a passive-aggressive vampire in Innocent Blood.

Most of the other actors do all right with the material they're given, with one huge exception: the male romantic lead, Anthony LaPaglia. He's a stiff with no chemistry whatsoever with Parillaud; during their big love scene he seems to be in pain, as if intercourse with this inviting actress was somehow distasteful or embarrassing for him. As an undercover cop, he's given little to work with since the story focuses on the vigilante vampire and the cartoonish gangsters. Landis and writer Michael Wolk have an obsolete notion of organized crime. While Robert Loggia tries hard as the gang boss turned vampire, neither he nor any of his minions seem like convincing criminals of 1992. It's two years after Goodfellas, but you can't tell that from this movie. Landis's gangsters seem like something out of Scarface -- and we don't mean Tony Montana, man. There's nothing automatically wrong with this retro approach, but in Landis's hands it's all lifeless, and not in the way it should be.

Robert Loggia doesn't get the satisfaction he hoped for from his meatsicle.

From the director of An American Werewolf in London this is a shockingly inept film. When it tries for comedy Landis seems to make every wrong decision possible, and the action seems all wrong for a vampire film. There are way too many car chases and crashes. This is a movie that could have used more gore, but all too often our vampire heroine dispatches bad guys with the cliche neck-snap you got from every action hero in those days. This approach reminds Wendigo of Lon Chaney Jr.'s kills in the Wolf Man movies; he'd shake someone a few times and drop them, and you'd find out later that the victim had his throat torn out. Universal could barely get away with that in the 1940s (admittedly, they had to), but in 1992 you expect better from a monster movie. It's more frustrating because there are some good effects. Parillaud's first kill (of Chazz Palmintieri) is a nasty bit of work, while a vampirized Don Rickles has an awesome death by daylight disintegration. But the film never maintains that level of viciousness.

"Landis, I know they call me Mr. Warmth but this is ridiculous!" Don Rickles makes his exit (above), while Loggia's stuntman tries to top him (below).

Anne Parillaud is lovely to look at, but her vampire effects are pretty weak. She gets a variety of mood-colored eye effects when she feeds or tries to scare folks, and she has a silly-sounding devil voice that is no more intimidating than the vocals on a death-metal album. The film's concept of vampires is a little unusual. These fangless creatures can be killed zombie-style, with a bullet to the brain, rather than with stakes through the heart. Religion is irrelevant, since our heroine can romp around a church with no ill effects in a badly-filmed POV scene that leaves you wondering if she's running, climbing, flying or turning into a bat. Vampires come with the usual package of heightened strength and senses ("I can hear an angel fart," Loggia explains).I called Parillaud a vigilante vampire, but Wendigo doesn't really agree. She isn't motivated by any sense of justice, just by the thought that criminals are expendable and preferable to innocent people as food. Since she does hunt humans she isn't really what we think of now as a noble vampire, but I suppose she's good enough for what the film wants to do. There's some backstory hinted at at the beginning, but Wendigo is actually glad that they didn't go into it. Better to maintain some mystery sometimes. He sees some Anne Rice influence in small details, but in other ways it's an old fashioned movie. While the setting and the action might make Innocent Blood look like a precursor of today's urban-fantasy genre, the fact that Parillaud plays a lone vampire and the only supernatural entity in the city probably limited its influence. Here the interaction of vampire, cops and robbers is merely boring.

She's a "bloodsucking superbitch" and she's packing heat!

Innocent Blood is pointlessly self-indulgent, loaded with film clips of dubious relevance and the usual list of cameos, including the inevitable Forrest J. Ackerman. I could believe that Landis was more interested in these bits of trivia than the story he had to tell. But even though it looks like the once-mighty director has hit bottom, Wendigo finds moments and concepts that make him fell even more guilty about liking the film, because he knows that Landis could have done so much better. At the time of American Werewolf the director said that he'd wanted to do a vampire movie but felt that the concept had been done to death already. If it hadn't been, Landis did his best to drive a stake through it here.

Wendigo has a crappy fullscreen DVD that won't even play on his Blu-Ray player. It doesn't even come with a trailer, but NakedBrotha2007 has posted it to Dailymotion.

Innocent Blood (Theatrical Trailer)
Uploaded by NakedBrotha2007. - Full seasons and entire episodes online.

1 comment:

Ninja Dixon said...

Personally I think it's one of Landis best movies, and probably the one of his producions I've revisited most during the years. I rate it highter than An American Werewolf... which I find a bit... boring and uninspired, but well made.