1.5/4, 1990s, Comedy, Horror, Review, Wes Craven

Vampire in Brooklyn

#14 in my ranking of Wes Craven’s filmography.

Wes Craven was no good at directing comedy, and the combination of simply capturing some of the earliest excesses of Eddie Murphy’s comedic stylings along with the super-generic vampire terror end up clashing anyway in Vampire in Brooklyn to the point where even if you find the funny stuff actually funny and the horror stuff actually scary, the two don’t gel at all together here. Horror comedy can work really well (Shaun of the Dead is a prime example), but Craven doesn’t know how to weave the two together here. The clash ends up undercutting both comedy and horror at the same time, creating a miasma of blandness that runs through the whole thing.

Maximillian (Murphy) is an ancient vampire descended from the first vampires of Europe that went south into Egypt and eventually to the Caribbean to live and thrive. He has come to modern day New York to find a half-vampire woman he knows is somewhere in the city, the child of a vampire back in the Caribbean. The film piggybacks a lot of story beats from Bram Stoker’s original Dracula novel, including the Demeter arriving in dock with the crew all dead, this time done with a cargo ship that rams right into the space where Silas (John Witherspoon) and Julius (Kadeem Hardison) are playing cards. Julius flees, goes to his girlfriend’s house, gets kicked out, and then runs into a couple of loan sharks from the local Italian crime boss he owes money to. For reasons, Maximillian follows him, saves him from the threat, and kills the two loan sharks before turning Julius into his ghoul, a decaying corpse of a servant that…I’m really unclear why any vampire would want around.

Meanwhile, Detectives Rita (Angela Bassett) and Justice (Allen Payne) are investigating the deaths of the crew onboard the ship. Rita is, of course, the half-vampire Maximillian has come to find, and he finds her pretty much immediately in a bar run by Dr. Zeko (Zakes Mokae). There’s no real search. He just finds her. Okay. The effort then becomes an attempt to seduce her, but she has some sort of “will they, won’t they” thing with Detective Justice. Justice is probably the blandest character in the whole movie. He’s generic nice guy who pines for the girl (the actual police work of the pair honestly doesn’t really matter, they might as well be a pair of accountants). I can see easily why Rita would feel nothing towards him and instead get drawn towards the more interesting Maximillian.

Anyway, the movie kind of stops here and there for an early version of Eddie Murphy putting on a bunch of makeup to play different characters. The first is a complete stop in the film where Maximillian kills and replaces the local preacher whom he morphs into fully. He gives a rooftop sermon about how evil is good. I think this is supposed to be funny. I’m not really sure how, though.

Maximillian creates a rift between Rita and Justice when he sleeps with Rita’s roommate, leaving Rita to believe that it was Justice doing it (though how he knew that she would come to that conclusion seems a bit thin), and they then get close. In order to figure out what she likes best, though, he copies an Italian rough named Guido, holds up the Italian restaurant where Rita is questioning the Italian mob boss about Julius, and manages to somehow get Rita to announce her favorite pasta and type of wine. It’s a laborious scene that is, again, not very funny, and also feels so completely unnecessary when a suave guy like Maximillian doesn’t need inside information on basic taste preferences to get a woman to like him.

He ends up turning her sort of with her consent, but not really, and the rest of the film is Justice trying to win Rita back from Maximillian before she tastes blood for the first time and becomes a vampire for real. It’s here where the genericness of the vampire take really undermines everything. There’s a very thin layer of Caribbean voodoo on top of the vampire machinations, but it’s really no more than a façade. There’s still just wooden stakes, fog, and animal transformations, all ending with the need to get the head vampire to free those under his control. It’s not exactly a surprise how it works out. That’s one of the problems with being really generic.

So, it’s not funny, but even worse is that the horror is not scary. The script, written by Charlie Murphy, Michael Lucker, and Chris Parker, lays the generic groundwork, but the combination of comedy and horror, as mixed here, undermines a lot of it. It reminds me of the cop subplot in The Last House on the Left where Craven was intercutting a horrible rape with slapstick. It didn’t work then, and he essentially tries to repeat it here with expensive horror mechanics instead of the exploitation of the earlier film. In the middle of the horror climax, with Maximillian taking his horrifying real and deformed form while trying to get Rita to drink Justice’s blood, he cuts away for a little while to show Julius (pointless character) flailing about and complaining about his missing arm because he’s falling apart as a ghoul. It undercuts everything. Without the misplaced comedy, I’d probably be a bit more sanguine on the horror aspects (they’re perfectly competent), but they undercut the horror so much that it just becomes a whiplash experience.

Apparently caught between Murphy’s image as a comedian, that he both couldn’t let himself escape and wanted to escape at the same time, the film tries to be both, and Craven simply didn’t have the skill to wed the two together. What that ends up creating is a tedious experience as we wade through a dull script, hitting comedic moments that don’t really hit and clash with everything else around it, and guess the ending a long time before it arrives with nothing else to engage us along the way. It’s not exactly Craven’s worst film, but it is definitely a drag.

Rating: 1.5/4

7 thoughts on “Vampire in Brooklyn”

  1. Another one I haven’t seen, but the important thing about horror-comedies is that the comedy part has to dominate throughout. “Shaun of the Dead” is a good example, as the horror content is kept present but very low in the mix–the exception being Shaun’s mother’s fate, which is jarring enough that people tend to be brought up short when that happens. “Return of the Living Dead” is another example where things escalate (and how) but the tone is always toward the comedy side.

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    1. There is a balance issue here (it tends to lean too far into horror, I think), but I think it’s more about how the two major strains are simply not very good. Imagine Norbit crossed with Queen of the Damned.

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  2. A horror comedy is a very difficult thing to create (as distinct to a horror movie with comedy in it, for tension relief). We are spoiled by a very few movies that do it well (Shaun of the Dead is one, Evil Dead 2 is another and maybe The Suicide Squad…not sure if that’s really horror) when in reality, attempts to combine the two usually fail badly.

    Comedy is death to tension, by design. (It’s also death to Drama which is why the Disney movies so frequently fail when they try to combine serious situations with comedy)

    But enough theory…this movie is a real shame. It does some things so well, honestly when Eddie is trying to be scary, it works pretty well. The man can act, as you see in his first movie 48 Hours and much much later in his career. This movie does indeed have death and gore and a fairly un-camp vampire. It’s mostly the comedy that fails. Well ok, and the plot and writing not being able seal the deal. Oh and the lack of an interesting protagonist or hero to root for.

    I think it’s worth watching. Angela Basset is lovely and committed to her role, so is Eddie Murphy. This one is fun to think about how it could have been different, committing to comedy OR to horror.

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    1. The horror is certainly earnest, but I still didn’t think it worked very well. They’re trying, but the storytelling deficiencies work against it all the time. I guess it’s hard to really tell the strengths and weaknesses of the horror because of all the crap around it. Trying to consider individual scenes is even hard, like the big finale, that gets broken up with comedic antics.

      I’d bet there’s a fan edit of this that removes a lot of the comedy. It also probably runs about 50 minutes long.

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  3. Never have you devoted so many words to so many 1 and 1.5 star movies. I’ve seen only a single Wes Craven movie (I’m not real big on horror movies, they are scary), doesn’t sound like I’m missing anything.

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    1. I chose to keep doing this to myself. I have no editor forcing me to continue.

      I’m just happy that I have a loving wife and two wonderful children to fill the rest of my days.

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