Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Innocent Blood

1992's INNOCENT BLOOD is really the only film directed by John Landis from that decade worth watching. What with OSCAR, THE STUPIDS, SUSAN'S PLAN and the abortive sequels BEVERLY HILLS COP 3 and BLUES BROTHERS 2000, things were pretty grim for the guy who'd overseen the anarchic classics ANIMAL HOUSE and THE BLUES BROTHERS years earlier. In '81, Landis filmed one of his old scripts, AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON, and turned it into an exemplary exercise in the fusion of full throttle terror and humour, with some hair raising makeup effects to boot.  The director displayed real skill in keeping his audience on edge and making them guffaw at key moments.  Does INNOCENT BLOOD repeat this sort of success?

Not really, but it's a game attempt. The premise is promising. An alluring French vampire named Marie (Anne Parrilaud) hovers around Pittsburgh seeking fresh necks on which to feed. Unlike other cinematic bloodsuckers, she discriminates by targeting only those she feels are deserving: criminals and the like.  As she concentrates around the "Little Italy" section of town, she finds more than enough mobsters ("Italian food", one of the film's running gags) to sustain her. 

When Marie gets her fangs on the Boss, Sal "The Shark" Macelli (Robert Loggia), what was to be a sort of main course for our undead heroine goes seriously awry when she is interrupted, leaving Sal rather to becoming infected, to become a vampire himself. Soon, he spreads the wealth to his henchmen, some of whom are played by actors seen in GOODFELLAS and would later star in HBO's The Sopranos.  The wonderfully named Tony Lip in fact also had roles in THE GODFATHER and RAGING BULL. Marie eventually meets and teams up with an undercover cop (Anthony LaPaglia) to stop the wave of carnage.  Unsurprisingly, the two also become lovers.

Michael Wolk's screenplay is pure B-movie, filled with violence and gore, truckloads of profanity, and sex scenes.  All of which are right up Landis' alley, and these elements are stylishly employed in what amounts to little more than a programmer, a mildly entertaining time waster.  Landis still knows how to create an atmosphere of dread, to milk a scare (he also directed some horror for TV). There are a few unique ideas here and there, but if you want a mystical, thoughtful take on vampire lore, watch INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE or NOSFERATU instead. INNOCENT BLOOD exists only to amuse. While a major studio film, it still plays like a midrange exploitation pic, albeit with  great special effects and cinematography. Landis buffs will find his usual trademarks: walk-ons by film directors (such as, appropriately, Dario Argento), characters watching old movies on TV, and even an auto wreck or two.

The cast is well chosen. Parrilaud was hot off LA FEMME NIKITA and displays remarkable physicality in action scenes, and uh, during other moments. LaPaglia seems to be sleepwalking and apathetic but the solid supporting cast adds zest, especially Loggia, born to play the vicious Sal, a brutal killer who becomes superhumanly brutal. Character actor Luis Guzman and none other than Don Rickles have funny scenes.  B-queen Linnea Quigley plays a nurse, and those scenes in the hospital are a hoot.

Comparisons to AMERICAN WEREWOLF are inevitable, but INNOCENT BLOOD does not have that film's timing, pacing, savviness, or dare I say, heart? You grew to care for those characters, and the movie's tragic ending stung a bit.  BLOOD is an in the moment thriller that evaporates very soon after its conclusion.

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