Welcome back to another Friday Nightmare Reviews, wherein I tell you what you could be watching instead of surfing the internet and trying to discover where in your lifetime, you started to notice the world was not only changing but usually in ways that made you deeply uncomfortable and made you yearn for those days when things were a whole lot better. You know, the Good Old Days™. I’m sure you’re familiar with those days. They were back in the day somewhere around yesteryear, before everything started turning into figures of speech that you don’t recognize and problems with the world that seem mostly unsolvable and all manner of other horrors that come with adulthood. When I was growing up, the Good Old Days™, depending on who you talked to, were usually somewhere between the 60s and 70s. I was told that this is when music was awesome, the world was still interesting and people knew how to live. If you’ve lived under a rock, maybe you might have missed that the current zeitgeist has decided that the ultimate in Good Old Days™ is the 1980s, where music was awesome and the world was not only interesting but neon and people knew how to live. If you’ve read any reviews on this site, there’s a chance that you’ll have probably noticed at least a tiny pattern of things that I like and if you’re particularly astute, you’ll notice how many really shitty 80s movies I love. I won’t deny my own contribution to the Good Old Days™ narrative (diatribe) going on but I also can’t deny that there’s another narrative/diatribe rumbling beneath my feet. It’s the rise of those born later than me and their nostalgic bomb that is only starting to cast a shadow over the edges of my perfectly imperfect decade of choice is getting louder than I like. Tonight, we are going to appease them but also remind them that there was an awful lot of super lame shit in the 90s too. Join me for the film event that was Embrace of the Vampire.
And because this is a review of a film that was released in the middle of the 90s, let us look back fondly at a different time period that we all know produced music that was awesome, a world that was interesting and people really knew how to live: the 80s again. I swear we’re going to stick with the 90s again in a second but this tale of background starts in my preferred decade so we’re just going with it. And this tale, as it were, involves a beautiful young lass of a tender age who was sweet and innocent and the apple of everyone’s eye. Meanwhile, there was a handsome man some many miles away who was keeping the beat for a group whose name may or may not have been inspired by people in the throes of death during the second World War. (I looked it up but there’s nothing official or really that reliable a source to be able to cite it with any confidence. We’re going with the internet says so, perhaps, and I cannot definitively say that I know this much is true.) These two were of different worlds, both in how they were known and their age but come the end of the 80s and into the middle of the 90s, fate would bring them together oh-so briefly for a terrible, horrible moment in time. It’s not just the tale of this incredibly terrible film, it’s also how stars Alyssa Milano and Martin Kemp ended up in the mess that it is.
For those who are too young to recall, in the 80s, Milano was best known as Samantha from the sitcom Who’s the Boss with Tony Danza. She was a child actress who basically grew up in front of the world on that show until 1991 when it was cancelled. Milano was known for her teen idol, good girl image but come the 90s, she had started to make that attempt to break away from that role and this film was part of that. As for our other lead, he too was known for something completely different in the 80s. Martin Kemp was the bassist for the band Spandau Ballet, whom you might have heard a song or two from if you listen to anything related to pop culture or have attended a wedding in the last three decades. Yes, he was the bassist for that band who sang the song “True” and despite the fact that Spandau Ballet were very active and enjoyed a decent amount of international success, the band parted ways in the early 90s and Kemp fell back on that whole acting thing he’d started doing in the 70s. He started off doing a British film and then moving to LA to do some small roles on TV before he landed a couple of films, including this one. Also, credit where it is absolutely due: apparently the poor man went through the entire filming of this movie with two undiagnosed brain tumors which were later successfully removed and he only left the acting world for a grand total of three years before he started up again.
So with the background check all brought up to speed, let us talk about the film! This terrible, awful, incredibly bad film.
We begin by way of monologue from our male lead. Once upon a time, in a land far far away and in a period of history in which royals are okay to cavort with title owning lords and it didn’t end in trips to the guillotine or potentially in a member of the royal family getting disowned, there was a title owning lord who was in love with a fair maiden princess who happened to be a virgin. Put a pin in that because it comes up again later. Their hot steamy affair basically consists of the pair finding their way to secret spots in the woods that look like they were ripped off from Legend and they make out a little before they say goodbye and our lord decides that an embankment is a great place to take a non-post coital nap. As it happens, he isn’t set upon by thieves who would naturally be attracted to his wealth, or the royal guard for laying a hand on someone who could potentially give birth to an heir to the throne, or even just an animal who saw an easy mark. Nope, we get the treat of seeing his sorry ass get soft core porned into being one of the damned. And there’s an ankh in there too but it hardly matters amid the boobies on display. Apparently this reality was before indoor plumbing but not before Hot Topic traded its goth card to cash in on the needs of the scene kids.
