The Film: Vampire in Brooklyn (1995)
The Principles: Directed by: Wes Craven, Written by: Eddie Murphy, Charlie Murphy, and Vernon Lynch, Starring: Eddie Murphy, Angela Bassett, Allen Payne, Kadeem Hardison, John Witherspoon, Zakes Mokae
The Premise: Maximillian is the only survivor from a race of vampires on a Caribbean Island, and as a vampire, he must find a mate to keep the line from ending. He knows that a child had been born to a woman who had a vampire father, and he searches for her in Brooklyn. Rita’s mother, who has died in an asylum, was that woman and Rita has nightmares that she does not understand. Not knowing that she is part vampire, Max woos her and attempts to bring her to her blood sucking destiny. Even though Rita has strange dreams and actions, Justice, her partner, has feelings for her and does not want her involved with this stranger Max. But it is Rita who must decide her destiny.
Is It Good?: Not really at all, yet I can’t quite write it off completely. There is something I find endlessly facinating about this movie. Vampire in Brooklyn is one of those horror comedies that really fails at being either of those things. The jokes are too mean and dark, the horror is too light and goofy, and the two tones are actively antagonistic of one-another rather than enmeshed like they would be in a good horror comedy.
Wes Craven has given conflicting accounts on whether Murphy wanted to play the character as straight or comedic. Whatever Eddie Murphy decided, he failed as Maximilian is neither and both. He has this weird quirk where he takes things extremely literally, and the two diversions where Maximilian transforms into New York citizens who look suspiciously like Eddie Murphy in heavy make-up so he can ramble on in a funny accent to eat up ten minutes belong in another movie. Still, when he has to play the character straight he does admirably and cuts a suitably imposing figure.
Weirdly enough, the plot reads like a horror remake of Coming to America played as a sort of riff on Blacula, with an atmosphere very similar to End of Days. It’s very endemic of that point in both Murphy’s and Craven’s career in that it’s a weird high-concept comedy-drama that can’t decide what tone it wants to have and it’s a lazy horror movie with a gleam of promise that feels like a softball pitch by a filmmaker capable of doing so much more.
The actual plot of the movie is dull and generic. Maximilian needs Rita to love him so that he can create more vampires, Rita’s partner Justice is in love with her (and she with him), she’s half vampire, Maximilian is a dick which totally negates the sympathy created by him being the last of his people due to vampire hunters. It wants to investigate something about persecution, but just gives it up in favor of moody lighting and letting Murphy ham it up in whiteface as an Italian-American stick-up man.
The interesting parts are Kadeem Hardison’s charater Julius, a two-bit hood who Maximilian turns into a ghoul to do his bidding which causes him to rot and fall to pieces slowly, and John Witherspoon’s Silas Green, a John Witherspoon character that has that usual stuttering fast-talking charm. Witherspoon is the best thing about the movie (which is almost universally the case with Witherspoon’s career.) Hardison is grating at points but he’s saddled with a lot of dialogue written for a character that Eddie Murphy would’ve played in his youth, so he’s generally funny.
While it’s not a particularly high point in Craven’s or Murphy’s filmographies, I do have to say that I find it too weird to dismiss. Vampire in Brooklyn is more interesting than good, but it’s very interesting.
Random Anecdotes: Angela Bassett’s stunt double, Sonya Davis, died on set.
John Witherspoon says it’s his favorite of the movies he has worked on.
Eddie Murphy blames the wig he wore for the movie’s poor critical reception.
Every poster for this movie is awful.
Cinematic Soulmates: The Golden Child, Harlem Nights, Life, Blacula, Innocent Blood, End of Days, The Adventures of Pluto Nash, Dead Heat, Once Bitten, Love at First Bite, Ed and His Dead Mother, Meet the Applegates, Coming to America