Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Wendigo Meets CENTRAL PARK DRIFTER (Graveyard Shift, 1986)

My friend Wendigo would like to make this as brief as possible. For a review, he suggests, "Crap," but I told him that we owe our readers a more detailed account of this Canadian erotic vampire debacle. "How about this?" he replied, "It was crap. That's a complete sentence at least."

To be honest, Wendigo agrees with me that Jerry Ciccoritti's film has some interesting ideas in it, but I have to agree with him that as writer and director Ciccoritti's realization of those ideas is breathtakingly inept. The movie's title has been changed for home video, presumably to avoid confusion with a Stephen King adaptation that's a stinker in its own right, and my Shriek Show DVD doesn't divulge how old the movie actually is. But it's very much a vampire film of its time, though not in any good way.

The title drifter is nothing of the kind. Stephen Tsepes (Silvio Oliviero) holds down a steady job as a taxi driver and has a nicely furnished apartment for his coffin. He has a taste for females who have suicide on their mind, figuring that if they want to go anyway, they may as well go his way. We meet him using his moves to save a woman from throwing herself into a river, only to vamp her instead. So far, so good; let's indulge in the fantasy and assume that he has a seductive power over women despite appearances. But then he goes and ruins it by turning into a gray-haired, gray-skinned fangboy with a breast fetish. Wouldn't you rather have the breast than the neck at a feast? Don't judge Steve, then -- yet.

The Mark of the Vampire and its Maker (Silvio Olivieri, below)

As we'll discover, Steve sort of loses the point of biting women who want to die. The problem is, they don't die. This works out for Steve because he can depend on one of his women to be around if he needs a quick nip on the nip. It doesn't work out when they get hungry in their own right. It emerges that Mr. Tsepes has little control over his brides. He can rebuke them for going out hunting before they're ready, but when he loses focus he loses all control over his bride-otches. Wendigo deems him one of the lamest master vampires he's ever seen on screen. If he's the master, it must be because no one else is available, for now.

Of course, he loses focus in a big way when he meets with music-video auteur Michelle Hayden (Helen Papas). She grows a morbid streak when she learns she has terminal cancer. All the doomed women in the city end up in Steves's cab, of course, but Michelle has something extra. She inspires flashbacks and dream sequences that seem to suggest that she was his love in a past life, but this film will never do something so crass as to state that as a fact. In any event, he wants to screw her, not bite her, and this is when things really go to hell. Steve seems to have a psychic bond with his past victims, and the activation of his libido puts all of them into a feeding frenzy. For a long while we don't know how many "all of them" really are, but we get a police report of ten men getting killed while Steve is doing the erotic-vampire thing with Michelle. We actually see two of these killings intercut with the sex scene in one of Ciccoritti's attempts to be artistic.

Little does Steve realize when he's invited to a costume party that everyone else is only wearing masks. He comes in full regalia, complete with opera cape (not shown here). Wendigo thinks the costume design was inspired in part by the cover art for early editions of Interview with the Vampire he remembers seeing as a kid.

Steve seems none the wiser about any of this, and he adds another bride to the lineup when he bites an actress from Michelle's video in a fit of blood hunger. By the time everyone converges on the video studio for the big finish, including Michelle's jealous husband and his vampire-scholar buddy, it seems like Stephen has at least nine brides, not counting the actress who attacks Michelle and a female cop last seen sucking blood from her own breast in a jail cell. Only one individual is going to walk out of that studio, and you may have guessed already who or what that individual will be. If not, we're not telling.....

Ladies' Night

Wendigo was particularly infuriated by Graveyard Shift because there are so many story angles and character conflicts that the film doesn't explore. The film has ideas, but it looks like they're just thrown in to pad the thing out. The most interesting part of the film is Stephen's relationship with his women, but we see too little of his interrelations with them to really understand what's going on with them later. The vampire himself is a cypher with an unexplored past and the actor can't do anything with the character. For an aspiring erotic vampire film (with obvious influences from The Hunger) Wendigo found the thing quite unerotic. It falls far short of The Hunger's standard of nudity, and in almost inexcusable fashion for a modern vampire film, especially one with so many female vampires or vampires in the making, there's not the least hint of lesbian action in the picture.

Still human, believe it or not: Helen Papas emotes in Graveyard Shift.

Ciccoritti strikes Wendigo as an ADD director and an incompetent writer whose script would have been impossible even for talented actors. Fortunately, Central Park Drifter has none of those. In the lead, Oliviero (also known as Michael A. Miranda) has what Wendigo calls the charisma of a turnip, while Papas goes screaming over the tops at inopportune moments, especially a scene in a park where she confronts Oliviero in a fit of hissing and howling and claw-baring -- even though she's not a vampire. It's bad acting all the way down, including the monotonous husband and the Crockett & Tubbs copycats who pass for a police force in this town. As for special effects, they're special the same way the "special" class was in school. The big finish when the vampire women are all supposed to be incinerated by the husband opening a stage door is laughably bad. Other effects scenes make no sense at all. In one scene, Stephen is stabbed in the back with a knife. Michelle pulls the knife out and it bursts into flames. Why??? Meanwhile, Oliviero's makeup is inconsistent. He often goes gray when he feeds, except when he doesn't. The music stinks, too.

The astonishing thing about Graveyard Shift is that it was apparently popular enough to inspire a thematic sequel, Graveyard Shift II: The Understudy, in which Ciccoritti directs Oliviero as a vampire infiltrating a movie set. Such success as the film had only points to the poor taste of vampire movie fans back then. I can recommend this one only to bad-movie buffs, but Wendigo won't even bother doing that. Remember, "It was crap."

