Light Bite: Vampire Cop (1993)

Dave chats to Ken Lamplugh again and discovers what it took for the screenwriter and his co-scribe, John Weidner, to get their budget-priced bloodsucking epic in front of the camera.

By the time VAMPIRE COP surfaced on U.S. video courtesy of Academy Entertainment in August 1993, the fusion of fangs and flatfoots was a familiar fable. Only three years earlier, the notorious low budget schlockateer Donald Farmer had used the exact same title and cast Ed Cannon as a bloodsucking bobby [1], then John Landis had the sharp-toothed Anne Parillaud becoming besotted with an undercover lawman in Innocent Blood (1992). On the small screen, meanwhile, TV series Forever Knight – a spin off from the 1989 TVM – was proving to be a ratings hit for CBS.

By mid-’91, screenwriters Ken Lamplugh and John Weidner were making some headway at PM Entertainment with Maximum Force (1991), and Lamplugh in particular was keen for the pair to stretch their dexterity with a horror picture. Cops and vampires seemed the perfect starting point.

“John was a little hesitant at first,” recalls Lamplugh. “It wasn’t really in our wheelhouse, but then we came up with this sort of vampire-cop hybrid thing that we both thought was interesting. We worked up a forty-page treatment and decided to approach PM, who surprisingly expressed interest. Rather naively, we decided that that was good enough for us, so let’s just write the thing. It took us maybe all of three weeks – which doesn’t sound like a lot of time, but, again, we were working from a very detailed treatment. We turned it in to PM and they loved it, said they wanted to do it, and then proceeded to pull the rug out from under us. I guess they really wanted to brand themselves exclusively as the action guys, and Vampire Cop didn’t really fit in with their game plan. Enter Joel Bender…”

Born in Brooklyn, Bender was an eminent historian of motion pictures, taking a position early in his career at the Museum of Modern Art where he helped to preserve films. In New York alone, he was renowned for his vast collection of rare movies. From a directing standpoint, his break came on Gas Pump Girls (1979) which swiftly became a drive-in favourite – although it’s his mad doctor horror, The Immortalizer (1989), that stands out from the crowd.

“John had known Joel from back east and the two reconnected after Joel’s move to Los Angeles,” remembers Lamplugh. “John slipped him Vampire Cop and he immediately said yes, beginning to put the financing together with his wife and producing partner, Manette Rosen. I’d say The Immortalizer gave him some horror cred too, which certainly helped to get investors on board. The whole thing came together rather quickly, in a matter of weeks I believe, with Joel managing to cobble together something like $350,000 for the budget.” 

Lamplugh and Weidner’s innovative script certainly draws you in to this poverty row chiller, where sixteen murdered women in two months have horrified the city. The bodies of the victims have all been drained of their blood and the police, led by Captain Nicoletti (played with a boisterous swirl by Robert Miano), are clueless in their pursuit. However, when ambitious young detective Carrie Blass (Michelle Owens) gets bitten by the bleach blonde boy-toy responsible for the slaughter (Gregory A. Greer), she becomes the titular Vampire Cop – and, naturally, the sole hope for capturing this plasma-hungry creature of the night.

Vampire Cop is an enjoyable film, albeit one with a slight imbalance as it’s at the halfway point where Carrie gets chomped so you do feel a wee bit short-changed on the actual hook. Nevertheless, Owens is a likable lead who can flex between bookish law-woman and fanged femme fatale, sporting a post-bite leopard print dress and shades combo that’s quite the sass. For company she has her homicide cop ex-husband, Dennis (Michael McMillen), and the two make quite the pair, with her former beau a relentless cynic who dismisses Carrie’s vampiric theories with a repetitive shrug.

As far as casting is concerned, Lamplugh remains satisfied with everyone who came on to the project – even if there was an especially ‘groovy’ choice that didn’t quite pan out.

“Michelle Owens and Michael McMillen both had that solid, professional ‘soap opera’ kind of quality about them. You know they’re gonna hit their marks and say their lines. I loved Robert Miano as the sleazy captain too, although saying sleazy and Robert Miano in the same sentence is probably redundant! Gregory Greer as the vampire was an interesting, dare I say inspired choice. He was a total non-actor, but I think it works, and I love his totally oddball, weird dialogue delivery and twitchy Crispin Glover-esque performance. According to Bender, Greer was just accompanying his girlfriend to her audition, but they took one look at him and thought he’d be perfect for the vampire. I believe our somewhat silly description of the vampire in the script was something like “he’s a cross between Ozzy Osbourne and Billy Idol” so I guess Greer fit the bill, at least appearance-wise. No surprise – he was in a band, had no acting experience, and Vampire Cop remains his only acting credit.”

“We lobbied super hard for Bruce Campbell for the Michael McMillen role, though. A few years prior, John had co-written a film called Dead Man Walking (1988) – not the Sean Penn, Academy Award-winning film obviously, but the Wings Hauser post-apocalyptic one. Anyway, at John’s behest, they brought Bruce in for an audition. Alas, he lost out to Wings, but John kept Bruce’s contact info and so we just called him, told him about Vampire Cop, and got him in touch with Joel Bender. Bender was coincidentally having a cast and crew screening of The Immortalizer at the time, so we invited Bruce, who showed up with Evil Dead 2 (1987) co-writer Scott Spiegel. I don’t think they were very impressed with the movie, but they did keep us entertained throughout the showing with their non-stop Three Stooges shenanigans. Ultimately Bruce and Joel couldn’t come to terms, so that went bye-bye. Vampire Cop would definitely be a different film with Bruce as one the leads!”

Flawed but fun, Bender’s journeyman style (“a meat and potatoes filmmaker” says Lamplugh) shackles the humour that both writers usually lace their scripts with, and the budget has the propensity to make it feel a little too stripped down in some instances. Having said that, there are some cool location shots that take us past Gazzarri’s on Sunset, and the legendary Roy Knyrim manages to craft a few good make-up effects with limited resources – and from a tender that Lamplugh himself had pitched for.

“I was still doing make-up at the time, so I put in a bid for the effects on the film but was told my quote was too high given the budget. They ended going with Roy’s SOTA FX, who quite frankly did a much better job than I would have. Plus they had their own shop, so they were able to juggle multiple projects and could afford to do the work for a little cheaper than what I was asking.“

“I haven’t watched the entire film in quite some time, but I have seen bits and pieces. I think it still holds up reasonably well, again, given time and budget limitations.  Who knows – an extra fifty grand added to the budget, and it might have ended up a minor masterpiece.”

U.K. VHS art courtesy of Video Collector

[1] Farmer’s Vampire Cop (1990) had no release in the U.K., hence why distro High Fliers titled Vampire Cop ’93 as it did. In America, Lamplugh, Weidner and Bender’s Vampire Cop goes by the name ‘Midnight Kiss’.

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