July 08, 2011

INNOCENT BLOOD (1992) - a vampire in Pittsburgh

(1992, USA)

After worshipping John Landis' early films Kentucky Fried Movie, Animal House and An American Werewolf In London, by the end of the 1980s I was completely dispirited by his hit-and-miss comedies. But a return to horror in 1992 proved interesting and is now one of my Landis favourites. Again it blends modern cynicism, comedy and blood. That year it got lost in a flurry of vampire movies, much like we're deluged with zombies at the moment.
The core of Innocent Blood is a cross-breed of vampire horror with mob thriller, and the casting of Anne Parillaud, hot off Nikita. Luc Besson's 1990 thriller led to a US remake and two TV series. It was bizarre to see the action highlight - the kitchen shootout - not only being reused in John Badham's The Assassin (1993, starring Bridget Fonda) but also the first TV pilot for La Femme Nikita (1997, starring Peta Wilson).

Parillaud is sensational in Nikita, a female Leon, perfectly cast as an ethical vampire. She delivers physical confidence in her superhuman abilities, brash nudity, disarming Gallic sexiness, only hampered by her faltering English, which sounds really weird when she goes all deep-voiced and plasma-hungry. Despite her vampire abilities, she sometimes resorts to using a gun, presumably to trade off the Nikita role.

But I'm not telling you the plot. The story starts twice over as the two main characters are introduced before they meet. One is Joe Gennaro (Anthony LaPaglia), an undercover cop trying to bring down a Pittsburgh crime boss (Robert Loggia). He risks blowing his cover after a string of murders includes his police partner.

But these aren't mob hits, but vampire meals, with night stalker Marie (Parillaud) ethically picking victims who are murderous criminals. Mistaking Joe for a member of the mob, she only spares him because he's cute. One of her rules being "don't play with the food". But her rules misfire when the mob starts turning vampire. If they all get superhuman, nothing will stop them taking over the city...

The story has its own rules about vampirism, their powers, and how they die. This mythos might annoy purists, but hey, Landis was brought up on the Universal and Hammer horrors, and they changed the rules every movie. We're also in Pittsburgh - there's a clue.

The scenes of vampire mealtimes pull no punches, Landis using his accomplished scare tactics that triggered so many near heart attacks during American Werewolf. Visually there's less emphasis on fangs and more on the blood smeared all over their faces after 'dining'. Their eyes also glow in the dark, a startling effect using highly reflective contact lenses (and a beam-splitter, FX fans). Steve Johnson (Ghostbusters, The Abyss, Freaked) also provides spectacular prosthetic effects in the film.

This is definitely a pre-CGI movie, the camerawork is noticeably limited from what it really wants to do - there's a wobbly attempt to do a point-of-view flying shot, cheekily stolen from Dario Argento's Opera. It's interesting but more trouble than its worth. In portraying vampire powers, the wirework isn't as clever as the editing, and as usual the contact lenses never quite line up with each other. If it starred Karen Black, this might have been excusable.

There's also a wealth of in-jokes for horror fans. The movies playing on TVs (everywhere) seem too obvious a reference, but the movie directors used in bit parts are a real treat. Just brilliant fun. I'm guessing there was a horror convention in town. First to watch out for is Tom Savini...

American Werewolf had plenty of plot-driven male nudity, Innocent Blood has gratuitous female nudity. While tight bodies and talking about sex pervade horror movies aimed at teenagers, this is more adult. Like lingering, full-frontal nudity, prolonged sexual situations and two large placements for safe sex. While smoking has endured in movies, safe sex has barely been mentioned, even after the darkest years of the 1980s. Innocent Blood is a rare exception and reminds us how little safe sex has been suggested in any movie, in any genre, in the last three decades.

From nearly the first scene, Robert Loggia starts to dominate the film, his two-faced kingpin goes from human monster to inhuman, in a great horror performance. While I'm sure he was offered a lot of genre work after this, he's remained with characters that are psychologically and physically terrifying, rooted in reality. His Mr Eddy in David Lynch's Lost Highway (1997) is another example of extremely powerful performances, again as a psychotic mobster.

As Loggia's lawyer is an actor close to Landis' heart, Don Rickles. Currently known as the voice of Toy Story's Mr Potato Head, Rickles is better known as a comedian, one of America's maestros of stand-up. Landis first worked with him way back on Kelly's Heroes (1970) when he was a young production assistant. In 2007, Landis even made a documentary about Rickles, Mr Warmth, centring around the first ever filming of his renowned Vegas act.

Besides the cameos, Anthony LaPaglia is an agreeable lead (recently seen in TV's Without A Trace). There's notable support from Chazz Palminteri looking comfortable, and Angela Bassett (before she met the Vampire In Brooklyn) looking uncomfortable as a standard angry police chief.

It's a fresh premise, though it runs out of steam by the end. But night-time Pittsburgh looks fantastic, the cast are mostly on top of their game, Landis continues to treat traffic like a toyset, and above all does his best to keep horror fans happy.

The only widescreen transfer that I know is this laserdisc release. Even the more recent DVD is full-frame, well overdue for remastering.


  1. The German DVD for one is widescreen 16:9. I actually still have the LD though I've never watched it; I've been meaning to give it another look. Saw the film when it came out and thought it was sort-of okay, though to be honest I didn't warm to Parillaud either in NIKITA or here.

  2. Good that there's a decent master out there. Does the German DVD have English audio on it?

  3. Yes, and it seems there's an Australian DVD as well.

  4. Well...I have yet to see a bad Landis film...so I'll be sure to check it out! You've certainly made it seem interesting!

    Anyhow...hello! My name is Nathanael Hood from Forgotten Classics of Yesteryear! Welcome to the CMBA!

    I just want to invite you to my blog's blogathon. It will be taking place in about three weeks. The topic is MONSTER MOVIES FROM THE 50S!!!

    I would love it if you would participate! Send me an email at nahood@ursinus.edu.

    Here are a couple of links to more information: