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Vampire at Midnight
Poster by Graham Dolphin
Text by Roy Brown
Vampire at Midnight is the kind of film you need to watch late at night, well after midnight with your faculties softened. They don’t make them like this any more, and
for good reason. A video nasty I can cope with, but a 3.8 score on IMDb scares me.
It’s a detective story set in LA, a cop is on the trail of a killer, he drains the blood
of his victims, we meet the killer, we meet the cop who is tracking him down. We know how it will all end up. But what’s interesting - and trust me I have been wrestling with this for a few weeks now - is that the filmmakers seem to be running in about five different directions. Each of them are empty, most of them are cynical and desperate.
But somehow there are some saving graces, in particular the sexual make-up of the main protagonists. There have always been sexual overtones to vampire stories, made explicit in the 1980s with Kathryn Bigelow’s allegory to AIDS, Near Dark (1987). Midnight plays with ideas around the male gaze, exploitation of ‘talent’ in the big bad industry, and the classic good old cop/murderer face off. The killer is Victor Radikoff a hypnotherapist,
a sort of washed up relative of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, praying on the talented young performers of LA. He hypnotises, seduces and finally despatches his victims. The film plays as a cynical allegory for the draining of youth and talent, with victims covering
a broad cultural spectrum, from the stand-up comedian, and pop dancers, to a classical pianist. Every B-movie has a moment, it’s a magical thing, something that main-stream movies can’t or won’t do. This film’s moment is that the hero is a ‘Peeping Tom’.
Our cop, Roger Sutter falls for the pianist, Jenny Carleton while indulging in a little low level stalking from his apartment window. Unlike Victor, his is not an active predatory gaze, his is based on inaction, of observation. The sex scenes extend the predatory versus passive theme. Victor’s life is full of sensual, soft focus, dry ice moments of erotic charge, and yet he is detached, as due to their hypnotic state, all of his partners are puppets for his desires. In contrast to the active Victor, I started to wonder what would have happened to passive Roger. Would he have sorted himself out in the 1990s and found romance without the use of binoculars?
It must be said the misogyny in the film is hard to take - yes it’s the 1980s but as other films in the Palace Horror collection demonstrate, equality is a good thing.
So to reinforce Roger’s sexual passivity he is also ‘raped’ by a co-worker. While asleep she breaks in, handcuffs him to the bed and straddles him - but folks its ok, the filmmakers decide it’s funny because he is a man.
The characters are identified by objects, and their personas are defined by them.
Rodger gets a pair of binoculars and handcuffs, Victor gets a knife and his fangs, Jenny Carleton, the love interest, gets a piano and crucially an amulet given to her by Victor. The characters are so poorly written that the narrative is driven by these objects, and they act as signifiers and clues for both us and the characters. In the awfulness
of this film something interesting does happen.
Could you, in a broad Hollywood sense ‘re-imagine’ the film, not as a straight to DVD remake, but as an art installation? We can discuss ideas around commodity fetishism, how we need objects to identify our emotions and true states of being, or perhaps read these objects as anthropological, we don’t need to know the plot details or characters,
we already know the story. Don’t tell me, give me the props and I’ll do the rest of the thinking myself. In fact, this would be advantageous, perhaps Hollywood should take note we can all be actively engaged in the creation of our own stories and mythologizing, rather than be passive consumers. As I thought more about writing this piece, I became the detective trying to work out a motive and meaning in the film. The objects featured imply more depth and meaning than the narrative they are employed to tell. But the potential is there - in the final moments the objects come into their own - and for
a brief moment, this film is interesting.
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