Sunday, February 16, 2014

“If I'm not back in five minutes, call the Pope.”

And so I'm back from outer space, and you can tell by that sad look upon my face that you should've changed that stupid lock and thrown away the—No. Wait. That's not right. Where was I?

Oh yes. Jesus Christ Vampire Hunter. It's like a 1980s Troma movie, but shot on 1970s film stock, except shot in the late 1990s in Ottawa, Ontario, and starring a few women who look like Suicide Girls.

This movie is WEIRD and DUMB. But is it the good kind of Weird and Dumb?

Stop me if you've heard this before, but a bunch of vampires, led by Maxine Schreck (Murielle Varhelyi), Johnny Golgotha (Ian Driscoll) and Dr. Praetorious (Josh Grace), are killing and harvesting Canadian lesbians, so that they can wear their skin to gain immunity to sunlight. The only thing standing in their way? Savior of mankind and martial arts master Jesus of Nazareth (Phil Caracas) joined by his allies Mary Magnum (Maria Moulton) and silver-masked Mexican wrestler Santos Enmascardo de Plata (Jeff Moffet, and a nod to the actual El Santo luchador/movie star/vampire fighter)

This was director Lee Demarbre's first feature length film, and it is extremely aware of its own amateurishness. I don't just mean the film quality. That's actually in its favor, since it really does remind me of 70s and 80s B-movies where the night scenes are poorly lit and the editing isn't quite as tight as it should be. The self-awareness expresses itself in the fight scenes, which are obviously not done by professional stunt people, but make up for it in goofiness. Jesus fights some vampires on the beach. Jesus fights a clown car's worth of Atheists in a public park who just showed up to pick a fight with him for no reason. Jesus & Santos kill a bar full of vampires with drumsticks, crutches, toothpicks and other improvised stakes. Dr. Praetorious (another nod to old cinema) fights Jesus by improvising organs as weapons.

Negatively, the pacing of the movie is rather awful. It's only 85 minutes long but so many scenes drag on much longer than necessary, particularly the “Jesus shops at a thrift store for hip new clothes” scene that wears out the gag really, really fast. The fight in the park with the atheists I mentioned? Completely irrelevant to the plot. The “Jesus Signal” scene transition? That gets old too.

Like the directing, there's a lot of hit and miss in Ian Driscoll's script. Some of the elements are great, and really show a deep love for genre films of the past. The whole presence of Santos is really funny, and not just because “haha, here's a luchador.” Johnny Golgotha is an AMAZING name for a douchebag vampire and I am insanely jealous. The crazy narrator-preacher that pops up randomly to rant at the viewer through his awe inspiring beard? That's pretty great too (and the best acting in the movie, at least... I hope it was acting). Unfortunately, there's lots more jokes that fall flat, like the running gag of someone grabbing the butt of Santos' appropriately named Gloria Oddbottom.

Everything is dubbed. Everything. A lot doesn't quite synch up with the lip movements, which can be funny. The occasional *bonk* sound effect in combat isn't very funny. The songs? Also not great.


Jesus Christ Vampire Hunter tries to walk a fine line between telling its own absurd grindhouse-esque tale with a straight face but then constantly winks at the camera that it knows its awful. It's shameless enthusiasm is commendable, and speaking from experience, it is damn challenging to make an intentionally cheesy film, so tremendous props for achieving that. Yet as a comedy, it ultimately falls flat for its dearth of good jokes. The concept is good fodder for absurdist humor, but it doesn't quite deliver in a way that, say, Tongan Ninja does, a contemporary movie that it shares a LOT of similarities with. Jesus Christ Vampire Hunter feels like it makes a much funnier trailer than feature.

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