‘A French Vampire In Pittsburgh‘
There is something truly frustrating about a great film being so vastly overlooked or under-appreciated; you believe more people should see it so you can simply have the chance to discuss its qualities. Then again, it can also enable said film that hardly anyone else knows about/everyone else hates to seem more special and unique and further define your individual taste in cinema. At least that’s how I see this paradoxical conundrum, and that’s why I have put together this piece on the criminally overlooked Innocent Blood.
In my opinion, Innocent Blood is simply one of the best American horror (albeit horror-comedy) films of the 1990s – a decade in which the genre underwent a noticeable slump. It’s a vastly overlooked and dismissed effort from affable director John Landis and could even be perceived as a spiritual sequel to his own An American Werewolf in London, regardless of it not quite mixing comedy and horror so seamlessly.
Marie (Anne Parillaud) is a French vampire inhabiting Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Her insatiable appetite currently craves Italian so she has been picking off members of the mafia in order to sate her sanguineous hunger. She has two rules: “don’t play with the food” so to not become emotionally involved with her dinner, and “always finish the food” so no more vampires are created. Naturally, her rules are compromised as she kills a mob boss (a fearsome Robert Loggia) without finishing the job – instigating a gang war – and falls for a cop (Anthony LaPaglia) who was initially working undercover in the mob but whose cover has since been blown.
It’s a terrific idea to merge the bloodletting of horror films with the unpredictable bursts of violence endemic in gangster films (recently popularised in Scorsese’s Goodfellas ) and Innocent Blood manages to accomplish this with aplomb. Just as American Werewolf boasted dark and bizarre humour, Landis plays similar notes here through an overabundance of gore and gags. The best of which sees a newly undead Loggia waking at the morgue with a thermometer sticking out of his abdomen before running out screaming, much to the surprise of a coroner played by Frank Oz.
It’s a shame that Parillaud and LaPaglia don’t exhibit a greater chemistry with one another as their shared scenes provide a pleasant respite to the seemingly ubiquitous gore-entrenched chaos that is happening elsewhere. Ironically, their best moment comes during an intentionally uneasy sex scene that plays up the inherent possible dangers of having sex with a vampire. The scene even succeeds in being appropriately sensuous and convincingly erotic despite coming close to jeopardising its integrity with some glib dialogue.
The Paris-born Parillaud (who had previously appeared as Nikita, ) may sometimes appear to be delivering her dialogue phonetically which can be distracting, but she still makes for a terrifically slinky bloodsucker and exudes sexiness, innocence and volatility simultaneously. Loggia as the Don-turned-vampire (who is introduced by comparing the standard of toasters and microwaves before beating someone over the head with a toaster) revels in his role as a ‘new-born’ supervillain in a somewhat comparable fashion to Jack Nicholson’s Joker. He gleefully converts his mafia minions into vampiric comrades, spouts vulgar one-liners (“I can hear an angel fart!”), and generally runs amok for the entire movie whilst looking, for the most part, like an exsanguinated corpse. In case you were wondering, he steals the film.
The practical effects are terrific and are as shamefully overlooked as the whole movie. The eyes belonging to the vampires glow hypnotically (a massive exaggeration on Lugosi’s eyes in Dracula) and it is genuinely startling to witness, for the first few times at least. The most impressive practical effect moment occurs when a newly converted Don Rickles wakes up in a hospital bed only for a nurse to draw the curtains causing him to protractedly combust to both horrifying and hilarious effect.
Typical of Landis, there seems to be an abundance of cameos popping around every corner. Icons such as Sam Raimi, Dario Argento, and Tom Savini appear to name a few, but they never seem distractingly incongruous as the cameos eventually proved to be in Into the Night (1985). Whereas for some, Into the Night’s influx of cameos may attest to the adage that the more fun a film was to make, the less fun it is to watch (despite it being another overlooked Landis black comedy), the cameos featured in Innocent Blood are never usually onscreen long enough to seem like they are invading and actually enhance the film’s offbeat tone.
Innocent Blood is ultimately one of Landis’s finest films – arguably his last great effort before he went and made travesties like The Stupids (1996) and the god-awful Blues Brothers 2000 (1998) – and should be sought out by more people who assume the ’90s was a terrible decade for horror. It certainly deserves a bigger following and it is always exciting to see two seemingly disparate genres being blended and subverted so successfully, even if Landis has followed the formula of American Werewolf a little too closely at times. The film was a notable flop during its 1992 release and Warner Bros. have since neglected it resulting in it being out-of-print on DVD and currently non-existent on Blu Ray so it is simply begging to be rediscovered. Watch it for Loggia, if anything!
- Liam Hathaway