Blu-ray review: Vampire Cop (1990)

There’s something of a story behind this site’s relationship with this movie, so feel free to skip a few paragraphs if you don’t like that sort of thing. If you’re happy with my nonsense, read on!

In my teens, my friends and I would go to Blockbuster, find the weirdest-looking VHS tape we could find, then watch the trailers and find the movie with the worst trailer, and repeat the process until we got to theoretically the worst movie ever. Sadly, our mission was stopped at four movies, when I was unable to track down a gem called “Vampire Cop”. Fast forward many years, I’m writing for this fine site right here, and I decided to track it down.

However, I made a slight mistake, and that mistake introduced me to the world of Donald Farmer, who’d made a different movie with the same title. I watched that, and the ISCFC’s world has never been the same again. Without “Vampire Cop”, I’d have never seen any of his great (and often bizarre) movies, and I’d have never met (electronically) the man himself. He’s one of the most generous filmmakers out there, happy to answer questions from his fans all day and share behind the scenes photos from his movies on social media. Full disclosure: thanks to one of those online funding platforms, I’m now a producer on his latest movie! He’s such a decent chap he’s happy to talk to someone (me) who’s been more than unkind to a few of his old movies; but anyway.

SRS Cinema are amazing, the sort of site I’d make if I had money, time, patience, any ability as a filmmaker, etc. Headed by the great Ron Bonk, they release some weird and wonderful stuff, and the trailers on this blu-ray were a fine example of that – “House Shark”; “She Kills”; “Night Of Something Strange”, and the first two volumes of Donald Farmer’s old 8mm horror shorts. Now, one might say that as two of these movies are about vaginas with tentacles coming out of them, someone at SRS Cinema has issues…or maybe one is a sequel to the other and I’m just an idiot. But I’d heartily recommend dropping some $$$ on their output, you’ll have a good time.

And their latest release is this. If you’d like to read our thoughts on the original release cut of “Vampire Cop”, click HERE, as it’s included on the disc too. But the real treasure for us Farmer-philes is a director’s cut, along with a commentary track from the man himself! So, I’ll mention a few things I forgot in the first review, discuss the quality of the special features and enjoy a rewatch of a classic.

CUT INFO: It’s 6 minutes shorter than the official release, and there’s a lot to recommend about it. Less sex, less focusing on the backlit vampire, none of that ridiculous dream sequence at the beginning; all things being equal, I’d pick this over the release cut. But…

There are two technical things you need to be aware of before you buy this (which I very much recommend). One is that the picture quality appears to have not been changed at all – in other words, this feels the same as watching the VHS tape back in the 90s. I guess, being shot on 16mm, there’s not a lot you can do to it quality-wise, but if you were buying this expecting Melissa Moore’s boobs in glorious HD, move along. The other thing is a little more off-putting, and that’s the lack of incidental music. All the dialogue is there, but some of the sound effects aren’t, and none of the music is. This reaches its apotheosis during the sex scene, which is three minutes of complete silence. Quite curious.

Turns out the lack of sound is due to this being an unusual sort of director’s cut. Donald Farmer submitted this version to a distributor, but they were all “if you shoot some new scenes, it’ll make the movie better, and we’ll pay for it”. This meant they were the primary shareholders (the original cut being made for an amazing $15,000) and held the rights to it for many years; none of the scenes they added made any difference, with the exception of a small one where the TV station’s producer, played by Farmer himself, discusses upcoming segments with such titles as “Transsexual House Pets” and “Men Who Name Their Testicles”. I’d have been happy to have that in the director’s cut too, but I appreciate I’m not in the majority of movie fans. They were less than honest with Farmer, and if you make a movie yourself you’d do well to avail yourself of all these horror stories and avoid them.

The movie itself is largely the same. A drug dealer tries to buy off the city with large charitable donations, but the cops still want to chase him down. One of those cops is Lucas, played by Ed Cannon, who’s also a vampire, but he’s sort of a dumb vampire who doesn’t pay attention to who he’s biting and therefore turning into vampires too. He hooks up with investigative journalist Melissa Moore and they take down this kingpin. He has the worst poker face ever, when the subject of vampirism is brought up, he does this weird face and if I was in the room with him, I’d be asking if he’d just had a stroke.

The commentary from Farmer is fantastic, full of really interesting facts about the world of low-budget movie-making, info about his actors, shooting details, and so on. It’s loose and informal and is like having the director sat next to you on the sofa, drinking a few beers and telling you anecdotes for 80 minutes.

I’m man enough to admit when I’m wrong, and a vast number of the criticisms I had of the original cut were of stuff that Farmer had no control over – the distributor’s cut of the movie, the incredibly tiny budget, the excessive nudity, and so on. The dream sequence at the beginning wasn’t his idea, and the chap with the moustache in the bathtub, who after watching the movie three times, I’ve still got no bloody idea who he was or why he was in it, was put in because he was staying at the house they were filming at and the other people there begged Farmer. Okay, no-one’s going to be mistaking this for Oscar fare, but the director’s cut makes a lot more sense.

Farmer shows his self-deprecating side when he repeats something that Roger Corman once said, as it applies to his movies too – “I hope all my actors will have careers where they don’t have to work with me again”. By the way, there’s a legit Oscar winner in his cast – RJ McKay, who plays gangster’s sidekick Raymond (and is by miles the best actor in it) was actually Ray McKinnon, working under an assumed name as “Vampire Cop” was a non-union movie. McKinnon has gone on to work on “Deadwood” and “Sons Of Anarchy”, and produced “Rectify” for the Sundance Channel. His Oscar was for a short movie, but he’s clearly had a great career, and he gave his all for $75 a day.

It’s my ambition to get my name on a DVD cover with a pull quote, so let’s try one of those. “SRS Cinema’s relationship with Donald Farmer means we get a new version of his 1990 classic!” I sort of like that. As I say, over and over again, if you have some spare entertainment money, people like SRS will be able to use it to keep producing the sort of bonkers nonsense you’re not going to get anywhere else, more so than another ticket for some multiplex tedium.

Rating: thumbs up

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