Matty bows down before Jim Wynorski’s rollicking comic book adap.
Created by Famous Monsters of Filmland editor Forrest J. Ackerman and artist Trina Robbins, comic book superheroine Vampirella had a long journey to the screen. Hammer, Samuel Z. Arkoff, and über producers Jon Peters and Peter Guber all failed to get live-action adaptations off the ground in the ‘70s and ‘80s before Roger Corman snagged the rights to the character via trusted protege Jim Wynorski. Wynorski had secured Vampirella’s rights just as Tim Burton’s Batman began infiltrating pop culture in the summer of 1989 but script and story issues, rooted in Gary Gerani’s inability to write the film for a low, $1million budget, prevented anything from happening until Wynorski and Corman’s option was about to expire. This here was the result: a quickly assembled production that was plagued by a wealth of behind the scenes problems on the set of its Vegas location. As Wynorski told Big Gay Horror Fan in 2014:
“Vampirella was a nasty, nasty picture to work on. And it came out badly too… It was 110 heat every day. Everybody was gambling, everybody was up all night. Everyone was blurry eyed. There was a thief on set who was stealing money. It was awful.”
With a genesis similar to Corman’s infamous Fantastic Four adaptation, and such a grim assessment coming from its own director, anyone would be forgiven for thinking VAMPIRELLA a turkey. But you know what?
Damn great, in fact.
Delivering the same sort of giddy, cartoon-y thrills as Wynorski’s earlier superhero flick The Return of Swamp Thing (1989), Vampirella is a stylised blast — a pulpy, high energy hybrid of bloodsucking horror; camp, tongue-in-cheek sci-fi; and cheap n’ cheerful action. Lensed with polish by Andrea V. Rossotto and bursting at the seams with Wynorski’s typical chutzpah, Vampirella is a briskly paced pleasure ride and impossible to watch without grinning like an idiot. A natural showman, Wynorski wants to entertain and he does so spectacularly, orchestrating a procession of delicious, bubblegum card-esque images and robustly staged set pieces. And while trim ex Bond girl Talisa Soto might not fit Vampirella’s costume with the sort of Amazonian curves required of her (Wynorski had initially earmarked B-queen Julie Strain for the part), she unloads a quality performance poised somewhere between pathos, tough as nails arse-kicking, and comedic, fish-out-of-water bemusement as her extraterrestrial neck-biter tries to get to grips with life on earth.
It’s Roger Daltrey’s crackpot turn, though, that makes Vampirella truly special. The glue that binds Gary Gerani’s scatterbrained script together (what slim plot there is involves Daltrey’s evil vampire being hunted by Soto’s revenge-hungry good one), The Who frontman is beyond outrageous. Snarling and savouring every knowingly ridiculous line, and flouncing about the place like a hyperactive theatre kid, Daltrey imbues the diabolical Vlad with a hypnotic and infectious sense of megalomania. Of course, many will likely consider Daltrey’s scene-chewing to be no more than bad acting. They’re wrong: it’s simply a man throwing all ideas of nuance and craft out the window and having a whale of a time doing so. It’s a joy to experience — particularly as Daltrey took the role in honour of The Who’s late drummer, the mighty Keith Moon, who was apparently a massive fan of the Vampirella comic. Hell, Daltrey even gets a musical moment where he belts out a grunge-tinged rock number called ‘Bleed For Me’, dressed in his finest Marilyn Manson garb — a glorious sequence Corman cut for Vampirella‘s Showtime debut (where it aired as the twenty-third ‘episode’ of the network’s Roger Corman Presents series on the 28th of September 1996), but one Wynorski mercifully reinstated for home video.
USA ● 1996 ● Action, Horror ● 86mins
Talisa Soto, Roger Daltrey, Richard Joseph Paul, Lee de Broux ● Dir. Jim Wynorski ● Wri. Gary Gerani, based upon the character created by Forrest J. Ackerman
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