Once our monologue ends, our film asks the question of what it would be like if Once Bitten were to try to take itself a little more seriously, actually feature entirely too much sex and be from the perspective of the frigid girlfriend. Now set everything in the 90s, strip away half of the elements that even made the plot work and staple a tragic lost love post it note to the vampire’s back story and you’ve got Embrace of the Vampire. This all sounds like I’m being facetious but this is a pretty apt description of what this film is about and how it runs. Our bassist made vampire is nameless and laments about his lost love in much the same way Zachery does in Vampire Journals. Problem being is that while Zachery uses his grief over what became of his sex life to fuel his quest for revenge, this vampire’s lost love doesn’t really come into play at all in this film. The object of the vampire’s desire and the princess at the beginning aren’t even played by the same actress, which seems a bit odd. And speaking of the object that is desired by basically everyone, let’s introduce everyone to our main character. Charlotte, played by Milano, is a by the numbers sweet, chaste, virginal, pure, unsullied, innocent cardboard cut out that Kemp’s vampire has to seduce into accepting him in the next three days before he’s plunged into eternal dirt nap. Sad vampire boy doesn’t see fit to tell us why he’s got a case of fatal narcolepsy nor does he go into how the world’s most boring virgin is going to be the one to keep him awake for the time being because those details of the plot don’t involve boobs. He does let us in on a few minor details about why he doesn’t just pull a Dracula and show up in her room and bite her. Apparently she has to love him enough to leave her dirtbag boyfriend first and only then will true lust’s first love bite break the curse upon him. Or something.
And with a plot that strong and a timeline that short, you might be thinking that our vamp will waste no time in trying to get his seduction on and try to race to get into the good books of doe eyed Charlotte by the first night. Yeah, you might have missed it earlier but I did mention this movie is terrible. Also, it stands to note that this is one of several films now that I’ve viewed that require the vampire to step up to plate and seduce the blood right out of the main character and I’m baffled as to how they manage to fuck this up. Seriously, the vampires in these films know what’s at stake (no pun intended but it still works so we’re letting this Dad level joke stay there) and yet when it comes to the fine art of getting their target all hot and bothered and giving into temptation, they just can’t do it. They do stupid things like lick the person when they’re bleeding or scare the bejesus out of them or something that you would assume people with no social skills or understanding of personal space would do. That or in this case, they do absolutely fucking nothing. Seriously, you have three days and you can’t for the life of you think of a way to get your bored, chaste and entirely tempt-able target to take an interest in you? The lesbian had her eating out of her evil lesbian hand part way through the film and the vampire could just talk to her while she was sleep walking and disrobe her while she was dreaming. You have three days, dummy! Pick up the pace! That dirt nap is apparently not going to wait and if your monologue about choosing survival at all cost means anything, you might want to make more of an effort to stay coherent than a sixth grader trying to pretend to care about their homework. Kemp’s vampire isn’t as bad as some of the others we’ve seen before but it does kinda make it funnier that he’s unable to do anything that isn’t pointless or cringeworthy with Charlotte but has a full on “no homo” moment with her dirtbag boyfriend, Chris. Granted, that part has a particularly cringey vibe to it too but somehow seems far more effective than anything he actually does to woo his chosen lady.
Right. Back to the plot. Three days or vamp boy is gonna fall asleep for eternity. Vamp boy isn’t very good seduction but luckily for him, neither is anyone else in this film. It would be nothing but a parade of terrible characters who are all just trying to find out that her underwear is white (because of course it is), but we get a break in the monotony with Eliza, the token bitch played by Jordan Ladd, and Nicole, the only character worth watching played by Rachel True. And now, that we’ve brought her up, let’s talk about the only good character in this film as she is possibly the only saving grace of this film. For those who want to know more about why she’s there, Nicole is the roommate/best friend/only friend of our main character. It’s true that she basically only talks to her about boys and not much else but with what little she’s given to do, True really makes the role far more interesting than it actually would be with a less talented actress. Seriously, she’s fun, she’s spunky, she’s actually seems like she cares about her friends but there are layers to her. Granted, they are onion thin but it’s more than Charlotte has. Charlotte’s whole character is defined by the fact that she’s a virgin. Nicole is actually fun and she’s not afraid to be a little more overt about what she wants. Given how sexual the film is, she’s kind of the perfect balance between Eliza’s bitchy slut character and Charlotte’s fresh out of the nunnery cardboard stand up. There’s a kind of push to make Nicole a low key predator in a way because of how she brings Charlotte into a dangerous situation with a would be rapist but this seems out of step with everything that Nicole had done prior and she’s unfairly punished with one of the most ridiculously stupid death scenes in any horror movie to date. Yes, even the popcorn death in Troll 2 had a bit more dignity than this. And the worst part of this, other than the loss of Rachel True from the film and thus the loss of the only actress who was worthy of holding my attention for longer than ten minutes, is that Nicole was only bringing Charlotte out to show her that there was life beyond her dirtbag boyfriend. You know, the very thing the vampire had been trying to do.
