Vampire in Brooklyn

I don’t know why there was a Wes Craven movie that I didn’t bother to see in the theater and then didn’t bother to see on home video for over 20 years. Granted, everyone said it was terrible, and it seemed to be an Eddie Murphy comedy vehicle, not a real horror movie, and he started wearing fat suits and shit right around that time.

But these days you can’t take fresh Wes Craven movies for granted, so I decided the moment had come to watch VAMPIRE IN BROOKLYN. The verdict: it’s not an unheralded gem. But it’s also not what I had pictured. It’s a mildly interesting failure.

Murphy (DOLEMITE IS MY NAME) plays Maximillian, the only survivor of a tribe of Egyptian vampire who “traveled south through Africa and over the Atlantic to a beautiful island hidden deep in the Bermuda Triangle,” where they lived for centuries before the vampire hunters found them. There’s a certain parallel to COMING TO AMERICA, because he’s this confident, exotic visitor from another culture, looking for a woman. In this case it’s a specific woman, Rita (Angela Bassett, PANTHER, BLACK PANTHER), a rookie NYPD detective who doesn’t know there are vampires, or that her dad was one, or that she’s the last descendent and only hope to revive the race.

And instead of Arsenio Hall, Maximillian has Kadeem Hardison (DRIVE, DEF BY TEMPTATION) as his comical sidekick/servant. He plays Julius, a petty criminal who witnesses Maximillian’s Dracula-style arrival into town (in the form of the wolf on a boat full of dead people) and soon gets transformed into a “ghoul,” a rotting undead person but not a vampire. He keeps looking worse and then body parts start falling off, which allows his uncle Silas (John Witherspoon, HOUSE PARTY) to say the funniest line in the movie, an ad lib, I’m guessing:

(As in The Fugitive. The TV show. I think you get it.)

Oh, here’s a part I was curious about. Julius becomes his limo driver and he’s driving him around and he makes a reference to MC Hammer. But then he says some other things and I started thinking wait a minute, is he now referring to Hammer Studios and their version of Dracula? I might be reading too much into it. You be the judge.

Of course Julius manages to get in a BLACULA reference, and at times Maximillian is definitely a Mamuwalde type character who uses his powers against people who deserve to have powers used against them. For example he rolls into an alley in a wave of fog to rescue Julius from some mobsters who are shaking him down (one of them played by SHOCKER himself, Mitch Pillegi). And of course from his point of view people putting stakes in the heart of vampires is genocide, so he can talk about his people’s historic treatment and you wish he had showed up in NIGHTBREED.

But most of the time Murphy plays him as a dangerous monster. His suave flair is only for seduction, and he’s mean. He cruelly has loud sex with Rita’s horny roommate Nikki (Simbi Khali, A THIN LINE BETWEEN LOVE AND HATE) so she will hear it and think it’s Justice (Allen Payne, CB4), her partner who she has a crush on. Then he crucifies Nikki on top of a building.

There’s an awkward thing where Rita believes in superstitious shit and her boss (Joanna Cassidy, THE OUTFIT) thinks she sucks at her job, but eventually Justice recognizes that Rita’s paintings of her nightmares are predicting the murders. (They skip over the obvious idea of the paintings making her a suspect.)

Speaking of nightmares, there’s a cool image when he kills Nikki: from outside her room, we see blood pour out of the keyhole. I bring this up because it kind of reminded me of the famous Johnny Depp blood geyser in A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET. There can’t literally be enough blood for that to happen, and that’s why it’s cool.

The thing I remember being a big turn off in the ads, but honestly this was probly the biggest selling point it had going for it at the time, was that Eddie plays a couple other characters under makeup. Of course that was popular when he did it in COMING TO AMERICA and later THE NUTTY PROFESSOR, but it has been done in many non-Eddie comedies including DR. STRANGELOVE, THE FATTIES FART 2 and SUSPIRIA.

