The Mubi Cinematheque: Vampire Hookers (1978)
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First, a disclaimer. I have always had a hard time with camp. The craze of “it’s so bad it’s good” has never made much sense to me. If it’s bad, it’s still bad regardless of whether or not it’s on purpose. In fact, I find movies that are purposely horrible much worse because it removes any sense of genuine desire or love of what the filmmakers are creating. It might be one of the reasons why Tommy Wiseau’s The Room has developed such of a following. Despite universal derision (I have not seen it) it seems clear that Wiseau was determined to make something personal and great. Kind of like Ed Wood. Wood made horrendous, borderline unwatchable movies, but his fervor for making them rose above the disdain.
But I’d rather watch the movie Ed Wood than a movie by Ed Wood. I’d rather watch a documentary about The Room than actually sit through it (though I’m sure I’ll be convinced to at some point). And maybe the life, times, and methods of director Cirio H. Santiago would make for an absorbing topic. His movie Vampire Hookers is not.
Vampire Hookers is as schlocky as a movie as you will find. Two sailors on leave are looking to get laid in the Philippines. They stumble on a group of the titular vampire hookers led by their Shakespeare and Whitman quoting vampire pimp (John Carradine). It’s absurd, and somewhat alluring in that trainwreck manner. In the hands of a better cast and smarter writing, this could have been a fantastic spoof of the horror genre. Carradine does his best, and gets some decent laughs as he chastises Pavo, his Filipino Renfield, for being imbecilic. He puts his all into it, and when he says matter-of-factly that Shakespeare, too, was a vampire it’s pretty funny.
Pair that with the great Trey Wilson (as you may have seen in Bull Durham and Raising Arizona) playing one of the horny sailors. The two of them give their line readings as professional a treatment as you could ask from such shoddy material, and they almost elevate it. Almost, but not quite. For every decent moment of Wilson talking about his fears of graveyards and Carradine’s philosophizing, there is some of the most painful dialog and unfunny moments meant for laughs you’ll find.
The worst, and it’s hard to pinpoint, is Pavo. Pavo desperately wants to become a vampire, so he sleeps in a box with holes in it so he can breathe through a tube. Problem is, he has a big time gas problem as he farts his way through the night, and again while he watches the hookers perform their hookerly acts with one of the sailors in the sex scene equivalent to the fight scene in John Carpenter’s They Live. I’m no prude. A well-timed fart joke can go a long way, but here it always falls flat. Vic Diaz tries hard as Pavo, but it’s an irritating character who is supposed to be comical. It never works.
Mixing comedy and horror is a fine line and Santiago doesn’t seem up to it. Carpenter navigated those waters better than anyone. Edgar Wright knocked it out of the park with Shaun of the Dead. The Joss Whedon penned The Cabin in the Woods was one of the most fun times at the cinema in 2012. What sets them apart, other than really strong scripts, is a proper mix of horror and comedy. They’re funny movies but they don’t forget the genre that inspired them in the first place. Shaun of the Dead is a really good zombie movie, possibly the best of the genre’s revival that started a decade-plus ago. The Cabin in the Woods is a love letter to all of horror and features some genuinely creepy and gory moments that serve as effective reminders that it’s not all fun and games.
Vampire Hookers fails to inject any suspense or dread into the proceedings. It’s a bad joke without a good punchline. Maybe if the actors were better (the three hookers were tone deaf). Maybe if there was some intrigue. Maybe if it was a completely different movie. Still, if you see the title Vampire Hookers and get that goofy grin forming on the edges of your mouth, this might be for you. It is exactly what it sounds like, and if you’re expecting it to be something more then you’re fooling yourself. So it delivers what it promises, at least. It’s trashy cinema, and there is definitely an audience for that. I’m just not part of it.