Horror and Action movies love to open in media res. That’s smart. It instantly draws the audience in with the mystery of what the hell is going on, and it gives the filmmakers some breathing space to develop their characters and stories. One of the great clichés of this type of opening is to have characters running away from someone or something, and Peter Flynn’s Project Vampire is no different. Three scientists (we know they are scientists because they all wear bright white lab coats, all the better to hide from their pursuers) jog down various streets in Los Angeles (remember, always pronounce “Angeles” with a hard “g,” like in “gator”). Invariably, these sequences end with the hunters catching up with their prey. Of these particular three, one gets killed, one escapes and becomes villainous, and one gets picked up by student nurse Sandra (Mary Louise Gemmill) and, by default, becomes the hero of the film. Wouldn’t it have been more interesting to have her rescue the one who goes bad? At any rate, the opening of this movie does enough of what it needs to do. We get a quick feel for the timbre of the film, we are introduced to most of the main players (including the cartoonishly colorful henchmen Hopper [Kelvin Tsao] and Louie [Ray Essler], who, tragically, is not “the guy who comes in and says his catch phrase over and over again”), and we get interested enough to give the film some more time to win us over. Project Vampire could have been given a hundred years to win us over, and it still would fail miserably.
As to the plot, it involves the flagitious Dr. Frederick Klaus (Myron Natwick), an ancient vampire who has created a serum by which he can psychically control the vampires he creates. Former fellow scientist Victor (he of the white lab coat and introductory trot to freedom, played by Brian Knudson) sets out to stop him.
Science and the supernatural have gone hand-in-hand ever since Dr. Frankenstein stitched together pieces from a bunch of corpses and imbued it with life. What’s wonderful about this idea is that it has the opportunity to expand on a legend and give it a new spin, a new vantage point. That doesn’t mean modernizing hoary stuff, per se. After all, the classic Universal monster movies were set in contemporary times, but they still clung tenaciously to the old school, gothic atmosphere from which the base legends sprang. What I like is things like Event Horizon which is basically a haunted house story set on a spaceship that has a literal gateway to Hell on it. Brilliant. Project Vampire has scientific elements in it, but there’s not much thought put into them. The biggest leap this film takes is in expanding drastically on a vampire’s ability to control the minds of others. That’s fine and dandy, but it also does so with no real explanation of how this works to begin with. It doesn’t ground Klaus’ supernatural powers in the real world (even with a bunch of techno-jargon). All it does is puts Klaus in some medieval-esque piece of equipment (I immediately thought of all the old horror films where naked women are held captive in some mad scientist’s lab with straps just large enough, and strategically placed, to not show us any of their naughty bits) that makes him “vamp out.” Flynn and company, in fact, go so far as having bio-chemist Lee Fong (Christopher Cho) ask his computer, “What is a vampire’s most powerful strength?” The thuddingly stupid response is, of course, “His psychic spell. Destroy the vampire, destroy the spell.” In terms of scientific breakthroughs, this ranks up there with Timmy Spudwell’s vinegar-and-baking-soda volcano experiments and Amanda Hugginkiss’ famous potato clock revolution. Naturally, films like this don’t need to use real, hard scientific data to back up their ideas, but they do need to be convincing with what they serve up. Project Vampire is simply dumb and confusing. I re-watched segments of this film multiple times to try and make sense of what these people were saying, and all I did was further bewilder myself. Would I have been more forgiving if this were a Eurohorror film, where I expect idiocy in its rationales? Possibly, but I would have been no less nonplussed.
One of the more intriguing things this film gets up to and almost develops satisfyingly is its idea of eternal life and addiction. This stems, primarily, from the core of the vampire mythos. It’s not just that they need blood to survive. They crave it. It both enflames their passions and sates them. Their fangs, like, say, hypodermic needles, pierce the veins of their victims. Their victims, then, become like junkies, lusting for the return of those teeth to their skin, chasing the proverbial dragon. Tom (Christopher Wolf) goes to a pal’s party, specifically looking for a blood meal. He finds one in a woman he drags into the bathroom and begins to make out with before putting the bite on her. Alongside the obvious sexual angle, I found myself thinking (perhaps in a severe bout of thematic overreach) of people sneaking off to go snort some coke. In this scenario, Tom’s victim would be the coke. In the film, it’s intimated that Lee used to make drugs for wealthy clients (I may have imagined this; so much of this film is nebulous even when it’s being blunt as fuck). Klaus provides his Project Alpha serum to the wealthy elite who want eternal life, which is injected. The price of this lifespan is their thrall to Klaus and his drug, especially once Klaus chooses to exert his psychic abilities over them. Klaus is the pusher, long life is the drug, loss of identity is the come down/price of addiction.
Even in trash cinema, there should be something to not make you want to take a nap. The thing which comes possibly closest to that herein is the henchmen, Hopper and Louie. Louie is the Renfield character. He limps, wears an eyepatch and a white-on-black suit, and grovels ceaselessly. Hopper is a bald chunk of meat with a sadistic streak, a Kurgan who burns in the sun’s rays. Their old married couple routine is almost entertaining. Otherwise, the film’s leads have absolutely zero chemistry (see what I did there?). Klaus and his mistress Heidi (Paula Randol-Smith) are as threatening as a comfy chair. Lee has one of the worst “Oriental” accents ever put to film. The script is terrible, muddled, and rote. There isn’t nearly enough action, tits, or gore to paper over the film’s flaws. It is painful to watch, not just in experience but in cinematography. It looks bad. I can see now who the filmmakers were targeting this film toward, because you would clearly need to be on a ton of bad drugs to enjoy it.
MVT: Hopper is just an oddball.
Make or Break: There’s a decent burn stunt at the film’s climax. Credit where it’s due.