The biggest such character in this one is Preacher Pauley, sort of a low rent Al Sharpton who Maximillian kills and takes the place of. There is a morphing effect involved. This is maybe the most comedic section of the movie and it’s kind of a funny idea that he’s impersonating this guy outside of the church and then some people try to walk him in to do his sermon. That would cause him to catch on fire or something so he has to think fast, and what he comes up with is “It’s a hell of night outside! Let’s do the sermon on the lawn.”

Then either he has no idea the normal things that would be said in a sermon, or he tries to take advantage of the opportunity to push his own agenda. By the end he has the choir singing “Evil is good.”

He also plays a white guy named Guido, with less success.

The movie was originally conceived as a straight horror movie that Murphy’s company would’ve produced for someone else. But he liked the script and thought it would be fun to play a bad guy. They say Craven wanted to add more comedy and also convinced them to give Maximilian some good qualities instead of just making him straight evil.

The original script was by Murphy’s brother Charlie Murphy (PAPER SOLDIERS) and half brother Vernon Lynch, a.k.a. Vas from K-9 Posse.

It was later rewritten by Michael Lucker & Chris Parker, the young writers of a western script that Eddie had liked. (They went on to write SPIRIT: STALLION OF THE CIMARRON and some DTV Disney sequels.) Eddie wanted it to be a serious movie, but Paramount executives and Craven tried to convince him to make it more comedic, which may account for the not entirely consistent tone.

There’s always some appeal to the rare horror movie with a primarily black cast, and I actually think Murphy is good at playing it straight. It’s kind of a cool character. But the mythology and what he’s up to are a little too generic to get excited about, and Rita is not the kind of strong character Bassett would soon be known for playing. I like when Craven is treating it as a real horror movie, the camera swooping around for vampire POV shots and shit, and when Maximillian and Rita turn monstrous at the climax. Unfortunately it doesn’t build to much, and the budget was cut during filming, causing them to have to scratch an action finale that would’ve taken place on the Brooklyn Bridge.

Sadly there was enough action that stunt woman Sonja Davis, who had also doubled Bassett for STRANGE DAYS, hit her head doing a backwards fall off a building and later died from her injuries. Nothing is worth that. But otherwise this movie isn’t the worst.

Some of the behind-the-scenes information in this review comes from this oral history of the movie

This entry was posted on Wednesday, November 21st, 2018 at 10:03 am and is filed under Horror, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

34 Responses to “Vampire in Brooklyn”

  1. I think one or both of those writers did a podcast not too long ago where they basically said that the studio told them, “Look, Eddie doesn’t want it to be a comedy, but we need it to be a comedy. So your job is to write jokes that don’t seem like jokes, so he won’t know it’s a comedy.”

    Which might explain the whole ‘tone’ thing.

  2. I haven’t seen this movie since Halloween night of the year it opened (put it, BOOMERANG, and THE GOLDEN CHILD on blu already!), but really liked it at the time and never understood its lousy rep. My memory is that there’s real sexiness between Murphy and Bassett, weird comic energy (“Evil is Good!”), and some pretty atmospheric direction from Craven.

    I also remember a guy in front of me laughing at the line “You’re gonna have to make it a Blockbuster night!” like it was the funniest thing he’d ever heard.

  3. I saw this opening day in a dark and dingy theater that has long since been torn down. I was one of two people at that show. I remember not being impressed with the movie, but I look back at that screening with some fondness.

  4. Wait. I was 100% sure that you already reviewed it. And even pretty recently, probably not longer than 5 years ago. I even remember you making BLACULA comparisons. What the fuck? Did I change the parallel universe again?

    Anyway, I kinda like that movie. It’s obvious that its not a real highlight of Murphy’s filmography, but it’s neither the trianwreck, that people say it is.

  5. What a treat. I always liked this one just fine and appreciated Murphy playing it straight, not making a joke out of it except for the other two makeup characters.

    My “never saw for 30 years” Craven movie was Deadly Friend and when I finally did I fucking loved it.

  6. I still haven’t seen HILLS HAVE EYES PART 2. I hear it has a flashback from the dog. I’m saving it for a special occasion.

