No Sleep October: Vamp

James Ledesma works as a civil servant and is currently toiling over the novel that has taken him three decades to write. He also has a small studio where he creates podcasts and other signals

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Grace Jones is not ugly per se.

That is to say, there should be no debate over her attractiveness. She is tall, slender, long-legged — with impossibly sculpted cheekbones and immaculate ebony skin.

And yet …

The flattop haircut. The snarling (yet perfect) teeth. The animalistic glare. There’s madness behind those eyes.

She’s scaaarryy.

She’s mostly known for her movie roles in the ’80s and early ’90s, but Grace Jones is transcendent: singer, artist, model, scenester, tastemaker. Grace Jones is more than cool, more than hip.

But it’s those film roles that cemented her place in pop culture. From Conan to James Bond to Eddie Murphy, she has played against many of the most prominent cinematic male archetypes and stood her ground. However, even though she made numerous videos for her dance singles, she never really commanded center stage in any movie role during her peak.

Except for one. Vamp.

Vamp was the movie she was born to make. But she doesn’t utter one single line of dialogue throughout the entire movie; she isn’t really onscreen for more than a quarter of the movie’s brief running time; and she’s the villain once again, so she doesn’t survive and she doesn’t win.

Still, you only think of her throughout the entire 90 minutes. Her first appearance is absolutely mesmerizing: Her body painted by New York underground artist Keith Haring, Jones delivers a hypnotic striptease that doesn’t titillate as much as it completely opens your jaw and keeps it gaping open for the duration of her burlesque routine. It is erotic, but not in the way movie strippers usually are. When Demi Moore, Elizabeth Berkeley or even Natalie Portman worked the poles in their respective roles, you didn’t come away from the experience feeling like you just barely survived an encounter with a lion in her den. You’re almost ashamed to ponder her savagery, for fear of appearing racist, sexist or not “woke” when contemplating her disturbing presence.

Jones is playing a vampire, of course, and Vamp is one of those movies Quentin Tarantino certainly took some cues from when he wrote From Dusk Till Dawn back in his video store days. In general, the movie feels like the type of movie he could’ve recommended: “It’s got the guy who played Long Duk Dong in Sixteen Candles, the kid from Meatballs and My Bodyguard, Michelle Pfeiffer’s sister, Billy Drago as an albino gang member, the guy who played Robert Downey Jr’s buddy in Weird Science, character actor Sandy Baron … and Grace fucking Jones in a role that’s one part Pam Grier and two parts Catherine Deneuve in The Hunger! Legend has it that Andy Warhol and Keith Haring did her wardrobe and makeup for free!”

When Jones is not onscreen, the movie has its simple charms: The leads are likable, and Gedde Watanabe steals the show as a less-racially-offensive-but-still-dorky variation on nearly every character he’s ever played in a movie. The mix of light comedy and respectable horror is indicative of the era, exemplified in so many ’80s movies (from Fright Night to The Lost Boys to Once Bitten) that it may as well be its own genre now. There’s some decent scares and even better special effects. There are some problems with the pacing, egregious plot holes and sequences that fall flat. Some performances are better than others; I think I was more impressed with Chris Makepeace’s role back when I first saw it back then because he was all grown up, no longer a milquetoast wimp at the mercy of the Matt Dillons and Bill Murrays of the world. Looking at it now, he’s the worst actor in it, and that may be the reason why, despite having all the ingredients for a serious cult movie with legs, this one has fallen to the wayside and is barely remembered or appreciated. He has to carry the movie, and he just comes off as a Mel Gibson lookalike with a mediocre range. Likable? Sure. But even Dedee Pfeiffer upstages him, and she should be the worst actor in the movie.

Ultimately, I forgive all of those flaws when I reflect upon the marvelous dance that Jones performs when she is first introduced to the audience. Salma Hayek’s scene in From Dusk Till Dawn is probably more memorable and sexy as far as vampiric movie striptease scenes go, but it also does nothing to advance the story. Jones looking like Jigsaw in whiteface and a red wig humping a graffiti-riddled chair shaped like a man with berserker-like frenzy in Vamp is absolutely necessary.

Vamp is a fun popcorn movie with a few thrills, some laughs and decent atmosphere. As Halloween fare, it delivers somewhat. But I recommend it highly for that one scene where Jones gets crazy in the spotlight of the decrepit strip club as she seduces her prey. That one moment will haunt your dreams in more ways than one.

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For most of his life, Evan Dossey has generally avoided horror films. The genre makes him profoundly uncomfortable. This means he has enormous gaps in his cinematic knowledge. Each year, he asks friends and family which essential horror movies he needs to see in order to fill those gaps and spends the better part of October agonizing over them, tossing and turning over them … and writing about them. This year, he’s sharing the month with those friends and family — letting them offer their own thoughts about the tales that terrify (or perhaps just titillate) them. This is our No Sleep October.

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NO SLEEP OCTOBER 2019

Pop Skull – Richard Propes

The Ghost and the Darkness – John Tuttle

Graveyard Shift – Eric Harris

Captain Kronos — Vampire Hunter – Bob Bloom

Alien – Nicole Brooks

The Night Stalker / The Night Strangler – Lou Harry

Pet Sematary (1989) – Heather Knight

Marianne – Alys Caviness-Gober

Orphan – Greg Lindberg



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