Monday, August 13, 2012

Satanic Yuppies (1996)

... aka: Evil Ambitions

Directed by:
Mark Burchett
Michael D. Fox

Thing begin with a Satanic cult sacrifice of a topless victim being headed over by Gideon Jessup (David Levy) and Brittany Drake (Amber Newman). He's interrupted on his cell phone and must specify Maine lobster for dinner, while she reminds the Dark Lord they'd like a "continuation of the wealth, status and material comforts" they so deserve. These cats may be murderous Satanists, but first and foremost they're rich, pretentious yuppies who have no qualms killing underlings to ensure their own power and success. Gideon is a republican city councilman with high aspirations. He's currently running for governor and one day would love to become a U.S. President. Brittany owns a lucrative modeling agency called Inferno Media. Bright-eyed, nubile, 21-year-old blonde Julie Swanson (the gorgeous Lucy Frashure) has just dropped out of college and moved to the big city to try to make it as an actress and model. She shows up at Inferno without so much as a portfolio and gets a consultation with Ms. Drake. After establishing that she has no friends (she's only been in town for a week) or family (her parents died in a car crash) in the area, and has never had a boyfriend (meaning there's a high probability she's still a virgin), Brittany decides Julie is just "perfect" for Inferno. And by perfect, she means she's one hell of a candidate to become Satan's Bride.

Meanwhile, Times Tribune reporter Peter McGavin (Paul Morris), who narrates the film, is investigating serial murders in the area. Naked female victims missing their hearts are being dumped off near the Ohio River. He's able to get some information from Detective Leslie Kellogg (Renee Raos), but not as much as he'd like. Peter's boss Miles Bishop (S. William Hinzman) wants him to stop worrying about the murders and threatens to fire him if he doesn't go do a story on Gideon. Peter goes to Jessup's office and is unable to track him down for an interview so he follows him over to Inferno Media. There, he meets Brittany, who's also Jessup's PR and media consultant, and becomes putty in the charming, husky-voiced fox's hands. She invites him to her home for a poolside lunch the following day to conduct the interview. In the meantime, one of the models is stalked back to her apartment, is kidnapped by a burly, long-haired, bearded guy named Lester (Rob Calvert) and brought back to the cultists as a sacrifice.

After body #3 turns up, Peter instantly recognizes the victim as a model he bumped into while at Inferno Media. He points Detective Kellogg in that direction and then goes to an eccentric mystic named Madame Natalie Goldfarb (Debbie Rochon) for help. She's kind enough to take a break from ghost writing Mae West's posthumous autobiography "Come Up and See Me Sometime After You're Dead" to look up some information for him. As it turns out, the murders fit the description of something called The Offering Ritual or The Bride of the Beast; an ancient, seldom-invoked rite used to curry favor from the devil. The ritual requires five different human sacrifices; the first four being "bridesmaids" whose hearts must be cut out and placed in an urn. The fifth woman - the "bride" - must be a virgin whose pure blood is to be mixed in with the hearts. After an incantation, Satan will show up to retrieve his bride and grant one wish requested by the offerers. Natalie holds a seance and determines Peter is up against a very evil and very powerful force, so she gives him a charm that is supposed to channel good energy.

Because Leslie and Peter have been snooping around, the cultists conduct a special ceremony to stop them. They're successful at getting Leslie, sending a blue BLOB-like ooze into her tub while she's bathing. The succubus they send after Peter kidnaps him and bring him back to the cult. Brittany wants to possess him because they need a reporter in their pocket and she wants him to be the one to carry through on the final sacrifice. Thankfully, Natalie telepathically helps him snap out of it in time for the big ceremony. All of the cult members gather around for the ceremony, where there will be a topless sacrifice, a little fighting, a bottle broken over a head, a literal backstabbing of an important character, some bad early computer fx a special appearance by Satan himself. However, this Satan isn't just a scary guy in horns, he's a scary guy in horns with a personality, a (gasp!) sense of fairness and a (double gasp!) sense of ethics! Not quite what one might expect, but in the best of ways.

Satanic Yuppies was pretty much robbed of any kind of following when it was released on VHS under the new generic title Evil Ambitions in 1996. However, now that this has popped up on DVD and on Netflix Instant Watch, it at least has a belated chance. This is an extremely low-budget, shot-on-video movie but it gets two chief components right that most films in its budget range do not. First and foremost, it has a fairly well-written screenplay with actual characters, a sense of humor, some amusing digs at greedy conservative politics and an adequate enough plotline. Second, some of the actors rise to the occasion. Frashure shows some promise in her only known role, Rochon is quite fun in her supporting part and Randy Rupp makes for a very amusing Satan. The real star here though is Amber Newman. She's terrific as the charismatic, powerful and playfully evil businesswoman / high priestess who possesses hypnotic abilities and makes it clear in her own polite and sophisticated way that she runs the show. When her politician accomplice starts getting greedy, she lets him know he's pretty much expendable in the grand scheme of things ("It's not like there's a shortage of politicians willing to sell their soul for power.") Unfortunately, Miss Newman ended up in late night cable erotic thrillers, which seldom made use of her skills as an actress.

It's not all good news. The goofy leading man, always clad in a Cincy Reds hat and with a cigar hanging out of his mouth, is pretty much a double-edged sword; not so much because of the actor but because of how the character is written. Sometimes he's amusing, sometimes he's annoying and his wisecracks don't always stick. The character seems to have been influenced by Jay Richardson's Jack Chandler from the cult classic HOLLYWOOD CHAINSAW HOOKERS (1987), who was himself a parody of noir detectives, mixed with some Carl Kolchak. Either way, the reporters narration track comes and goes, and doesn't always even seem necessary. There are some problems with the sound here and there, and the photography is wildly uneven, ranging from competent to grainy. Often times, it's too bright or too dark. However, for the video format, you will see far, far worse elsewhere. What few bits of action there are aren't always choreographed convincingly. The evil ambition often overextends the anemic budget, but the good will is obviously here and it's very watchable and often fun.

Insert shots of large-breasted Glori-Anne Gilbert dancing with a python and by a fire were added at a later junction to up the nudity factor. Overall, there's plenty of skin here and several extremely attractive actresses. The DVD comes with a 30-minute documentary on the production called SATANIC YUPPIES: A LOOK BACK. It contains interviews with both writer / directors (who also made 1995's VAMPS and its 2002 sequel), Jeff Barklage (director of photography), Newman, Morris, Levy, Rochon, Calvert and Gilbert.

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