    This movie’s backstory reminds me of the story of how Eddie, a massive Trekkie, was almost in STAR TREK IV, but then he bailed when he realized that the studio was trying to turn it into an Eddie Murphy movie instead of a Star Trek movie with Eddie Murphy in it. You get the sense that Eddie wanted to branch out but was simply too big a brand name to be allowed to change up his product line, like if McDonald’s suddenly decided it wanted to be a Japanese fusion restaurant. The shareholders just wouldn’t let it happen. It’s sad, because look where staying in the same old comedy lane got him? Fucking NORBIT. I feel like we all got robbed of decades of more interesting Eddie Murphy projects.

  7. Everyone please thank Chris for finding a new, working recent comments plugin, and for everything else he does to keep this place running.

  8. You’re the fuckin’ man, Chris!

  9. Yeah Thanks Chris.

    Also, I had no idea anybody liked Deadly Friend so that’s something I just learned.

  10. I like the basketball scene enough that it makes up for the entire rest of the movie.

  11. for many years, I thought the “starring Eddie Murphy, Eddie Murphy and Eddie Murphy” thing began with THIS movie.

  12. Yes, thanks for fixing recent comments finally, Chris.

    @Mr. Majestyk – Believe it or not I saw part of HILLS HAVE EYES PART 2 on TV once when channel surfing and it’s really bad, feels very cheaply made, like a DTV sequel, it’s hard to believe it’s an actual Wes Craven movie.

  13. Also, I love Vern pretending THE FATTIES FART 2 is an actual movie.

  14. Woohoo, Chris!

  15. Chris, you’re the Scotty (Star Trek) of this websight! We don’t celebrate Thanksgiving here, but I know what I am thankful for today.

    Randy: BACK TO THE FUTURE 2 had TV spots (maybe even a theatrical trailer, but I’m too lazy to YouTube it) that said: “Starring Michael J. Fox, Christopher Lloyd, Michael J. Fox, Michael J. Fox and Michael J. Fox!” So I assume this is where it started

  16. My one big takeaway from this film (which I watched maybe two years ago and barely remember) was marveling at how much more convincing Eddie Murphy was as an Italian gangster than he was as a proto-Klump preacher.

    Just an awful fucking makeup job on that one.

  17. Chris, we are in your debt! Thanks for the work you do to give us this space to be ourselves in. And Vern, way to predict the McConnaissance in that Tropic Thunder review.

    Happy Thanksgiving everyone.

  18. Thanks Chris!

    When I saw this about 12 years ago, I did think it was something of an unheralded gem, but at the time I was much less adverse to adept at noticing issues like “blandness” and I hadn’t fully distinguished my concepts of “not as bad as I’d heard” and “actually good”. But maybe I’d still got to “bat” for this thing. The main gag I remember, and remember finding funny, is “this is my heart, this is my chest, this is my heart, this is my chest”.

    Full disclosure; I also thought PLUTO NASH and MEET DAVE were not that bad/kind of good when I saw them around the time, or at least somewhat interesting, so maybe I had a bit of a Murphy weakness in the 00s. Maybe I was the one person left by the end of the decade. I suspect of the three this is the one with the greatest chance of me standing by it now.

  19. Mr. Majestyk, if you dig silly golden age slasher flicks and can accept that what is currently on the market as THE HILLS HAVE EYES PART 2 is literally an unfinished film, I think you’ll find a lot to appreciate about it. It’s an original Craven script so it’s got some neat high-concept twists and attempts to elevate the material (expiremental fossil fuels, mine shafts, dog flashbacks, blind final girl, respectful treatment of black characters, etc) that juxtapose pleasantly with the grinding machinery of the post FRIDAY THE 13TH slasher structure. In fact, minus the lack of any outstanding gore, I think it compares pretty nicely with your average mid-period Jason joint. It has a couple loose ends and one death in particular is bizarrely anti-climatic because the studio pulled funding before Craven could get all the footage he needed but on the whole it’s nowhere near as lame its reputation suggests if you can take it on its own terms. Michael Berryman rides a dirt bike.

