FLESH GORDON’S Jason Williams’ is a badass cop hunting “The Vampire Killer” in VAMPIRE AT MIDNIGHT, out on DVD from Code Red Releasing and Maria’s B-Movie Mayhem.
Hollywood’s “Vampire Killer” has struck nine times and left his victims drained of blood. The media is playing up the vampire angle, and even some of the cops think there’s something creepy about the elusive killer. When Detective Al Childress (Robert Random, VILLAGE OF THE GIANTS) ends up with his throat slashed and his body drained of blood, colleague Roger Sutter (Jason Williams, FLESH GORDON) wants in on the case; however, his less than diplomatic means of dealing with the press put him in hot water with image-minded Captain Takato (Ted Hamaguchi). Meanwhile, “private session” clients of psychoanalyst/hypnotherapy guru Dr. Victor Radikoff (Gustav Vintas, LETHAL WEAPON) have been helping him dispose of his drained victims before he finishes them off. One of his clients, stand-up comic Lee Keller (Jonny Solomon) tries to warn Sutter, who dismisses him as a head-case. In spite of that, Sutter ends up paying Keller a visit, but Radikoff and his latest pet Amalia (Jeannie Moore, JUNGLE ASSAULT) get to him first and Sutter barely escapes death. He manages to shoot and kill Amalia, but the three clear shots he gets at the barely-glimpsed Radikoff have no effect. Sutter is suspended pending an internal affairs investigation; however, that gives him time to kindle a relationship with concert pianist hopeful neighbor Jenny (Lesley Milne). Jenny invites him to a Hollywood party where she will be playing, but nerves get the best of her and she falls prey to Radikoff’s promises of using therapy to build up her confidence and unleash her repressed talents. After a visit to Radikoff’s Hollywood Hills mansion, Jenny’s renewed dedication to her craft drives a wedge into her budding relationship with Sutter (as does, her strange nocturnal trips of which she claims to have no memory). When Sutter notices that Jenny’s cross has been replaced with a necklace also worn by Amalia, he realizes that she may be the next victim of the “Vampire Killer” or worse…
Williams, who also co-wrote and produced, is personable as usual as a sub-Dirty Harry-type leaping off of roofs, taking on multiple gunmen solo, necking with one gal and engaging in bondage with another (Williams also acted in, co-scripted, and produced CHEERLEADERS WILD WEEKEND, TIMEWALKER, the DANGER ZONE series, DEATH RIDERS and WILD MALIBU WEEKEND). Vintas has the showier role and (pun intended) sinks his teeth into it. Vintas has made a career out of sinister foreign characters including LETHAL WEAPON and (appropriately) Norman Thaddeus Vane’s MIDNIGHT in which Lynn Redgrave played an unstable TV horror hostess. Milne is an attractive heroine and looks great being victimized by the vampire, but the whole central romantic relationship is obligatory and uninteresting (which is unfortunate because Jenny is offered up as a contrast to the weary and wary Sutter’s work life). Moore is better in the flashier and sexier role of the vampire’s latest pet. She also appeared in Madonna’s music video for “Express Yourself” as a prison warden. Esther Elise (HOLLYWOOD CHAINSAW HOOKERS) plays a “friends with benefits” rookie cop who wears skimpy lingerie under her uniform and regularly cuffs Sutter to his bed (Elise also appeared as a dancer in the arty-yet-empty MIDNIGHT CABARET). Rocker-haired Christopher Nee (billed as Shendt) has little to do as the vampire’s bodyguard other than beat up Sutter with a shovel. One also wonders if Williams’ got stand-up comedian Solomon through Bill Osco – Williams appeared in Osco’s ALICE IN WONDERLAND, FLESH GORDON, and COP KILLERS) – who was in with the LA’s stand-up comedy crowd in the 1980s.
