One of the great crimes of the digital age is the absence of consumer’s accidental discovery. With search sophisticated algorithms, instant streaming and heads-up displays you instantly know what you’re getting into long before you actually consume the media.
This last holiday season I took it upon myself, in a Punisher-style one man war on the future, to fight back against the never ending tied of progress. I found a rundown old movie story and I went pillaging. Yes, that’s right. There are still physical stores that sell films. It’s hard to believe but I’ve seen them. They exist. I promise.
Finding a weird pre-loved DVD at the bottom of some shelving unit is a singular sensation. It’s the joy of not buying the Comico Jonny Quest comics on ebay, but waiting to find them in some dollar bin in the dusty backroom of a dilapidated hobby shop that fulfills nine out of every ten clichés that the Simpson’s depiction of Nerd Life has shackled me with. It’s The Hunt. The Chase. The Quest. Every nerd has that one strange item that they’re always asking people if they have. There’s something strangely satisfying about walking up to the counter in your local comics/movies/trading cards/pogs retail location and asking, “Excuse me, sir. I’m looking of Danger Diabolik. Do you guys have it on DVD?” And the clerk just staring back at you with cow-eyed complacence. That complacence is the three split seconds that makes my day worth living. Not that I’m lording my knowledge over someone else, and I get off on it. No, I’m sure the dude on the other side of the counter with a go-tee and an Ilsa, She-Wolf of the SS knows about a ton of stuff I don’t. The point being that I’m one step closer to finding the object of my obsession. One step closer to holding the object of my desires. It’s the artificial duck hunt that makes our consumer culture just that much more bearable.
But I have digressed. Let’s return to the subject of this article. Robo Vampire. It’s last holiday season and I’m kneeling down, in the back of the movie store, combing through old kung fu DVDs. Then I spot it. A slim red DVD case with an image that would rattle any nine-year-old boy to his core. A terrible painting of Robocop holding a vampire in a fez and firing a machine gun. That’s right. The most beautiful DVD box art I have ever seen. Like most members of our society with discerning palettes, I’m a sucker for painted movie poster. Maybe it’s being raised in a culture where Drew Struzan’s illustrations are more common than crucifixes. Regardless, I love painted movie posters. I also, similar to any individual who fancies themselves a cona sur of culture, love Robocop. What could possibly improve this already amazing situation? A vampire and a fez.
Boom. There it was. The sensation I had been searching for. The knowledge that what I was about to consume was perfect. But not in the way that you’re on Netflix streaming, looking at reviews, and ratings. I just knew. In my gut. This was it. A lifetime of dollar bin diving and bargain DVD rescuing has finely tuned my Spider Sense. And boy was it tingling.
I quickly rushed to the counter, purchased the DVD and drove home. What happened when I watched the film was a strange cocktail of amazement, disgust and utter satisfaction.
Robo Vampire is not a movie. I don’t mean this in the ‘Film with a capital F’ smarmy way. I intend the sentence literally. Robo Vampire is not a film. It is three. Spliced together and then dubbed over in possible the worst dub ever committed to film. And the best part? The crème del la crème? It takes itself seriously. Yes. It is breathtakingly amazing.
According to the box art that I have the film is directed by Joe Livingston. But from what I’ve been able to glean from the world wide web, in all actuality it was created by a man named Thomas Tang who, along with a gentleman operating under the moniker Godfried Ho, is pretty notorious for constructing films out of the vestigial remnants of old cinematic endeavors.
Robo Vampire is composed of one terrible drug smuggling centric crime film, a Robocop rip-off flick, and some sort of vampiric Chinese horror movie from the 70’s.
The film commences with American GIs battling amazingly terrible hopping vampires. Apparently, vampires hop in china. It’s actually kind of creepy. Don’t get me wrong it’s goofy as all get out but there’s a strange sense of sublime serenity in the visual of the hopping vampires. I really enjoy them. As the film progresses we learn that the narrative that’s being constructed from the dead husks of these other movies involves a drug lord who wants to smuggle heroin into the US by using vampires. We sort of get wind of it. Kind of. It’s not all that clear. And decided to take one of the soldiers that the vampires killed in the beginning of the film and trick him out, Alex Murphy style.
What results is a battle between a guy in floppy suited Robocop-esque Halloween costume, the drug lord controlled vampires and a ghost and her ex-lover who is now the King Vampire. And by “King Vampire” I really just mean “Guy Wearing The Same Costumes as the Vampire But With A Plastic Gorilla Mask On”. It’s amazing and I love it.
Three fourths of the way through the film it takes a left turn and some sort of Thai or Indonesian film is introduced that involves a secret agent, more drugs, and a cow being murdered. Not as in a plot within the film where the kill a cow. As in a live cow that the slice up on camera. It’s horrifying. I guess that’s the lengths you go to when you’re trying to sell a movie that you didn’t actually shoot anything for. Bizarre carnival attraction techniques are a no-budget filmmaker’s best friend, apparently.
The film as a whole is surprising cohesive. I mean sure characters that you’ve never met pop up in scenes, little to no explanation is dedicated to the whole ‘this is why we use vampires to smuggle drugs’ thing, and the dub, as previously stated, might be the worst in human history, but the film makes some kind of strange, otherworldly sense to me. It feels like some drug induced fever dream. And that’s not a bad thing. The story logic has a truly bizarre status quo that I’m very very interested in. I’d almost be interested in a big budget remake of this. It feels like three movies shoved together, sure, but I’m ok with that. In this day and age of Hollywood recycling and mish-mashing of IPs this film at least has the honesty to be honest about what it is. If Alien Vs. Predator had operated under a similar set of restrictions I think I would have enjoyed that franchise much, much more.
The fever dream like quality of the narrative, the bizarrely foreign aspects of the vampires, and the blatant attempt to capitalize on the instant popularity of the Robocop franchise makes this film interesting to watch, if only as some sort of strange anthropological time capsule.
The ultimate conclusion of The Hunt for the next amazing piece of media inevitable ends where it begins, on a shelf. And that is exactly where Robo Vampire currently resides. Squarely between my Lucio Fulci films and my James Bonds box sets. I’m not exactly sure why it always lives with those contemporaries on my shelf, but it does. I’ve moved three times in the last three years and the inevitable packing and unpacking ritual always leaves Robo Vampire securely stationed right next to James, Q, M, Moneypenny, Pussy Galore and those cops who get eaten by that Haitian zombie on the yacht in the beginning of Zombie 2.