Tainted (1998)

What if Kevin Smith introduced vampires into his 1994 debut breakthrough film, Clerks? Well, courtesy of that spare $35,000 in actor-writer Sean Farley’s pocket, we have our answer. Oh, and don’t be distributor duped: Troma didn’t bankroll or produce this: they only gave it a national release (beyond the film’s initial, self-distributed Midwest boarders) via the Tainted Vampire Collection, a DVD three-pack with the SOV-analogous Sucker the Vampire and Rockabilly Vampire. But this Michigan-lensed slacker vs. vamp fest is definitely more Lloyd Kaufman than Richard Linklater. It’s more Andy Milligan that Quentin Tarantino. It makes Don Dohler look like John Carpenter. And check the Sam Raimi comedy-horror mix at the door of the Evil Dead cabin, Sumerian demons be damned.

So. Is this a ripoff or homage to Smith?

Well, Clerks had a convenience store. Tainted has a video store. Clerks had the customer-abusing smart assery of video clerk Randal Graves and the less verbally-sharp convenience store jockey Dante Hicks. Tainted has the customer-abusing smart assery of video clerk J.T. (actor-writer Sean Farley) and the less verbally-sharp clerkin’ sidekick with Ryan. All Randal and Dante wanted to do was play hockey on the roof. All J.T. and Ryan want to do is go to a midnight-moving screening of Bladerunner*. And like Randal and Dante, J.T. and Ryan slack off and yakity-yak riff on each other all day long. Smith had $7,500 less-in-his-pocket than Farley. And Clerks was shot on an Arri SR camera running 16mm black and white. Farley shot in color on video.

Yeah, uh, we’re not in the View Askewiverse anymore, Antie Em. For this ain’t Blade. This ain’t Near Dark. For you’ve just clicked your heels into the Ed Wood Plan Niniverse, Dorothy.

You ever have one of those co-workers who rat-a-tat bulldozers their way through conversations with a faux-poignancy, so impressed with themselves and opinions and, with each jaw-hinging, you’re hit with their pretentious-tainted and substance-void breaths? And you just want to punch them in their trite-spewing face, then cram a Tic-Tac down their throat — in lieu of doing them the “favor” they just asked for?

That’s J.T.

And J.T. and his he-makes-me-seem-more-important sidekick Ryan are stranded after hours at The Video Zone (actually Detroit’s Thomas Video) when their ride punks out — and there’s nothing of more importance in this world than making that Bladerunner showing. So, as any self-centered I-could-give-a-shite-about-you personality would do: the slacker-duo beg a ride from the new clerk, Alex (Dean Chekvala). Oh, and unbeknownst to our two Clerks-clone: Alex is a vampire. And so is Aida, Alex’s girlfriend. And when Alex’s car breaks down (natch), they hoof it to Aida’s house — and find her staked by local sociopath vampire Slain, who’s intent on tainting the local plasma supply and hoarding all the clean corpuscles for his own fangs. And, with that, Alex recruits Randal and Dante J.T. and Ryan on a low-budget, hallucinogenic journey across the “D” to foil Slain’s insane plan. And J.T. and Ryan, for once, have to care for something bigger than their Seinfeld-nothingness selves (sorry, Sam!).

Granted, Tainted is surely an interesting, fresh take on the played-out vampire vs. vampire genre, but if this had only nixed the vampires and stuck to being a low-budget tale about two (or three) carless losers on a Homeresque odyssey across Detroit (say, like Adam Rifkin’s pretty-darn-cool coming of age get-to-the-Kiss-concert-at-any-costs teen comedy Detroit Rock City) to get to that Bladeunner midnight movie showing, we’d be onto something. But $35,000 does not a (good) vampire flick make. And Farley is off the vanity calling-card rails with his purposeful, spotlight dialog-diatribes. Yeah, it’s intelligent at times, but the “snappiness” simply runs-on (and on) way too long — like some of the shots in the film (including “shakey cams”!) — and quickly transitions from a cut-’em-some-slack-because-it’s-an-SOV-and-they’re-trying quaint blood sucker to being just plain annoying. And in a closing twist that would send Sam on a Shirley Doe-killing spree across Lawrenceville, we have the longest-running set of end credits (to pad that running time) in horror film history.

In a cool, ironic twist: Dean Chekvala kept on thespin’ away (he’s actually very good here) and worked his way up to guest-starring roles on TV’s Num3bers, the NCIS franchise, and Without a Trace to a recurring role on HBO’s True Blood. Sam Raimi junkies may recognize Sean Farley from his work on Raimi’s failed post-Evil Dead work, Crimewave (1985), but he’s since retired from the biz. Director Brian Evans hasn’t directed, lensed, or edited a film since, but he’s carved (sorry) himself a commendable, behind-the-scenes career on a wide variety of direct-to-video flicks, feature films, and network television series.

There’s no trailer or clips available, but you can watch the full film on You Tube.

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

* We had a post-apoc blowout back in September 2019, so do check out our two-part “Atomic Dustbin” catch-all overview of the genre that also features links to all of our film reviews.

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