Spencer’s Sanctorum Presents:
VAMPIRE (1979) – TV MOVIE
Review by Spencer Seams
Welcome to Spencer’s Sanctorum. This column is about old TV shows in the vein of Twilight Zone, One Step Beyond, and Kolchak the Night Stalker. I seek out the weird, goofy, and underrated episodes, the ones that nobody talks about.
Ah, Halloween. The spookiest time of the year. Everyone’s favorite monsters are out. Jason’s crawling out of Camp Crystal Lake with a freshly sharpened machete, Pinhead is readying his erotic torture dungeon, and Pumpkinhead is ordering a pumpkin spice latte at the local coffee shop (he supports Mom and Pop businesses). Oh yeah, and Dracula’s lame friend Prince Anton Voytek (Richard Lynch, SCARECROW, 1973) is trying to feed around San Francisco, but who cares. He’s a dweeb.
VAMPIRE, yep, VAMPIRE. When we think of vampires on film, Bela Lugosi (though, originally, it was supposed to be Lon Chaney in that role), the immortal Christopher Lee, and the also immortal Udo Kier, are the first to come to mind. They embody the cinematic creature of charisma. Sexuality and taboo are key themes to a vampire. It’s the draw of the forbidden. The TV movie, VAMPIRE, does not deliver any of this in a satisfying way.
To begin the scary season that is October, ABC aired it on Sunday, October 7. It clearly didn’t really leave a mark since this isn’t named with classic TV horror cinema like TRILOGY OF TERROR (1975) and IT (1990). This is not a HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS (1972, see my previous review of that film here) situation of finding a hidden gem.
The early stages of construction have begun at St. Sebastian Catholic Church in the hilly city of San Francisco. Father Hanley (Scott Paulin, TURNER AND HOOCH, 1989) consecrates the site as Superstar Architect John Rawlins (Jason Miller, THE EXORCIST, 1973) and his wife Leslie (Kathryn Harold, MODERN ROMANCE, 1981) watch and worship. The shadow of a massive cross burns cursed ground above Prince Anton Voytek’s home. Someone uninvited notices. An older retired detective Harry Kilcoyne (E. G. Marshall, 12 ANGRY MEN, 1958) stops by for the service.
Laters at an art opening, the Rawlinses show up to support their friend and art dealer, Nicole De Camp (Jessica Walter, also in the previously mentioned HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS). She has a friend; he’s an odd vaguely European man, Anton. Immediately, he sets his eyes on Leslie. Anton claims that his family’s artifacts are on the church site. He wants them back. John helps. Detective Harry is nearby again. He has a past with Anton.
Anton’s family heirlooms are too valuable. The SFPD arrests him for theft and fraud. John did not call the police, but Anton blames him. In jail, he bends the bars open, but his art dealer friend bails him out. Leslie gets a visitor. Suddenly, she’s missing, presumed dead. John finally meets Harry. They have a mission…kill the vampire.
There have been a string of odd missing people and murders lately but only they’re only homeless people and whores, so the police don’t care, until a rich white woman is missing. Now, it’s a problem. Harry deduces that Nicole is the vampire’s Renfield. John and Harry track down Leslie, but she’s a vampire now. Reluctantly, John kills his wife. Despite their attempts, Anton gets away.
If this sounds like a generic vampire story. It is. The sexual and taboo themes shine through, but there is nothing interesting done with them. There is the vampire seducing the hero’s lover. The vampire taunting the old Van Helsing-like vampire hunter. The stabbing of the turned woman with a phallic weapon. Anton buys real estate around the city. He even has a Renfield. The clash of religion versus faith. It follows the tradition of Dracula to a T. Except in the book, Dracula is an ugly reptilian dude and not even remotely sexy…the way he should be. The story just falls flat then drops even further. I knew what was going to happen minutes beforehand. It’s not terrible, but boring and expected. One of the writers, Steven Bochco, wrote SILENT RUNNING (1972), and would go on to greater fame with other TV projects. The other writer, Michael Kozoll, wrote FIRST BLOOD (1982). These writers are fully capable of putting together a good script, but either this was just a doomed project, or ABC mucked it up in the process.
Even the acting is dull overall. Richard Lynch mostly worked in exploitation films and made a great career of it. Him playing a vampire in a TV-movie probably was not the best casting. His role as Anton ends as a watered-down lame-ass villain. He just isn’t given much to chew on and has to deal with the strict limits of TV. He is an exploitation sleaze guy, not a TV star.
It is refreshing to see Jessica Walter not play an alcoholic. In two previous reviews, THE IMMORTAL (1969) and HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS, her character played an alcoholic to varying degrees. On more recent shows like ARCHER and ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT, she also plays an alcoholic. She has a type. Ms. Walter stepping out of that role is wonderful. She is the one of the only bright spots in VAMPIRE. Every so often, there’s a brilliant moment of directing that stands out. The rest is pretty bad.
If you’re curious, watch it once on Youtube. It is on DVD as well.
And Happy Halloween.
© Copyright 2017 by Spencer Seams