Thursday, May 24, 2007

Random Movie Report #27: Jesus Christ, Vampire Hunter

I suppose some disclaimer of sorts is in order. It is possible that there are those who will find the basic premise of JESUS CHRIST VAMPIRE HUNTER- which is almost completely encapsulated in its title- to be vaguely blasphemous. The irreverent tone probably doesn't help. As a reasonably open-minded Episcopalian I can't say any of it offended me, though, nor does it really set out to offend. The premise of this weird Canadian indie- shot entirely on 16mm and in a deliberate Seventies-retro style- seems to have been chosen for its goofiness more than any kind of shock value, and it mostly works as a particularly twisted exercise in dumb humor. Some occasional cleverness seeps in, but it's the exception. In a way Jesus fighting vampires seems even natural- the "vampire" concept, of immortal creatures taking the blood of others so that they might live, is in some ways an inversion of the Christ story, so if they coexisted they would pretty much be at odds. But let us leave such heady theological matters for later.
In the city of Ottawa, vampires are preying on lesbians, and walking around in broad daylight like it doesn't bother them. Nobody's sure why, but the church isn't pleased, and they ultimately decide to enlist the help of Jesus Christ himself (Phil Caracas), who happens to at the beach baptizing people. (Whether or not this is the Second Coming is never really explained.) After a battle against a couple of the bloodsuckers, and a run-in with a batch of atheists, Jesus teams up with church agent Mary Magnum (Maria Moulton) to investigate the menace. They discover that mad scientist Dr. Pretorious (Josh Grace) has been grafting the skin of the vampires' sapphic victims onto the vampires themselves to protect them from the sunlight. Jesus and Mary are ambushed by the bloodsuckers, and Jesus is knocked unconscious. After being rescued by a drag queen who views him as a fellow outcast, a despondent and partnerless Jesus receives advice from his father God, who appears to him in a bowl of ice cream and cherries. The more-sugary-than-usual Heavenly Father advises His son to seek the aid of Mexican wrestler Santo Emascarado de Plata (Jeff Moffet). The action is framed by the vivid crazed ramblings of a bearded narrator (Ivan Freud), whose speeches relate to the plot somehow I think.

There's not a lot of story here to begin with, and the film runs it down in a pretty cursory manner. Obviously the point here is more to emulate cheap 70s action/horror movies- though the action is set in modern times, the aesthetic is pure funk (when Mary takes Jesus to get some threads, they go to a vintage clothing store.) A lot of the film's short running time is spent on goofy and often bloody action sequences where Jesus uses stakes and kung-fu to defeat his enemies. Because there weren't that many professional stuntpeople in the production (IMDB lists one), the action is never terribly fast, and as such sometimes seems just a little drawn out even for comedic purposes (though Jesus does manage to fire off some good zingers.) I do have to say that I would have liked the premise explored further; you've got Jesus in the modern world, without any apparent "End-of-the-world" situation, vampires as a fact of life, Jesus as their natural enemy, etc. I know it's asking a lot of a cheap cult comedy to attempt any sort of world-building, and I'm not going to judge the film too harshly for this, but playing more with the concepts would have made it more memorable.

Still, it works, and some of the credit has to be given to Phil Caracas' performance in the lead. It's worth mentioning that Jesus gets himself a makeover early in the proceedings, and so goes through much of the action with short hair, no beard or mustache of any kind, and an earring (maybe two.) Despite this modern look, it's easy to keep thinking of the character as Jesus, because a certain personality remains- approachable, compassionate, contemplative, the way you'd kind of expect Jesus to act. Simultaneously Caracas makes a good 70s action protagonist (he's also the title character in the HARRY KNUCKLES "series" of films by the same filmmakers) and is good with the comedy as well. He even delivers a modern Sermon on the Mount with a good degree of conviction.

With a fun soundtrack, esoteric cultural references and an overall easygoing atmosphere, JESUS CHRIST VAMPIRE HUNTER is a pleasant experience even if doesn't completely live up to its potential. Given how little money it was likely made for, that's probably good enough, and I am interested in anything this group produces in the future. If the concept has any interest to you at all (and if it doesn't, you might be reading the wrong blog) I highly recommend a rental.

Written by Ian Driscoll
Directed by Lee Demarbre

Grade: B


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finleykaren said...
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