    Would anyone like to defend CURSED, the only theatrically-released Craven joint I’ve not seen? Don’t think I’ve ever read a positive word about it. And since we’re going deep Wes, I think DEADLY BLESSING is hugely under appreciated and MY SOUL TO TAKE is wacky fun.

  20. I kind of like CURSED. It’s obviously a mess but Craven was such an old pro at that point that he could have made a slick, propulsive thriller out of a local zoning meeting. It has some fun kills (the Shannon Elizabeth one stands out in my mind), some bad CGI, and Judy Greer being allowed to have fun in a movie just this one time ever. It’s basically a textbook case on how NOT to make a movie but I can’t hate it. (Honestly, it takes a lot to get me to hate a werewolf picture.) It’s not up there with MY SOUL TO TAKE in the”fascinating trainwreck” portion of Craven’s career but it’s a fast and silly coda for 90s post-modern horror.

  21. I liked HILLS HAVE EYES PART 2 just fine.

    CURSED is a weird one, partly because almost the entire movie was reshot. It initially starred Mandy Moore, Corey Feldman, and some other people. When it opened I found it pretty nondescript (even here in Canada where we got the R-rated cut in theatres), but I put it on a couple months ago and at least in the first 30 minutes that I watched it’s a lot weirder than I remembered.

    Speaking of weird: MY SOUL TO TAKE. I think this might have had an interesting premise, but it doesn’t properly explain itself, so I can’t confirm. Like, it hinges on the idea that all these kids in a small town were born on the same day, but you’re lucky to know a single person born the same day as you. The only one I know is Kourtney Kardashian. My favourite Kardashian.

  22. I got a friend in Brooklyn with the same birthday as me. He’s a year older, so I like to say he was my herald, preparing the world for my arrival. The Silver Surfer to my Galactus.

  23. I haven’t seen CURSED since it came out on home video, but I remember liking it, while acknowledging its flaws.

  24. I know we like being a positive bunch but sometimes I wonder are we allowed to also hate a universally hated film lol at no point should anybody defend Hills Have Eyes 2 yet there it is. I wonder what my hill of universally hated films im going to die on.

  25. Well, none of us likes TWILIGHT, so there is this.

  26. That doesn’t count due to it already having a fan base… Or does it?

  27. Thank you Chris.

    Remember thinking this one was okay and didn’t deserve the hate it gets.

  28. Isn’t it kinda weird how Eddie Murphy basically said “fuck it” after he lost the DREAMGIRLS Oscar?

    While he came out with a few more movies it was obvious he was phoning it in and correct me if I’m wrong but he hasn’t been seen since 2012, right?

    Was he the first modern Hollywood star to just kinda fade away? Of course everyone hoping his DOLEMITE movie will be a big comeback.

  29. Have we forgotten Mr Church already? Lol

  30. Griff- It was widely suggested at the time that NORBIT actually cost Murphy the Oscar for DREAMGIRLS, I didn’t buy it at the time, but who knows, and it was a widespread enough theory to make his decision to play out his 40s doing blander versions of the same thing even stranger. Though of course NORBIT was commercially successful.

  31. I never bought the “NORBIT ruined Murphy’s Oscar chances” thing. If any, it should’ve helped in a “Dear God, fatsuit movie guy is actually a great actor, we should reward and maybe help him with his career” way.

    Also in terms of actors who kinda faded away: Jim Carrey. Yeah, he is doing this TV drama with Gondry right now, but he started doing less and less things a while ago, until every new project is a “Oh yeah, he exists”.

  32. Pac-Man, I liked Meet Dave a little too. Eddie acting like a robot piloted by a whole crew who bonded with a kid, at least it’s trying to do something.

    I think Eddie believed he had the Oscar in the bag and didn’t campaign for it. Alan Arkin campaigned like crazy, did all the meet and greets and charmed the academy’s pants off.

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