By now you’ll notice that I don’t much care for the dirtbag boyfriend in this film. The actor does an okay job, I suppose, but I don’t think he’s given much to work with. That doesn’t excuse the fact that at no point does he sell the idea that he’s in love with Charlotte. He also doesn’t come across as entirely sympathetic or amiable either. Not to harp on this but as mentioned in the Once Bitten review, one of the only ways that this trope of the horny teen boy looking to get his girlfriend into bed will work is if the characters are endearing enough to pull it off. In Once Bitten, Mark is a jerk but ultimately, he’s a rather likeable blithering idiot. He showcases that he cares about his girlfriend and that he’s often too dumb to know when he’s doing something insensitive. It doesn’t make it okay in the end but it makes a huge difference to him being at least someone you can get behind. Chris, on the other hand, is annoying and his pressuring is less borne out of any sense of authentic love as it is that he wants to get laid something fierce. There’s some attempt to make him out to be more sympathetic but ultimately, it’s a wasted effort because he still really doesn’t do much except show up at Charlotte’s dorm and make remarks about getting into her pants. And even though he makes a big show about talking about her, you never get the sense that he’s really in love or that he would do anything for her. What’s worse is that the film really actually makes this plain by directly asking him and the other characters if Chris would be willing to die for Charlotte. The vampire actually says it right to him. Granted, he’s trying to put doubt in their minds but truthfully, he doesn’t ever really give the sense that he’s in love so much as he doesn’t want to break up. He reminds me more of Glenn from The Wedding Singer. And while it’s true that most of the time I am more likely to side with the vampire in most films, unfortunately, despite Kemp playing a pretty decent member of the undead, I still can’t recommend this. The fact that he can’t really find a way to seduce a pristine virgin away from a whiny dirtbag is a little too pathetic to be alluring.
So this is kind of a first on this site but this is about the only film I’m giving you a hard anti recommendation. I watched it again for nostalgic value because it does have a great 90s kick to it but dear Lord is it awful. Like there’s a point where the vampire kills someone (not by biting her but rather bashing her head in) and actually licks the blood off the door. Like repeatedly. For more than a minute even. There’s a whole lesbian subplot where she’s intent on getting into Charlotte’s very uninteresting pants as well and by that point, you have yet to figure out why. This girl isn’t interesting or smart or a stellar personality or anything. She’s got a great set of boobs which you see more than enough of but that’s about all there is to that. And since I’m giving you the hard pass on this one, here’s my little gift to you:
Should you choose to watch this film, I suggest only watching until Rachel True gets attacked in the net and then turn it off. From this point on, let’s assume that the vampire attempted to kill her but due to the fact that she was hanging in a net during the attack and he was trying to actually bite her through it like a moron, she clearly was fine. Better than fine! Nicole survives! And thrives as a newborn vampire! Suddenly she’s trust into a world she didn’t count on and realizes that the posh school that she was going to has no real life to offer her. No, she can wander the world of the night, free to enjoy all that has been denied to her. But first, she’s going to find that vampire who bit her and test out her new powers. In turn, our vampire is going to see that his ideas about the virginal Charlotte were a lost cause. He sees that Nicole is going to be a challenge for both his mind and his body. Is it love or hate? Is it passion or a need to destroy each other in the most cunning way possible? Will they grow to love each other or will they simply love their game of cat and mouse that they can enjoy for centuries? Tell me you wouldn’t immediately ditch Charlotte’s chaste little behind to watch this too? Set it to the 90s soundtrack of your choice and that’s what should have happened. And if any of this is more up your alley than anything described prior, watch Vampire Journals and follow it up with Buffy the Vampire Slayer and end it off with Interview with the Vampire and you’ll have a much more interesting time of your evening.
Thank you again to everyone who checks in to read my Friday Nightmare Reviews. I appreciate all the time that you spend at this site and I hope that you have at least a few fun movies to watch this weekend. If you love horror stories and want more, come back on Mondays for weekly instalments of the Hello Dolly series of stories. Dolly is a horror hostess who, along with her monstrous friends and crew of misfits, is trying to figure out how to live in a world with real monsters and internet trolls, all while trying to put together a weekly online show. As always, thanks again to everyone and here’s wishing you a weekend of doors free of blood and vampires with real social skills!