Sunday, October 2, 2016

Vampire in Brooklyn

Year 8, Day 276 - 10/2/16 - Movie #2,458   

BEFORE: For most of the year (except for February and October), I've fallen into the pattern of paying close attention to cast lists, because if I assemble the chains properly, I never need to wonder what I'm going to watch next, the chain dictates the order.  And that's worked out pretty well for me these last few years.  But with a special focus on films about love in February, and films about scary matters in October, I have to think thematically as well.  Do I put all of the non-connected films about ghosts together, then focus on vampires, then deal with alien invasions?  I'm going to move off of ghosts (but I'll get back to them in a couple days, hint hint) and for the next 3 days the blood-suckers take over.  Unfortunately that means I have to juxtapose films that don't share actors, and hope I can come up with at least an indirect link.  But this one's a no-brainer, Eddie Murphy carries over from "The Haunted Mansion".  

THE PLOT: Maximillian is the only survivor from a race of vampires on a Caribbean Island, and as a vampire, he must find a mate to keep the line from ending.

AFTER: Ah, Brooklyn.  Lived there for about 14 years, and I still have to pass through it every day to get to the subway.  At Halloween so much of the focus is on the Village parade in Manhattan, but Brooklyn is home to scary things too, like the Greenwood Cemetery, the Coney Island Freak Show, and the hipsters of Bushwick and Williamsburg.  Or maybe it gets called KILL-iamsburg at Halloween time, along with FRIGHT-on Beach, SLAY Ridge, DEAD-ford Stuyvesant, BOO-rum Hill, and Windsor TERROR-ace.  There's even a neighborhood called Gravesend (for real), and that must be a fun place to go trick-or-treating.  (Hey, Hollywood, why not a horror film called "The Vampire State Building"?  I'll give you that one for free, I got a million of 'em.) 

This was the first of Eddie Murphy's two horror-themed films (assuming you don't count the horror that was "Pluto Nash"), and some of the plot points are very similar to the more family-friendly "Haunted Mansion".  In both films there's a beautiful woman who bears a strong resemblance to a woman in an old painting, and in both cases, they never really explain how that's possible.  We sort of have to fill in the gaps and assume that she's either a descendant of the woman in the painting, or some kind of reincarnation, or perhaps it's just all a coincidence.  It's called exposition, and both films should have strongly considered adding some by way of explanation.  

(EDIT: Ah, there is some literary precedent, in vampire lore there is something called a "dhampir", which is the child of a vampire and a human.  The character of Rita was apparently one of these, but I wish the film had made this more clear.  But it doesn't explain WHY a vampire needs to have sex with a human, because that's not how you make more vampires.  See rant below.)  

The Brooklyn Navy Yard is where the film opens, when a ship crashes into port, with all of its crew dead, and a cargo of just one coffin, and a large dog/wolf that vanishes into the night.  That's a real plot point from the original "Dracula" novel, by the way (only in the book the ship ran aground in London) and of course the dog is really a shape-shifting vampire.  But other than the use of a Renfield-like thrall, the rest of this film's plot seems more like it was borrowed from "Coming to America".  Because here the vampire is Caribbean royalty of sorts, and he's come seeking a mate, which he somehow knows is located in the borough of Kings.  (I know, it was Queens in "Coming to America", but work with me, here.)

This also means that Eddie Murphy once again took the opportunity to play multiple roles, a conceit that has worked well for him in the past ("Bowfinger", "Nutty Professor"), but has also backfired horribly ("Norbit").  Here it's worked into the plot along with the vampire's shape-shifting abilities - supposedly after he kills someone and drinks their blood he can take their shape, but apparently only if he seeks out victims who look a little bit like Eddie Murphy to begin with.  So Eddie gets to also play a black preacher and a white Italian hitman.  But come on, you know all along that it's him, so it's not really much of a stretch, and it's quite distracting.  And in the case of the "whiteface" makeup, possibly also offensive.  

I don't get it, did Murphy get some weird career advice at some point that made him think he was a better actor if he played more characters in a film?  Or is it some kind of ego trip, where he thinks that each movie would be better if he played all of the parts?  Look, I enjoyed Jerry Lewis in "The Family Jewels" when I was a kid, too, but I always was aware that he played all 7 or 8 of the crazy uncles.  I mean, you can only do so much with make-up.  And it didn't really make him a great actor, just a bigger goof-ball.  

Now, as for problems with the plot - why does a vampire need to find a mate?  And why THIS woman in particular?  There's some suggestion that she's a true vampire by nature, but that isn't really a thing, according to the rules of vampire stories.  I mean, if she's ALREADY a vampire, then why does he need to seduce and bite her?  It doesn't make much sense.  Plus, vampires don't reproduce like humans do, they can make more vampires just by biting people and passing on the virus or whatever it is.  My understanding is that they can either drain a victim dry, or drink like half their blood and then after three days, boom, new vampire.  

Oh, sure, there are emotions involved, but usually it's a form of hypnotism or enchantment that puts people under their spell.  But as the undead, I would assume that vampires are beyond the petty human concerns of love and companionship, and are more concerned with feeding on blood and spending the daylight hours in their coffins, right?  Look, it's just that there are a lot of rules about vampires, and movies should reflect them - you can't see them in mirrors, they're repelled by holy water and garlic, they can't enter a house unless you invite them in.  If you're going to scrap all of those rules and replace them with other things, they should be things more interesting than giving a vampire the ability to re-decorate a Brooklyn tenement apartment overnight.  That's just not one of a vampire's powers.  

Also starring Angela Bassett (last heard in "Curious George 3: Back to the Jungle"), Allen Payne (last seen in "The Perfect Storm"), Kadeem Hardison, John Witherspoon (last seen in "The Five Heartbeats"), Zakes Mokae (last seen in "Outbreak"), Joanna Cassidy (last seen in "Club Paradise"), Simbi Khali, Messiri Freeman, W. Earl Brown, with cameos from Mitch Pileggi (last seen in "The X-Files: I Want to Believe"), Jerry Hall. 

RATING: 4 out of 10 limousine rides

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