Modern Vampires

Modern Vampires (1998)
Studio Home Entertainment (Sterling)
Cast: Natasha Gregson Wagner, Casper Van Dien, Rod Steiger, Udo Kier
Extras: Commentary Track, Documentary, Trailers

If there were a price for the most misleading packaging for a movie, one where the creators of the publicity materials either completely missed the meaning of the film or purposefully tried to veil it, I believe this prize would have to got to Sterling Home Entertainment’s recent release of "Modern Vampires". What looks like a cheap "Blade" rip-off at first sight turns out to be a hugely humorous persiflage of the vampire genre, better than most horror spoofs we have seen in recent years. The red cover features two ultra-tough looking guys on the cover with glistering symbolic daggers – that never appear in the actual film – to give the impression they must be the hunters of those titular "Modern Vampires". Wrong, they are the vampires, but their pose and dressing up has nothing to do with their characters in the movie. On the back we see a series of images and text that make the statement for a seriously nasty vampire horror film, but once again, we’re far from it, as I mentioned before. So, in a word, forget the misleading packaging or anything it seems to scream.

I was looking for a good entry in our Halloween Specials and wasn’t really expecting anything special – even more so since I hated "Blade" and this film associated a resemblance. Only about five minutes into the film I had had a good number of chuckles and figured that something was a little askew here. So let’s take a look at what Sterling Home Entertainment is REALLY selling us here.

In modern-day Los Angeles, vampires have been creating a decadent sub-culture, unbeknownst to man. Led by Count Dracula himself, they have set up an establishment that allows them to give into their excessive blood thirsts. But vampire killer Frederick Van Helsing (Rod Steiger) is on his way to LA to avenge the death of his own son. He had been turned into a vampire by Dallas (Casper Van Dien) and Van Helsing was forced to out a wooden stake through his own son.

Slowly he is closing in on Dallas, who is too busy introducing and courting a renegade vampire (Natasha Gregson Wagner) to the vampire cult. Van Helsing assembles a small team of vampire hunters from South Central around him to help him in his efforts, but just when he has Dallas in the cross wires, the young vampire makes him an offer. He is willing to deliver Count Dracula himself to Van Helsing, a temptation the aged mortal can not resist. But will he be strong enough to face the seed of all evil?

One of the highlights of "Modern Vampires" is the cast. Spearheaded by a great and agile Casper Van Dien in a much better part than his stultifying "Starship Troopers" role he got initial recognition for, he builds a solid foundation for the story. He is supported by a great and funny cast that make "Modern Vampires" a real joyride. To cast Rod Steiger as vampire slayer Van Helsing was a congenial move, as Steiger delivers his role with NAZI-like dry wits, and off-beat humor. Hearing him try to assimilate his talk to his black assistants is a hoot!

Especially the part of his immediate assistant seems to be tailor-made for Gabriel Casseus who feels absolutely natural in his role. As for the gang of South-Central vampire hunters themselves, it almost feels as if you’re watching the Wayans brothers at work. Even cult star Udo Kier is part of the film in yet another vampire role, once again finding a rather early end. Nonetheless, the on-screen time he has is exceedingly well used. Just seeing him do the Vampire Dance will have you rolling.

Almost every moment of the film contains a funny element, whether it is a cleverly placed line of dialogue, a completely absurd situation, some over-the-top characterizations or sometimes even the off-the-wall acting itself. "Modern Vampires" is certainly no "Young Frankenstein", but it has a fair share of great moments that will crack you up.

"Modern Vampires" is presented in a <$PS,fullframe> presentation on this DVD. Since the film is supposedly a direct-to-video release, it is probably the aspect ratio the movie was originally shot in. The image quality is quite good. The print used to create this transfer is clean and devoid of distracting film artifacts. The compression to is also surprisingly well done. Only sparingly are compression artifacts noticeable in the film and even in the many dim nighttime scenes no dot crawl is apparent, although signs of <$pixelation,pixelation> appear on occasion. The presentation boasts rich colors and deep, solid blacks. The result is an impressive looking image quality that brings out the best of the film’s atmospheric imagery. Color reproduction is accurate throughout with faithfully rendered fleshtones.

The disc contains a <$DS,Dolby Surround> audio track in English only and also offers optional Spanish subtitles. The audio track is well-produced with some efficient – although oftentimes rather subtle – use of the surrounds. Dialogues are well produced and always understandable. The mix is very balanced creating a rich and breathing atmosphere for the film.

Director Richard Elfman’s famous brother Danny contributed the main musical theme to the movie that is reprised throughout the film. It was actually this theme that first indicated that the notion of a hard-edged horror film was out of place. Reminiscent to the music used by Tim Burton in "Mars Attacks," the music has an almost whimsical and implicitly light-hearted note with a slight oriental tinge. The theme is complemented by music by Michael Wandmacher that nicely blends with Elfman’s theme and creates a solid aural foundation for the film’s humorous and the dramatic scenes.

"Modern Vampires" contains a <$commentary,commentary track> featuring director Richard Elfman and main actor Casper Van Dien. It is obvious from this commentary that both greatly enjoyed making this film, and making fun of what they were doing. Never too serious, the commentary adds to my understanding that "Modern Vampires" has never really been seen as a serious film, but more as an outlet for the filmmakers’ creativity, and their boundless fun of making movies. A "Behind-the-scenes" documentary can also be found on this release, as well as a theatrical trailer and a bonus trailer for Sterling’s "The Progeny".

I truly enjoyed "Modern Vampires" and was sincerely surprised by it. It is a funny and schlocky film that takes an ironic look at the vampire genre. It is by far the most satiric horror movie that crossed my path in a long time, and its unexpectedness added to its appeal. I am not sure why Sterling decided to attempt to sell off "Modern Vampires" as a "Blade" rip-off, a film it has absolutely nothing in common with, but I am sure glad I took a chance and checked this film out. The comparison only raises unrealistic expectations that the film can’t live up to through its humorous nature. What adds to the confusion is that the film has obviously gone through a number of name changes down the line, from "Revenant" over "Modern Vampyres" to "Modern Vampires" as presented here on this DVD. Continuity does not seem to be something highly regarded here. Given the quality of the film, I can only assume that some marketing people are trying to disguise their misguided attempts to sell the film off as something else, by giving it yet another alias, and another completely misguided wrap. Forget every notion you will have when picking up this DVD the next time you go to your video store. If you haven’t seen any good horror spoofs lately, this one has a good bite!