If you ever wanted to see a vampire flick that slaughters Black Flag’s Henry Rollins (playing himself; then at the top of his solo game with The End of Silence and Weight albums) and comic-book icons Stan Lee and Frank Miller (an anthropology professor and a fellow grad student, respectively)—as it quotes the poems of Walt Whitman (remember: the father of the modern vampire genre, Bram Stoker, was a Whitman admirer, and later, pen-pals with the poet)—then this idiosyncratic vampire romp is your goblet of blood.
After several centuries of undead romance, Ms. Dracula needs a new neck in her life, so she decides to fall in love with the food that comes in the form of James Grace, a Philadelphia thesis-working anthropologist in Alaska (he’s on a ship; thus the Whitman quote about “deep waters” and “seas of god”) who becomes the unwitting third side in a gothic love triangle. Why? Because mortal women aren’t exactly banging down the doors of anthropologists . . . so when a several-centuries-old hottie shows up and drops her parka naked-to-go, you don’t did-a-doddle with your rocks and dirt: you go for it. (I would. Undead me, baby.) Well, it’s not that cheesy: Alexandra the Vamp is actually on the run to Alaska, the last earthly sanctuary for vampires as the nights grow shorter—and she’s being hunted by her kind’s eldest, known as Legion.
When the half-vampirized Grace discovers Mr. Dracula, aka Legion, has murdered Alexandra, his new undead-life’s love—as result of her mortal infidelities—he embarks on an Easy Rider meets Phantasm II-inspired sunless odyssey; a hallucinatory roadtrip through America’s underground lands of the undead where he meets an array of fringe-society characters in Los Angeles, Utah, New Orleans, and Philadelphia in his quest for revenge. Then there’s the side plots with Nickadeamous (writer-director Blair Murphy) tracking down Grace—and Grace tracking down Dr. Donna Park, who has the secrets to the mythical Induit creatures that fuel the vampire myth. And that she’s not dead or missing—but a vampire herself, and Grace killed her back on the ship when Nickadeamous attacked him.
One of the most—if not the most—ambitious indie-art house vampire flicks you’ll ever see (if there is such a genre), this vamp’s cross-country ambitions hold up (somewhat) against its aspirations-over-budget, courtesy of its avoiding the graveyard brooding and strip club clichés of most modern vampire flicks, as the protagonist’s search takes him to unconventional, underground-kitschy coffee houses and maybe-a-little-bit-more-conventional goth night clubs (aka, the pretty-cool named Caligari’s Casket that spins F.W Murnau’s 1922 vamp-romp, Nosferatu for “atmosphere”; you know, the place where Henry Rollins hangs out to become fang-chum).
It’s all from the mind of indie writer-director Blair Murphy who self-financed the film through his family’s funeral home business. Is this a case of “. . . if Tommy Wiseau made a vampire flick?” Eh, well . . . while this was made in the early ’90s and shot-on-film, the proceedings look like an ’80s “Big Box” SOV romp, à la (the much better granddaddy of SOV) Blood Cult. (But Jugular Wine isn’t as bad as fellow SOV’ers Spine. Or Things.) And we’re not sure if that’s from cinematic ineptitude, purposeful SOV-homage, or the battered VHS is so washed-out that it looks like an ’80s SOV’er. And what’s the deal with the white grease paint vamps? Again, we’re not sure if that’s special-effect ineptitude (due to cash) or a homage to Herk Harvey 1962 classic-creeper, Carnival of Souls, which, in many ways, Jugular Wine resembles in its self-financed, one-off guerilla filmmaking style. But make no mistake: Carnival of Soul (which should be as revered as George Romeo’s Night of the Living Dead) is the far superior film. Far superior.
While Murphy certainly possessed the same generous self-financing verve as The Room’s auteur, Murphy has a more effective grasp of filmmaking. Sadly, in lieu of his musician and comic-book stunt castings, he should have dug up a few down-on-their-luck B or C-List actors (Eric Roberts was already down to direct-to-video potboilers like Power 98 by this point; he would have been a prefect class-up-this-joint casting) to carry his intelligent script—as the strained overacting, in conjunction with its way-too-long 98-minute running time, make this vamp romp a hard swallow (yuk, yuk, sorry) . . . for you, maybe. But I dig this way more that Tom Cruise’s mainstream fang sporting, so kudos, Mr. Murph!
There’s no PPV-VOD streams or freebie rips of the VHS. And that “Blockbuster” plug on the box art is totally bogus. Across three local Blockbusters, I never one saw a copy of Jugular Wine on their mainstream shelves: this was strictly a 10,001 Monster Video or mom-n-pop rent-n-carry. For you digital hounds: Yeah, there are DVDs in the marketplace, but caveat emptor: they look like grey market burns. (No, they are definitely grey market burns.) For those of you that have never seen Jugular Wine, the best we’ve got is this eight-years post documentary (on You Tube in six-parts) that Murphy strung together in 2002, which features scenes from the film. Apparently, the later-issued DVDs contain the documentary.