Vampire at Midnight (1987)

If Harry Hope, who combined disco and hicksploitation in Smokey and the Judge were here, he’d say” “So why not Spaghetti Westerns and R&B. I can see the tagline now: ‘The first R&B Western . . . Blazing Saddles with a beat to move your feet.’”

“Oh, yeah? Not if I produce it first, Hopie.”

“Harry Tampa? Hey, at least I use my real last name as a screen credit, ‘Mr. Hurwitz.’ Whaddya gonna do, another disco-vampire flick with Nai Bonet?”

“Yeah, Nocturna, Granddaughter of Dracula is the last discoploitation bloodletter I’ve ever do. But I was thinking. . . .”

“A Hope-Tampa Production?”

“Well, more like Tampa-Hope.”

“We’ll compromise: A Double H-Production.”

“Okay, so, what’s the pitch?”

“Dirty Harry Meets Count Dracula.”

“I like it. Sorta like the old Kolchak: The Night Stalker TV movies-series — only with a cop instead of a reporter.”

“You call Christopher Lee. I’ll give Eastwood’s people a ring.”

“You think they’ll do it?

“Tampy, baby. You roped John Carradine into Nocturna. Never give up hope.”

Shame on you, Mr. Distributor! “Adapted to a ‘Stephen King’ style,” indeed.

Okay, so Harry Hope and Harry Tampa didn’t co-produce this Magnum n’ Fangs romp. But Jason Williams did.

Yes. That Jason Williams: Flesh Gordon himself.

Flesh Gordon, their sexploitation, sci-fi porno spoof of Universal Pictures’ 1930 serials, was the first of four films Williams starred in for producer Bill Osco, he the king of the “erotic art film” (aka, porn) that launched the “Golden Age of Porn” and unleashed the likes of Linda Lovelace in Deep Throat and Marilyn “Rabid” Chambers in Behind the Green Door. Together, team Osco-Williams also made Alice in Wonderland (1976; a porn-musical), Cop Killers (1977; Williams as a hippie serial killer), and the drive-in T&A romp, Cheerleaders Wild Weekend (1979, aka the less offensive aka The Great American Girl Robbery).

Here, Williams went it alone, with Tom Friedman (who produced the Williams writing-directing efforts Flush, Time Walker (the best-distributed; with Ben Murphy), The Danger Zone, and Zone’s sequels). For their director — in his debut — the Friedman-Williams celluloid collective chose experienced producer Gregory McClatchy (most noted for the 1984 horror documentary Terror in the Aisles) — who didn’t sit behind the lens again until the 2008 TV movie Soccer Mom for, of all networks, The Disney Channel.

As with any grizzled cop romp, Vampire at Midnight is set in Los Angeles as nine victims, over the course of several months, have turned up with the blood drained from their bodies. Of course, the “it bleeds it leads” press have dubbed the vic as “The Vampire Killer.” On the case is our not-so-Dirty Harry: Homicide Detective Roger Sutter (Jason Williams). Clues come by the way of his attractive neighbor-squeeze (natch) Jenny Carleton (Lesley Milne, who quit the business after), a concert pianist under the care of self-help guru-cum-hypnotherapist Victor Radikoff (who worked his way up to guest starring roles on TV’s Murder, She Wrote; then back down again to Texas Vampire Massacre). Is Radikoff a real Transylvania vamp or just a creepy shrink with a blood fetish who, sans fangs, hypnotizes his victims, then slices and drains them?

Is this dull to the point of yawn. Yeah, sorry to say that it is.

Jason Williams isn’t a bad actor. And Gregory McClatchy isn’t a bad director. And Daniel Yarussi (Christopher George’s Graduation Day and Betsy Russell’s (!) Tomboy) isn’t a bad cinematographer. However, when compared against Dirty Harry’s pursuit of “Scorpio” or Charles Bronson’s Leo Kessler’s pursuit of his office equipment repairman-serial killer in 1983’s 10 to Midnight (or, dare I say, Stallone’s pursuit of The Night Slasher in 1986’s Cobra), this vamp feast is lost somewhere in the between the Moon and New York City. Perhaps if Cannon Films produced it and J. Lee Thompson directed it, and Eastwood (okay, not Clint, but Michael Dudikoff or Oliver Gruner) and Christopher Lee starred . . . and let’s face it: Lee was already doing junk like Howling II, Honeymoon Academy, Gremlins 2, Curse III, and A Feast at Midnight, so playing a hypnotherapist with a blood jones isn’t exactly a step down for Sire Chris.

Hey . . . you know who would have classed this up: Klaus Kinski as Radikoff. That’s my “Devil’s Advocate” remake of Vampire at Midnight: Michael Dudikoff and Klaus Kinski. Now, THAT’S a vampire vs. copy flick. That would have banked. What? Kinski said go “F” ourselves? Okay, call Angus Scrimm.

What the . . . how can there be NO freebie online rips? You Tube, TubiTv, and The Internet Archive.org . . . have you let us down? VHS copies (on Fox’s Key Video imprint) are hard to find and the DVDs look like grey market rips to these analog-sloshed eyeballs. What? This isn’t in the public domain either, Mill Creek? Denied! So, if you want a copy, look for the DVDs issued by Code Red Releasing under the “Maria’s B-Movie Mayhem” banner, so at least you know that it’s sourced from the master and not some cheap-jack VHS rip. The bonus with the Code Red-version: it offers a commentary track with Jason Williams and Greg McClatchy. The negative: your stuck with WWE star (and singer and actress) Maria Kanellis in wraparound segments as a cut-rate Elvira in Wonder Woman-spandex fitted with a set of plastic fangs.

There’s a couple of VHS-washed out excerpts HERE and HERE to revisit Vampire at Midnight, just another one of those “what might have beens” from the VHS dung heaps lost somewhere beyond the midnight horizons.

About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies.

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