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Modern Vampires (1998)

Revenant (UK), The Revenant

Theyre ridding the world of Bloodsuckers

Directed by:

Richard Elfman

Rating: 6/10

Running Time: 91 minutes

US Certificate: R UK Certificate: 18

On DVD

Country: United States

When genres become too set in their ways, often the only response is parody, and so it is that many vampire films, from 'The Fearless Vampire Killers' to 'Love at First Bite', from 'Dracula: Dead and Loving It' to 'From Dusk Till Dawn', have tapped a deep vein of humour amidst all the stakes, garlic and bad accents. 'Revenant' chose a similarly comic course through the tropes of the undead, but found itself released in the same year as another vampire film, 'Blade', which was breathing new life into the very genre whose crustiness 'Revenant' was ridiculing. Superficially the two films have a lot in common – both show different generations of vampires in conflict with each other and with a vampire hunter, both enlist the talents of Udo Kier (who had played Dracula in Paul Morrisey's sexed-up 'Blood for Dracula' in 1974), and both feature bloodsuckers of African-American descent. Yet 'Blade' had a bigger budget and more kick-ass action – and so 'Revenant' was overshadowed and effectively disappeared. Still, although its jokes can be a bit hit-or-miss, it remains an outrageous social satire well worth seeing – and hearing, with its brilliantly fey soundtrack scored by director Richard Elfman's better known brother Danny, the composer behind 'The Simpsons' and countless Tim Burton films.

In his cult hits 'Freeway' and 'Freeway 2: Confessions of a Trick Baby', screenwriter Matthew Bright had reimagined traditional fairytales (Little Red Riding Hood, Hansel and Gretel) as trash genre films set in contemporary low-rent America, and his script for 'Revenant' similarly plays fast and loose with the vampire myth, envisaging what would happen if Count Dracula, Van Helsing and their ilk were to run around the Los Angeles streets of today. The film was originally called 'Modern Vampires' – but 'Postmodern Vampires' is more like it, as we see the vampires behaving like any other LA subculture – frequenting their own night club, drinking together, discussing the Hollywood property market, and finding their nourishment in the artists, critics, and even screenwriters, that they encounter – while local vamp Nico (Natasha Gregson Wagner) discovers that her bloodlust does not preclude a social life befitting her trailer-trash origins (you know, paint-sniffing, bi-curious experimentation, that sort of thing) – and, in the film's funniest scenes, Van Helsing (played by a flawlessly deadpan Rod Steiger) hangs out with the hiphoppity homeboys hired to do his dirty work. In fact, the running joke in 'Revenant', as in 'Earth Girls Are Easy', is just how easily these strange outsiders blend in with all of LA's other madness.

What at first seems to be a straightforward good vs. evil battle between slayer and vampires soon emerges, in keeping with the film's postmodernity, to be a more complicated conflict between the old and the new. On the one hand, Dracula (Robert Pastorelli) and his cohorts are Old World émigrés who despise anyone young (by their standards), non-European or black, and Van Helsing is a filicidal old Nazi who persecutes vampires with the same sort of feverish rhetoric with which his former colleagues persecuted Jews (“they are vampires, they control the national press, they control banking, they drink blood!”). Ranged against this old guard are the younger generation of New World vampires, including former American pilot Dallas (Casper Van Dien), streetwalker Nico (who has turned against her parents and is fearless because she has “no history”) and the crew of LA Crips, who hammer, burn and even gangbang their way through vampires as though this is just another turfwar.

In short, 'Revenant' is a potted account of the clash of American values past and present – told with plenty of bite.

It's Got: A showstoppingly funny performance by Rod Steiger as Van Helsing, who delivers the most unhinged lines totally straight; a jaunty Danny Elfman soundtrack; the spectacle of Kim (Sex and the City) Cattrall being gangbanged by Crips who are unfazed by her hideous vampire makeup ("thats better than the bitch on Crenshaw"); parts for Udo Kier (everyones favourite cinematic sleazebag) and Natasha Lyonne (star of Freeway 2: Confessions of a Trick Baby, also written by Matthew Bright).

It Needs: A less bland hero than Dallas, and a less bland actor than Casper Van Dien playing him.

DVD Extras Scene selection; choice of 2.0 Dolby stereo/5.1 surround/dts; optional English subtitles for the hard of hearing; trailer; photo gallery; film notes; bios of Casper Van Dien, Kim Cattrall, Natasha Gregson Wagner, Rod Steiger, Udo Kier, Richard Elfman DVD Extras Rating: 4/10

Alternatives:

Blade, Earth Girls Are Easy, Frankenhooker, Society, The Lost Boys

Summary

Biting postmodern vampire satire that is trashy enough to get you smiling, but intelligent enough to sink your teeth into.

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