Director Greg McClatchy was a trailer editor at Kaleidoscope Pictures, the company that did the post-production on Bud Townsend’s X-rated ALICE IN WONDERLAND, in which Williams played the “White Knight” (Williams’ CHEERLEADERS WILD WEEKEND was directed by Jeff Werner, another Kaleidoscope editor). His more recent work has been as a documentary producer, but his past CV includes such interesting credits as assistant editor on the low-budget psychological slasher HAUNTS (1977) and editor/associate producer on the Universal-produced horror documentary TERROR IN THE AISLES. His direction is generally assured, but the editing occasionally calls too much attention to itself; he does, however, achieve one brilliant transition from Radikoff biting a victim to Sutter necking with Jenny. The story is fairly predictable, but the notion of a psychoanalyst literally feeding off his clients is novel. Besides the big hair and smoke machines, there is also a pair of trés 1980s dancers whose act makes use of switchblades (to deadly effect under Radikoff's hypnotic influence). Cinematographer Daniel Yarussi (GRADUATION DAY) gives the film an MTV-style 1980s sheen, but the film is nowhere as over-stylized as some other 1980s would-be chic low-budget vampire flicks like GRAVEYARD SHIFT or DRACULA’S WIDOW. Robert Etoll’s score is occasionally interesting, but the track scoring Jenny’s premonitions is a little cheezy and the opening/closing cocktail theme song “Midnight Kiss” does little to evoke the right mood. Mecki Heussen’s gore effects are sparingly used but proficient (Heussen has since worked on the crews of effects artists Kevin Yagher, David B. Miller, and K.N.B.).
Distributed domestically by Skouras Pictures – who also released THE DEAD PIT (also from Code Red), as well as BLOOD SIMPLE and THE COMFORT OF STRANGERS among others, all handled on tape by different companies – VAMPIRE AT MIDNIGHT made its VHS bow on Fox-offshoot Key Video. Code Red’s open-matte transfer of the film seems to have been sourced from the master for that release and has given it a dual-layer encoding. The image is clean and the red-gelled scenes have little distortion (although the black and red Skouras Pictures logo looks a bit harsh), but detail is not on par with a new digital transfer. The 1.33:1 framing looks like it was composed with video in mind and occasionally looks tight when zoomed-in to 16:9. The stereo audio is also in good condition. The major extra is an audio commentary with actor Jason Williams and director Greg McClatchy, moderated by Jeff McKay. Radikoff’s house in the hills is the Wattles Mansion, a Hollywood hills estate which predates the area’s film industry and the other mansions that sprung up later. Most of the Los Angeles exterior work was un-permitted and Williams’ original concept was more of a horror-comedy. Williams was a friend of director John Milius’ wife, which allowed the crew to use the director’s house and grounds for the party sequence. They also mention that cinematographer Yarussi has left the business in favor of circumnavigating the globe. They poke fun at some aspects of the film and some story bits that did not work out, but they are generally satisfied with the final result.
Also included is an interview with actor Gustav Vintos (9:14). The Argentian-born actor (of Romanian ancestry) spends much of the interview discussing his early theatrical career more than his movies. His day job is as an actual practicing psychiatrist, so he found the conceit of a psychoanalyst feeding on his patients amusing. He cites his favorite Dracula actors as Max Schreck, Bela Lugosi, Christopher Lee and Klaus Kinski (and he seems to most emulate the latter in the film). The film is viewable with optional wrap-arounds featuring WWE star/singer/actress Maria Kanellis, who tries to complain about the movie while wearing dime-store plastic fangs and then tries to stake herself. VAMPIRE AT MIDNIGHT seems to have not been planned as a “Maria’s B-Movie Mayhem” title initially, since the main menu screen lacks the logo and Maria imagery and the option to play the movie with her introduction is located in the special features menu. Her “Fantasy” (5:32) music video is also included. The remaining extras are trailers for STANLEY, CUT THROATS NINE, LOVE ME DEADLY, SCREAM (THE OUTING), THE LAST CHASE and SCHOOLGIRLS IN CHAINS. (Eric Cotenas)
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