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Friday, March 3, 2017
Even if it didn't eventually turn into a vampire movie, BLOODRUNNERS (Speakeasy Pictures, 2017) would still be a pretty nifty period piece about gangsters vs. cops during the wild and woolly days of Prohibition.
Former cinematographer Dan Lantz has gone to great lengths to make his directing debut look like a million dollars even if the budget had to be kept on the down-low. (I'm using that term wrong but you get the idea.)
From its eye-pleasing production design to its exquisite lighting (about which Lantz goes into great detail in the commentary), this is a candy-coated confection that gives both the gritty world of speakeasies and the dark underworld of vampirism the dazzling veneer of a Warren Magazine color comic.
GOODFELLAS this ain't. Storywise, Lantz and co-writer Michael McFadden, who plays rumpled veteran cop Jack Malone, keep the action on a breezy/pulpy level even when tommy guns are blasting, fists are breaking bones, and blood is in the air.
It's like a nostalgia-fantasy version of the 30s via the old gangster pictures, with even the green-screen driving sequences made to resemble old-style process shots. (Consequently, some of the gorier elements, such as the discovery of a vampire-ravaged murder victim, seem somewhat more jarring in comparison.)
What's more, the whorehouse run by sassy Madam Rosie (Kerry McGann), Jack's longtime lover, comes off like a sorority house where the girls just happen to get paid for having sex with nice clean-cut gents (including most of the police force).
The film's gorgeous centerpiece set is a speakeasy run by none other than Ice-T as smooth criminal Chesterfield, who--which comes as no surprise--turns out to be the head vampire whose business isn't moonshine but rather high-quality human blood for the discerning undead connoisseur.
Jack comes across as the usual hardbitten "big lug" cop at first, but he has a backstory set in a terrific World War I flashback involving vampirism in the trenches--a novel idea in itself--which ties in nicely with the present storyline and, along with his clumsy semi-romantic scenes with Rosie, makes his character way more sympathetic even when he's using suspects as punching bags.
Another nice touch is the Romeo and Juliet love affair between Rosie's illegitimate daughter Anna (Airen DeLaMater) and Willie (Chris Boylan), a well-meaning lad caught in the tenuous position of working for both Rosie and Chesterfield. (Which also puts him on the receiving end of Jack's fists.)
Performances are fine, with Peter Patrikios especially fun to watch as Chesterfield's flamboyant human familiar Victor Renfield, who does double duty as operations manager for the speakeasy and coordinator of illicit blood shipments.
One of the film's highlights occurs when the cops interrupt what they think is a moonshine run on a dark country road, only to discover the horrific true nature of the cargo and the trigger men carrying it (resulting in another of the film's enjoyable vamp-outs.)
As an actor, Ice-T is not only born to this sort of role but obviously has a ball playing it, especially when he gets to sprout fangs and go bats on us.
The film itself finally gives us the full "Famous Monsters" treatment when Jack, Willie, and a loony street preacher named Luther (Jack Hoffman), who happens to know a thing or three about fighting vampires, confront the beastly bloodsuckers in their own deadly lair. The result is sort of a "Dick Tracy vs. Dracula" blow-out that I found invigorating.
The double-disc set from Speakeasy Pictures contains both Blu-ray and DVD versions of the film. (The Blu-ray has optional subtitles while the DVD does not.) Extras on both discs consist of a trailer, gag reel, deleted and extended scenes, and a commentary with Lantz and McFadden that entertains while serving as a primer for budding indy filmmakers.
BLOODRUNNERS doesn't have a TITANIC budget, but the sleek look and artistic attention to period detail are a pleasure to behold. As action/horror, it's like a lighthearted cross between BLADE and THE UNTOUCHABLES--not nearly as intense, but still a vintage carload of good old-fashioned fun.