Matty dissects Jim Wynorski’s other flick about ghouls at large in the neon capital.
Jim Wynorski has voiced his dissatisfaction with Vampirella (1996) a lot over the years, frequently citing the difficult-to-make comic book adap as one of his few regrets. While that’s an opinion I don’t ascribe to — quite the opposite, actually — it does support my theory that the Chopping Mall (1986) maestro undertook VAMPIRE IN VEGAS as an exorcism of sorts. Swiping its name and a few narrative cues from Dan Curtis and Jon Llewellyn Moxley’s classic TV movie The Night Stalker (1972), Vampire in Vegas seemed to afford Wynorski artistic redemption; another chance to tell a story about bloodsuckers running riot in Sin City, only this time to his liking. Alas, the end result amounts to little more than an acceptable throwaway. There’s good, but this so-so offering is hindered by: weak writing; the fact that, some neat second unit footage aside, it was clearly shot in Los Angeles; and — in an echo of the behind-the-scenes problems that plagued Wynorski on both Vampirella and The Thing Below (2004) — interference from the film’s distributor, Nu Image offshoot Millennium, whose editorial tinkering left it feeling choppy and saddled with subpar CGI.
Grafting elements of Thirst (1979), Blade (1998) and Sundown: The Vampire in Retreat (1990) onto its Kolchak-inspired framework, Vampire in Vegas’ plot swirls around three interlocking strands. In the first, dapper centuries-old vampire Sylvian (Tony Todd) uses his wealth to develop a serum that will allow him to walk in the daylight. In the second, a pair of detectives (GiGi Erneta and Ted Monte) investigate a strange triple homicide that Sylvian and his doctor (Delia Sheppard) have masterminded as part of their experiments. And in the third, a group of Hangover-shaded partyboys (handily, Todd Phillips’ blockbusting comedy debuted the same year as Vampire in Vegas) arrive in the gambling mecca for a stag-do just as Sylvian and his swarm of neck-biters start to take over.
An ambitious and often classically minded set-up for sure — but the nuts n’ bolts of Nicholas Davidoff’s script are shaky. Dialogue and exposition are especially painful, and the less seasoned members of the film’s ensemble really struggle with it. Thankfully, dab hands like Todd and Wynorski stalwarts Monte, Sheppard and Melissa Brasselle (as a plasma-slurping stripper) lend the material some much needed weight. Monte in particular is fantastic. Generally cast by Wynorksi and Fred Olen Ray et al in more genial, clean-cut roles, the actor’s pleasingly atypical turn here — a kind of greasy and irascible cross between Gil Grissom and Sherlock Holmes — ranks among his best work.
Despite a flat end stretch (a symptom of Millennium’s meddling, perhaps?), Wynorski does a fine job of trundling over the film’s flaws, playing to its strengths at every opportunity. Well-paced and seldom dull, he keeps things moving very nicely indeed. His most interesting licks, though, are the stranger images and exploitable moments: Sylvian’s black limo parked in the desert; Todd coolly strutting down a hospital corridor in full Dracula garb; and a protracted sequence that unfolds — where else? — in a vampire titty bar. Don’t get too excited, mind: it’s very PG-13.
Produced by B-babe supreme Julie K. Smith, also known as ‘Dark Evil’ and ‘Velvet Dawn’, and not to be confused with Fred ‘The Hammer’ Williamson’s dismal 2007 shocker, Vegas Vampires.
USA ● 2009 ● Horror ● 82mins
Tony Todd, Delia Sheppard, GiGi Erneta, Ted Monte ● Dir. Jim Wynorski ● Wri. Nicholas Davidoff