Good Vampire Movies: Innocent Blood
Next up for what I hope will be a weekly series until the next installment of Twilight slithers its way on to screen is 1992’s grossly underrated and unfairly overlooked Innocent Blood. This film doesn’t have a UK DVD release, and this strikes me as very strange as this is an excellent film from an icon of horror with a cast that would be universally recognised as superb. Innocent Blood is a sexy, violent, and comical vampire film; an unusual and inventive hybrid in a genre that has been stale for some time.
I’d love to know the background behind this film as I bet that it’s fascinating. John Landis should have been on a career high- he’d had a string of exceptional and revered films in the 1980’s (including the seminal American Werewolf in London), culminating with Coming to America in 1988. Then he made recognised turkey Oscar with Stallone. Following that dog of a film, he returned to his horror (or more accurately horror/comedy) roots with 1992’s Innocent Blood, a film that could quite easily be called “A French Vampire in Pittsburgh”, cast the stunning Anne Parillaud in the lead and drew up one of the finest non Scorsese/ Coppola mafia casts ever assembled.
Innocent Blood opens with a voiceover from Marie, the vampire, and the most gratuitous full frontal seen in a long time. She craves but 2 things: food and sex; but unfortunately her life has taken a turn for the worst due to her “picky” eating habits. She only eats criminals, and as a result, her boyfriend has left her and she hasn’t fed in 6 days. She is depressed, but in one of the many comic lines of the film, tells the audience that “I am starved, it’s time to treat myself. Then I thought…What about Italian?”
This line gives away what this film is about: she’s a vigilante. She’s also a conscientious vampire, and makes sure that there’s no chance of her victims returning from the dead. The film establishes the “rules” clearly- to kill a vampire you must either expose it to sunlight or disable its central nervous system.
Nevertheless, the mafia gang, headed by Sal “The Shark” Macelli, she’s preying on are under investigation and have Police officer Joe Gennaro undercover. He’s forced to come in, just as Marie decides to chow down on Sal himself. She’s interrupted and unable to finish the job- allowing him the chance to come back to life. Shenanigans ensue, the body count mounts, the good guys win, and everyone (aside from Marie because she’s undead) lives happily ever after.
This is a brilliant film. Innocent Blood is right in Landis’ comfort zone- and if anyone knows how to perform the delicate balancing act that Horror-Comedy requires, then it’s him. He is helped out, in this case, by a genuinely clever and amusing script that manages to marry a traditional vampire story to a modern day mafia tale and sleazy 70’s exploitation. The script absolutely sparkles- every character gets their share of great lines, and there are several absurd set pieces that manage to be both gross and simultaneously hilarious. For example, when Sal wakes up in the morgue, he’s (understandably) distressed. What follows is a comedy chase scene with orderlies pursuing the blood soaked and rotten looking reanimated mafia don up and down stairs. The dialogue in this scene is indicative of the tongue-in-cheek nature of the film- with the bemused orderly telling Sal to “go back in there and lie down”.
There are many other examples of comedy in Innocent Blood, but some of my favourites are supplied by Elaine Kagan as mob lawyer Manny Bergman’s (a hilarious Don Rickles) wife. She wonders around swigging whiskey from the bottle, fainting on cue, screaming when necessary and so forth- and every time she’s comical. Which brings me neatly around to my next point: as good as the script is, it could very easily have fallen flat without the brilliant performances the cast put in. Loggia is psychotically frightening as Sal, LaPaglia looks suitably bemused as Gennaro, and Parillaud is both sultry and strangely vulnerable as Marie. The other support- ranging from Linnea Quigley in a blink and you’ll miss it role or Sam Raimi with 2 lines, through Luiz Guzman as a cop, and Palminteri as cannon fodder are solid and professional with a few of them (notably Rickles) putting in excellent turns.
The effects, however, do let the side down a touch. The Vampire effects consist of various different coloured contact lenses, which is a bit weak (and a bit embarrasing during the sex scene) but aside from that the practical work (particulary when Rickles explodes in sunlight) is superb. There’s gore splashed everywhere in this film- and it’s all done practically and as such still looks good today.
As I’ve briefly touched on, this is a hugely violent film- Sal administers a savage beating with a toaster oven, Marie chews Palminteri to death before blowing his head off with a shotgun, Sal gets through a fair few underlings, Gennaro shoots people, and the film culminates with a spectacular burning. There’s no messing around here- this is a proper violent vampire film.
It’s also a sexy one. Marie and Gennaro are inevitably going to make the beast with two backs, and Parillaud is a gorgeous screen presence. Almost every expression she throws is, and I think deliberately, sultry and sexy looking. She’s also got a commendable dedication to casual nudity that clearly goes above and beyond the call of duty.
I’ve not even touched on the surprising subtleties of this film- Landis has characters in various situations watching the classic Vampire films, for example. It feels as if he made a conscious effort to nail his colours to the mast by associating it with Peter Cushing, Vincent Price et al. He seems to be saying that Innocent Blood is a proper vampire film and belongs in that category- and he’s right.
It’s not a perfect film, and there are some minor flaws in it. It’s an odd hybrid of genres that occasionally doesn’t know what it’s trying to be (the shootout in particular), and if I’m absolutely honest some of it feels a little bit flat. However, these are minor flaws because when one of these scenes happens, another scene (Sal cooking raw meat over the gas and licking it) is coming fast to remind you that this is a fucking horror film, and a damned good one at that.
Overall, would I recommend it? Yes, unquestionably. Innocent Blood is an obscenely overlooked film and more than ripe for rehabilitation. When Landis career is looked back on, this film will be forgotten beneath the likes of American Werewolf, Animal House, The Blues Brothers etc and in comparison to those classics it is a minor film. Nevertheless, on almost anyone else’s CV it would have much higher regard. I for one rate it highly and thoroughly enjoyed reacquainting myself with it yesterday. Innocent Blood is a good film that flirts with greatness and misses by a narrow margin. However, it did at least have the balls to be original, and therfore I give it a well earned 3 Changs.
Until next time,