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How 1986’s Vamp Reminds Us of Martin Scorsese

By  · Published on July 7th, 2016

There are so many reasons to love Vamp, a b-horror/comedy from 1986 that, much like the bloodsuckers it depicts, has gone subterranean in the years since its release. It’s entirely the type of cult film that is not only the lifeblood of our weekly podcast Junkfood Cinema, but also the epitome of the gold one can strike when plumbing the depths of forgotten films.

Vamp has a simple, but unique premise: two college frat pledges promise to find a stripper for a party, thus securing their entrance into the fraternity. Their search takes them to a seedy club in an abandoned part of town wherein the dancers are also vampires!

If that plot device sounds at all familiar, it’s because Quentin Tarantino has clearly seen and even more clearly admires Vamp, as so many elements of the conceit find their way into his From Dusk Til Dawn script ten years later.

When counseling young screenwriters, Aaron Sorkin often offers that “the worst crime you can commit is telling the audience something they already know.” To wit, Vamp dispenses with most exposition, tearing out gory chunks of vampire lore and tossing them into the dumpster not because it doesn’t understand how to construct its own mythology, but because it trusts its audience to grasp the basics of Vampire 101. In fact, the foundation of that implied shared knowledge allows for a more subtle assembly of its own rules. It literally sneaks in through the shadows and surrounds the viewer; akin to a vampire victim unaware of the threat until its too late.

Further aiding in the lowering of our defenses is the tone of the film. Yes, there are vampire strippers as well as, much like in From Dusk Til Dawn, a violent queen of the damned (played here by 80s counterculture warrior Grace Jones). But Vamp is first and foremost a comedy; playing like a self-contained, single-night farce. In fact, this film shares more in common with Martin Scorsese’s After Hours than it does its decade-removed imitator. What begins with a sexually-motivated misadventure ends with our heroes running a gauntlet of outlandish characters and wacky scenarios in an epic, escalating struggle to survive until the morning.

And therein lies the central component that allows Vamp to stand head, shoulders, and leathery bat wings above other vampire flicks: we want our heroes to survive, but we don’t want this night to end. Around every corner is another oddball character, another hilariously absurd pitfall, or another Jim-Jarmusch-esque community of otherworldly loneliness that cares as little about your presence as the world cares about theirs.

Take our skeletal hands and let’s go traipsing where we don’t belong, listen to our full thoughts on Vamp in this week’s episode of Junkfood Cinema!

As a special treat, anyone who backs JFC on Patreon will have access to a weekly bonus episode covering an additional movie from the summer of 1986! Have a couple bucks to throw in the hat, we’ll reward you!

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Longtime FSR columnist, current host of FSR’s Junkfood Cinema podcast. President of the Austin Film Critics Association.