Ratings Key

= Excellent. The best the genre has to offer.
1/2 = Very Good. Perhaps not "perfect," but undoubtedly a must-see.
★★★ = Good. Accomplishes what it sets out to do and does it well.
★★1/2 = Fair. Clearly flawed and nothing spectacular, but competently made. OK entertainment.
★★ = Mediocre. Either highly uneven or by-the-numbers and uninspired.
1/2 = Bad. Very little to recommend.
= Very Bad. An absolute chore to sit through.
NO STARS! = Abysmal. Unwatchable dreck that isn't even bad-movie amusing.
SBIG = So Bad It's Good. Technically awful movies with massive entertainment value.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Dance of the Damned (1989)

Directed by:
Katt Shea

While not for all tastes, I found this offbeat and serious-minded low-budget Roger Corman production to be a breath of fresh air in the overcrowded vampire genre. And all it really is is a night long conversation between a self-destructive, suicidal stripper and a brooding, world weary vampire. Go figure. In the wee hours of the night, a nameless vampire (Cyril O'Reilly) approaches dancer Jodi (Starr Andreeff) while she's locking up after a long night at work. He offers her a thousand dollars to accompany him home; no strings and no sex attached. He says he needs a friend, and thinks she needs one, too. All he wants to do is talk. Reluctantly Jodi agrees, goes home with him and quickly learns her new friend is actually a vampire. Correctly sensing Jodi had given up and will probably take her own life eventually anyway, the vampire demands she explain to him what the sunlight feels like and at 6am, he'll take her pain. It certainly doesn't sound too exciting, and it probably won't be to some people, but I found it fascinating and very well done. If you're looking for gore, action and special effects, you'll find very little of that here. Instead, you get a low-key, existential character study almost similar to a stage play. In other words, there are few location changes but lots of dialogue exchanges. It's a good example of a film that doesn't need to be a slave to FX work to be successful. There can be so much more to the genre than just cheap shocks and blood spurting when a common horror theme is put into the hands of someone with talent and imagination. It's also an excellent late night movie; watch it when it's quiet, it's dark and you're alone and in a reflective mood.

The script by Katt Shea and Andy Ruben (who were married at the time this was made) not only has some great insight into the outcast condition and very good character development but also some wonderfully poetic passages. One highlight is a beautifully written scene on a beach where the leading lady has to explain to the Vampire what sunlight feels like. It's in her description of this simple feeling that gives her back her will to live. In scenes where the two characters describe their troubled pasts, the monologues are so well written and detailed you can visualize them without having to actually see them on screen. Clever parallels are drawn between two different lost souls (not to mention two different species); one of whom is forced to live in the night and the other so wounded she's compelled to. Both leads turn in good performances and do their roles justice, and this film manages to be thought-provoking, sometimes very funny and sometimes very moving. While a million blockbuster type movies involving vampires come and go and entertain while they're around, this one has actually resonates with me more over time. It's a shame not many people know anything about it.

I not only recommend this, but also the director's excellent 1990 drama-thriller STREETS (starring a young Christina Applegate), and even her more exploitative serial-killer-in-a-strip-club flick STRIPPED TO KILL. They're all well above average for the genre, humorous at times, well written and with a heavy concentration on character. Shea shows the same kind of early talent as the best directors to come from Roger Corman U... including Coppola and Demme. In fact, I'd probably place her near the top of a list of the countless director's Corman has supported over the years. And she's certainly one of the most promising female director's I've ever come across.

Amazingly, Dance - the little known sleeper it is - was actually remade in 1993 as TO SLEEP WITH A VAMPIRE. That version, which was also produced by Corman and reused much of the same storyline and dialogue, does not come close to this version. Guess which one has been released on DVD? I wish I could say it was this one, but unfortunately some boneheads decided to release the remake instead while this worthy film languishes in VHS obscurity. Hopefully someone, some day will get this out to the masses so it can find an audience.

Future B-movie queen Maria Ford has a small role as a stripper.


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