Innocent Blood

1992, Movie, R, 115 mins

Review

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Director John Landis returns to horror-comedy territory with INNOCENT BLOOD, a vampire yarn that shares the uneven quality of Landis's previous entry in the genre, AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON.

Marie (Anne Parillaud, making her American film debut after scoring in the lead of Luc Besson's LA FEMME NIKITA) is an ageless bloodsucker who only preys on evil people, taking care to shoot her victims in the head to prevent their own return from the dead. With a Pittsburgh mob war going on, she has a perfect cover for her activities, as Mafioso Sal "The Shark" Macelli (Robert Loggia) is attempting a bloody takeover. She encounters one of Macelli's underlings, Joe Gennaro (Anthony LaPaglia), but senses an inner goodness in him and spares him, electing instead to seduce, vampirize and kill Tony (Chazz Palminteri). Joe shows up the scene of Tony's death; he is in fact an undercover cop, but US Attorney Sinclair (Angela Bassett) thinks he's getting in too deep and intentionally blows his cover by planting his picture in the paper, revealing his true identity.

Macelli is enraged to find out about the ruse, but shortly thereafter he encounters Marie and, turned on by her defiant attitude toward his crude advances, takes her home to his mansion. He thinks he's about to get lucky, but soon she's tearing his throat out and drinking his blood. He manages to shoot her in the struggle, however, and the shot alerts Macelli's waiting driver, forcing Marie to flee before she can finish the crimelord off. Joe arrives at the scene and, after an angry confrontation with Macelli's lawyer, Emmanuel Bergman (Don Rickles), he spots Marie and tracks her to a shuttered store, where she threatens him before disappearing.

Meanwhile, the now vampiric Macelli has awakened in the morgue, stolen a car and crashed it attempting to get to Bergman's house. Overhearing a report of the crash, Marie commandeers Joe's car to get there. She reveals her true nature to Joe and explains that Macelli has become a vampire and must be stopped. Arriving at the crash site, Joe attempts to explain the situation to his fellow cops, but Marie feigns innocence and they ridicule Joe's story. He continues on to Bergman's mansion, where he's attacked by the undead Macelli, who instructs his goons to lock Joe in the trunk of his car. Macelli then attacks Bergman and drinks his blood before taking off with his goons and the captured Joe; but Marie follows them and saves Joe from being fed into a garbage masher.

With the sun about to rise, Macelli drives off to find shelter, and Marie and Joe lose him after a pursuit and are forced to take cover of their own in a motel room. The hospitalized Bergman, however, disintegrates before the horrified staff when the blinds in his room are opened. At first wary of Marie, Joe comes to trust her, and they make love.

As the sun sets, Macelli calls two of his associates to the meat locker where he's taken refuge and gives Lenny (David Proval) the bite before putting him in his trunk. Driving to his club, Macelli opens the trunk and reveals Lenny to be almost good as new, before announcing to the assembled thugs that he can make them immortal, and that in this state they'll be able to take over the city. Marie and Joe arrive at the club and after rescuing a pair of cops who have been grabbed by the vampires, dispatch Macelli's undead underlings. Macelli himself jumps from the roof and, despite being smashed between a colliding car and bus, continues to proclaim his plans for conquest. But Joe manages to set Macelli on fire, and then shoots him into burning pieces. Upset by the carnage she has caused, Marie sets out to walk into the rays of the rising sun, but Joe stops her, and she realizes that staying with him will allow her to feel more human.

Landis attempts to combine chuckles and chills, but he can't merge the two as successfully as contemporaries like Joe Dante and Sam Raimi. INNOCENT BLOOD's crime and horror trappings are all presented straight--the tough, foul-mouthed gangsters, the gory vampire attacks--but the movie is pitched with a jokey attitude that prevents them from resonating at a visceral level. This approach extends to the technical credits: Mac Ahlberg's slick photography is glossy rather than Gothic, and Ira Newborn's score sounds more appropriate to "Dragnet" than Dracula.

Looked at the other way, INNOCENT BLOOD can be seen as a comedy interrupted by periodic outbursts of gruesome violence, which are undeniably well executed by special makeup effects ace Steve Johnson; the vampiric Bergman's disintegration in the hospital room is a particular highlight. But the blood and guts are presented far too literally for them to sit easily alongside the comic elements. Landis also throws in a raft of horror in-jokes, with mixed results; his de riguer director's cameos are fun--Raimi appears as a meat locker worker and Dario Argento turns up as an ambulance attendant--but the incessant shots of old, and better, vampire movies on the various characters' TVs become distracting and annoying.

The actors, at least, get the tones right, with LaPaglia (BETSY'S WEDDING, 29TH STREET) as an effective straight man, Loggia (SCARFACE, PRIZZI'S HONOR) with the right combination of threatening malice and lethal humor and Rickles playing his comic role well without his usual abrasive persona. Parillaud makes for a sympathetic and convincing vampire protagonist, with her appealing accent lending Marie an exoticism she might have lacked with an American actress. Given the apparent intention to make this a strong woman's role, though, it's a shame that she becomes a sex object in a few key moments. (Excessive violence, profanity, nudity, sexual situations.) leave a comment

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