No, they're not the "Dracula" or "Twilight" kind of vampires. They're the figurative kind who "suck" people's life energy in order to stay young, which makes a creepy old university bustling with coeds returning from summer vacation the perfect place for them to hang out. Just as the name VAMPIRES (1986) also makes a not-that-exciting horror movie sound more exciting.
Rescued from obscurity by Film Chest's new DVD presentation, VAMPIRES was originally half of a little-known two-part anthology called FRIGHT HOUSE by co-writer (with James Harrigan) and director Len Anthony, whose only other credits are the even more obscure MURDEROUS INTENT (which, as of this writing, has yet to garner five votes on IMDb) and the George Romero documentary DOCUMENT OF THE DEAD.
Slow going at only 70+ minutes, this must've been a real slog as part of the 110-minute FRIGHT HOUSE. The film is palpably low-budget and has a dark, murky look that might make you feel as though you're watching a very old VHS tape. And when you aren't trying to make out what's going on visually, you'll be trying to piece together the fragmented plotline in which most of the potentially interesting action occurs off-camera.
Original NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD star Duane Jones is on hand as Dr. Harmon, who's always mulling over his Tarot cards and who seems to know a lot about the mysterious and reclusive benefactor to the college, Madame Madeline Abadon (Jackie James). We're given clues as to her true nature pretty early, so it's not that hard to figure out her deal or what's happening to various students who are turning up missing.
The script also lingers on a couple of young female students--Ione (Orly Benyar), worried about her missing boyfriend whom we earlier saw attacked by something unseen in a creepy basement, and Debbie (Robin Michaels), another student whose search for answers leads her to some shady experiments in immortality that occurred when the college was an asylum for the criminally insane.
Most of these details and the resulting plot developments are flung at the viewer the way Dr. Harmon deals out his Tarot cards, and are just as tricky to decipher. Still, the film does at times have a certain watchability if one settles in with low expectations and a high degree of patience.
Performances are a bit on the amateurish side, with some exceptions. Jackie Jones is watchable as Madame Abadon mainly because her impressive looks give her a certain charisma. Jones, meanwhile, is beloved by NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD fans but given much less of a character to work with here and comes off as rather unremarkable.
The DVD from Film Chest Media Group is in 4x3 full screen with original mono sound. No subtitles or extras. Closed captions are available, which is always a big plus for us hard-of-hearing viewers.
If you recall having to settle for the last movie on the video store shelf after all the good stuff was already checked out, you may feel that way when watching VAMPIRES. It's a less-than-stellar viewing experience, but a certain amount of enjoyment can be wrung from it if you squeeze hard enough.
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