Vamps | Review

Amy Heckerling Vamps Review

Girls Just Wanna Have Blood: Heckerling’s Vampire Comedy a Light Bite

Amy Heckerling Vamps PosterDirector Amy Heckerling reunites with her Clueless (1995) star for a female vampire buddy comedy, Vamps, her first effort since 2007’s I Could Never Be Your Woman. Granted a limited theatrical release to be followed quickly with a Blu-ray drop date only weeks later, the film is actually getting a heavier promotional push than her last, which went straight to DVD in the US market. There’s certainly nothing edgy about her vampire rom-com, and neither does it revamp the genre or the careers of cast and crew, and was perhaps unwisely made during a frenzied adolescent vampire craze that’s finally on the wane. What it does feature are two likeable, cutesy lead ladies and a bevy of supporting performers threaded throughout its breezy running time, unfortunately hampered by several instances of terrible CGI that should have been excised altogether.

Goody (Alicia Silverstone) and Stacy (Krysten Ritter) are best friends and roommates, each trying to live a normal life in the modern New York City scene as vampires. Tired of clubbing, hookups, and endless nights on the town, they regularly attend a Sanguines Anonymous group, which consists of like minded vampires, like Vlad the Impaler (Malcolm McDowell), that come together to fight their addiction to killing people for blood, taking the higher road to feed off animals, like rats. This also reduces their visibility to the human world, though it seems that there still remains a secret group of people that hunt down their dwindling community.

They prefer to be called ELFs, or Extended Life Forms, and our young ladies conveniently work as exterminators for a company named Ratricide. Lately, someone seems to have discovered the identity of many of the vampires, causing them to be audited or called for jury duty, forcing them to be called out into the daylight where they will perish. But not everyone in their community seems to care about the human world, especially the Stem vampire (vamps who have the ability to create other vampires) Cisserus (Sigourney Weaver), who turned both Goody and Stacy. Since vampires can’t see themselves in the mirror, Cisserus turns young ladies into vampires so they can model high fashion for her so she can imagine what she’d look like. Meanwhile, Stacy falls in love with a fellow student from her film class, Joey (Dan Stevens), who turns out to be related to the Van Helsings, and his father (Wallace Shawn) follows the family tradition of hunting the creatures of the night. At the same time, Goody reconnects accidentally with a past flame, Danny (Richard Lewis), whose wife Angela (Marilu Henner) is dying of cancer. When a certain situation arises that could help Stacy change back into human form, the forever young ladies set out to find a way to take down the unrepentant Cisserus.

From its opening frames where we get Silverstone’s omniscient narration, we know this is supposed to be a silly affair, one without a mean bone in its undead body. Nearly its entire running time rests on the antics of the two leads, who manage to remain an entertaining duo, even though they’re really only being passed around from one satirical set piece to another, with every scene tossing around several tongue-in-cheek moments of vampire wink-winks. “We never drink…mimosas,” they gaily tinkle at a night club.

For a surprising amount of cameos from supporting players, most of them have little to do, especially the likes of Wallace Shawn, Kristen Johnston, and Marilu Henner. McDowell’s always an entertaining presence, here taking up knitting to satisfy his impaling urges. But the only other breath of fresh air in material that seems to suffer from some rigormortis before the final frames, are a handful of scenes with Sigourney Weaver as the evil Stem, Cisserus. Obviously having a lot of fun with an over the top role, Weaver gyrates on a television stand, announcing she has the hots for a young Spanish star (which happens to be Gael Garcia Bernal in footage from the film Rudo Y Cursi, 2008). Not surprisingly, she seems a lot more fun than the formulaic rom-com trajectory the film slips into in the last half.

It’s too bad that there are several moments of extremely poor CGI sequences that give the film an amateurish feel, obviously due to a lack of budget to take the project where Heckerling really intended it to go. Speckled throughout, Heckerling includes clips from famous moments of Surrealist Cinema, the subject of the class taken by Stacy, and we’re treated to sequences from excellent films, like Robert Wiene’s 1920 The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari or the most infamous sequence from Luis Bunuel’s 1929 Un Chien Andalou. Unfortunately, these end up being the most visually arresting sequences in Vamps. But for a likeable comedy that’s going neither for reinvention nor sexy edginess, it may be just what you’re looking for.

Nicholas Bell is a Los Angeles based film critic/journalist for IONCINEMA.com, covering film festivals such as Sundance, Cannes, TIFF, AFI, as well as weekly film reviews. Nicholas is also a regular contributor to men's fashion periodical, MM Magazine. Top Films From Contemporary Film Auteurs: Almodóvar (All About My Mother), Coen Bros. (No Country For Old Men), Dardenne Bros. (The Kid With a Bike), Haneke (The Piano Teacher), Hsiao-Hsien (Flight of the Red Balloon), Kar-wai (In The Mood For Love), Kiarostami (Close-Up), Lynch (Blue Velvet), Tarantino (Inglourious Basterds), Van Sant (My Own Private Idaho), von Trier (Dogville), Zulawski (Possession), Carax (Mauvais Sang)