Modern Vampires (1998)

Rating: C

Dir: Richard Elfman
Star: Casper Van Dien, Natasha Gregson Wagner, Rod Steiger, Gabriel Casseus
a.k.a. Revenant

This hasn’t stood the test of time particularly well. The main element of appeal is probably Steiger’s fully-committed performance as Dr. Frederick Van Helsing, who might be an unconvicted Nazi war criminal, but has no problems teaming up with the Los Angeles Crips when necessary (top), to hunt and slay vampires. It’s a fascinating grab-bag of contradictions, in a character that’s rarely explored much in the genre. To be honest, while his prey may get more screen-time, they are considerably less interesting, except for occasional elements like the vampire owned and operated night-club (this came out just a couple of months ahead of Blade, so hard to say who came up with the idea).

There’s also a decent concept in vampires not being a monolithic entity, but having factions of their own, between whom the enmity can be powerful. For example, Dallas (Van Dien) has a severe problem with vampire authority, and is prepared to team up with Van Helsing to defeat their common enemy. Dallas’s motive is somewhat altruistic, in that the powers that be want to kill one of his offspring, Nico (Wagner), whom he made without authorization. However, things are complicated by the fact that Dallas previously turned Van Helsing’s son, causing the doctor to kill his own child. Although the turning was well-meant, the son having a fatal illness, it’s still a bit awkward.

Unfortunately, if the story has a lot of good ideas, the characterizations are brutal, with most of the cast being far too over-the-top to succeed as more than cheap parody. Wagner is especially bad in this department. However, the worst is likely Craig Ferguson’s Richard, who I just can’t even. Ten seconds of him, and I was calling for a stake. We also get an unpleasant scene were Van Helsing’s Crips gang-rape a tied-down vampire, which causes the gang members to turn as well. There may have been better ways to put over the concept of vampirism being a sexually transmitted disease. Good ideas, fumbled badly, appears to be this film’s stock in trade.

[Original review] Teetering precariously on the border between homage and parody, this quirky and cheap effort has Van Dien as a renegade vampire who forms an uneasy alliance with Professor Van Helsing (Steiger, of all people) to take down Count Dracula, now living in LA. It’s clear that Elfman (and yes, he is Danny’s brother) is a big fanboy, but it’s hard to object when he brings in the likes of Udo Kier, and adds nice touches like having Van Helsing hire gang members to help in his vampire slaying. Wagner adds welcome colour as an equally rebellious vampette, albeit one who has seen Innocent Blood a few too many times. Elfman is perhaps best known for the deeply strange Forbidden Zone, which remains a genuine cult classic. This lacks the same surreal edge, but rises above its budget with imagination and enthusiasm. B-