But perhaps you'll disagree after watching this trailer, uploaded to YouTube by AussieRoadshow.


dfordoom said...

I'd go with Wendigo on this one. I can't think of a better description than "crap." It probably doesn't help that 'Im not really a fan of 80s horror anyway.

Jason Marshall said...

Boy Samuel, you must be right on about this one because I got really bored by the trailer. I find reviews of bad movies incredibly entertaining and yours is one of the best. You have successfully warned me away from it, even as a cheap way to get a few laughs. I doubt I'll do much laughing through this one.

What is interesting is how few good vampire movies there are. When I saw "Let the Right One In" I told a friend that it was one of the best vampire movies I had seen. She just paused and then asked what the others are. I thought long and hard but I didn't have an answer. You mentioned "The Hunger" which I haven't seen in years so I don't know if I would like it today, but which vampire movies do you think are worthwhile? Or is it a barren genre?

dfordoom said...

Jason, I hope you don't mind my butting in here but have a great love for vampire movies. There are lots of great vampire movies, but the good ones are not the well-known ones.

My vampire top ten would be Jess Franco's Vampyros Lesbos (1970), Jose Larraz's Vampyres (1974), Harry Kumel's Daughters of Darkness (1971), Jean Rollin's Fascination (1979), Son of Dracula (1943), Dracula's Daughter (1936), Roger Vadim's Blood and Roses (1960), The Hunger (1983), Vampire Circus (1971) and Werner Herzog's Nosferatu (1979).

Oddly enough I didn't like Let the Right One In. I preferred another Swedish vampire movie made the same year, Vampyrer.

The Vicar of VHS said...

I have this one as the odd flick out in a Jean Rollin box set (containing the two late-period Rollin efforts TWO ORPHAN VAMPIRES and FIANCE OF DRACULA), but haven't watched it yet. I used to think that this was remade by Roger Corman as DANCE OF THE DAMNED (1989), but it turns out that was TO SLEEP WITH A VAMPIRE, starring Family Ties' Scott Valentine! I guess the confusion is b/c of my college days of renting anything that promised monsters and sex, at which time I probably saw all three flicks.

I don't know if those other flicks are any better, but it seems from your and Wendigo's assessment they could hardly be worse. :P

@dfordoom--You would really put SON OF DRACULA on that list? I'm a huge Lon Chaney Jr. fan, and I think the flick has some great ideas, but despite that I can't really enjoy the flick. Samuel calls the vamp in GRAVEYARD SHIFT one of the least effective in history, and sadly Chaney's Alucard would be on that list too, I think. :P

comment verification: "presag." The perfect time to get that boob job. :P

dfordoom said...

Vicar, yes I think Son of Dracula and Dracula's Daughter are the two really great Universal vampire movies. Son of Dracula does produce sharply polarised opinions though. I personally like Chaney in the role because he gives it some real menace, although I can understand those who don't like his performance.

But the movie has that great southern gothic atmosphere, some wonderful cinematography (the coffin in the swamp) and it's the first movie to really bring the vampire successfully into the modern world.

As for those Rollin flicks, I loved Two Orphan Vampires and Fiancee of Dracula.

hobbyfan said...

If you can't stand movies like these, Sammy, then do the smart thing and sell them off, either online or at a reputable 2nd-hand video store.

The Vicar of VHS said...

@dfordoom--No argument on DRACULA'S DAUGHTER; that one is wonderful by almost any standard. It's even better made than DRACULA, on a technical level, though for influence of course it can't touch it. Part of that is doubtless availability, though. I never saw it myself until the Universal Legacy sets were released, whereas all the others I'd seen repeated again and again on TV growing up.

I understand your arguments about SON, and may have to watch it again to see if I can spot that menace in Chaney's performance I seem to have missed. Last time I watched it (couple years back) it just struck me that he seems to be too easily manipulated by the girl and then goes out like a punk in the climax, but then that might have been my preconceptions talking.

I liked FIANCEE OF DRACULA a lot too. Haven't watched TWO ORPHANED VAMPIRES yet.

Samuel Wilson said...

Thanks for writing, folks.

Jason, Wendigo published his own top-ten list for the vampire genre late last year before we began the weekly series. His list is in chronological order, running from Murnau's Nosferatu to Let the Right One In. It's definitely a good starting point.

dfordoom, your list is pretty impressive, even though I've seen neither Blood and Roses nor Vampire Circus. I have to agree with Wendigo, however, in finding Herzog's Nosferatu something of a bore. Then again, we saw the English version many years ago; does language make a difference?

Personally, Vicar, I like Son of Dracula a lot in spite of Chaney's dubious mastery. I see his menace as a matter of sheer brute force, but Creighton also puts some effectively glowering contempt into some shots. But I really dig the film because of the way Robert Siodmak stages a film noir revolt inside a vampire movie and dares to make a femme fatale a bigger menace than a master vampire.

Hobbyfan: Are you buying? After this review?? My morals would forbid me from making anyone ever pay money for Central Park Drifter -- unless someone wants it pretty badly, if you know what I mean $$:}

dfordoom said...

Samuel, I agree on Chaney in Son of Dracula - it's the brute force thing, which makes him a different kind of vampire. Possibly a more American kind of vampire. Rather than relying on old world charm you get the feeling he's more likely to use his fists! More like a Duke Wayne sort of vampire.

That's one of the things I love about this movie. It doesn't just drop a European vampire into an American setting, it actually tries to Americanise the vampire legend. It's another area where the movie seems way ahead of its time.

Anonymous said...

A stylish vampire movie with a unique look. Very well done on a low budget. Helen Papas makes a beautiful, erotic leading lady. Her nude scenes are amazingly hot. I still fondly recall the beautiful perfection of her breasts over twenty years later.