Innocent Blood

One of the things I love to look for in movies is the hidden jokes.  You know, director signatures or cameos, or perhaps some sort of nod to one the filmmakers’ previous films.  One of the king’s in this department is John Landis.  There are always little goodies to look for in his movies.  I’ve always enjoyed Landis’ movies…even beyond looking for the inside jokes.  Probably his two most famous movies are the musical action comedy “The Blues Brothers,” and the comedy horror classic “An American Werewolf in London.”  But one of Landis’ somewhat forgotten films is part comedy, part vampire movie, part gangster flick…1992’s “Inncoent Blood.”

The film stars Anne Parillaud, of “La Femme Nikita” fame, as Marie.  She’s your average Pittsburgh girl who enjoys lighting hundreds of candles and walking around her apartment stark naked.  Oh, and by the way, she’s a vampire.  But she’s a vampire with a conscience.  See, she’s quite picky about who she eats and will only feast upon criminals.  She also makes sure to always finish her victims off with a shotgun blast, rather than allowing them to turn into vampires themselves.  But food has been scarce lately, that is, until she notices several newspaper stories regarding organized crime boss Sal “the shark” Macelli (Robert Loggia) and his thugs.  And let me tell you, Macelli’s got some of the best gangster actors that money can buy in his organization…like pre-Sopranos David Proval & Tony Sirico, not to mention Chazz Palminteri.  Anyway, gangland feuds provide the perfect cover for Marie’s late night dining excursions.  She first sets her sight on Tony (Palminteri).  When his body is found the next morning (short several quarts of blood) it causes problems for undercover cop Joe Generro (Anthony LaPaglia), who had worked his way into Macelli’s organization through Tony.  Now Generro needs to find who is behind the apparent hit on Tony.

Meanwhile, having now developed a taste for Italian food, Marie sets out to make a snack of Macelli himself.  But when “the shark” fights back, she is unable to finish the job.  The cops and media think Macelli is dead, the victim of another mob hit.  But when he gets up off the slab and runs out of the morgue past a crowd of reporters, it becomes clear that the death certificate was filed a bit prematurely.

Macelli heads to the home of his lawyer, Manny Bergman (Don Rickles), where he soon discovers some of his new vampire abilities.  He decides to start changing his gang into a crime family of the undead…beginning with Manny.  Meanwhile, Generro, thinking he’s tracking down the hit man responsible for Macelli’s… uh, death, finds Marie.  The two team up to try and stop Macelli before Pittsburgh is overrun with vampire gangsters.

Modern horror movies really are’nt my thing.  I enjoy the classics like “Dracula” and “Frankenstein,” but movies that think gross equals scary…not for me.  This movie does have it’s share of gore, but it’s really going for laughs more than anything else.  I’m not sure how to explain it, but the comedy works, even with most of the cast putting in completely serious performances.  Loggia’s performance is the best of the film.  He’s a scary character even before he becomes a vampire.  He’d be completely at home in Scorsese pic.  Likewise, the actors playing Loggia’s thugs, who have appeared in many other gangster pics, play it completely serious as well.  Even though bizarre things are happening around them, I think Landis must’ve been telling them to play their scenes just as they would in any serious gangster film…and it ends up working to great comedic effect.

On the other hand, the lead character, Marie, is interesting, but in the end it feels like there were many missed opportunities with the character.  We know nothing of her back story.  I’m not saying that it’s necessary to always know those things, but there are hints at it here and there that, as a viewer, I wanted to see payoff.  She only kills scum…yet in these scenes she clearly feels regret about what she’s done.  Why?  She hints at having lost a lover due to her particular eating habits…what’s the story there?  Did she find out her lover was a mob hit man?  Did she kill him?  Or maybe he was a dirty cop, that would’ve helped add some depth to the tacked on love story with LaPaglia’s character.  Parillaud does a fine job with the role, and she’s very sexy, but the character ends up lacking depth.

It’s obvious that Landis had a lot of fun with this material.  There are many little winks to horror films of the past…many scenes feature side characters watching old monster movies on TV.  And, of course, be on the lookout for cameos by many other film directors (a Landis trademark).  See if you can spot the likes of Frank Oz, Sam Raimi and Dario Argento in bit parts.  Though it’s not as grand in scope as some of Landis’ other films, “Innocent Blood” does display the comedic and visual sense that has made some of the directors other films classics.  And perhaps when the vampires-that-sparkle fad fades away, it will be replaced by vampire gangsters and this film will be seen as being ahead of it’s time.  Not buying it?  Didn’t think so.

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