Vampire in Brooklyn (United States, 1995)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

It seems that movie makers have lost the art of creating a good, scary vampire flick. The last such film to grace the screen was probably Fright Night, and that was a decade ago. Since then, the "sensitive" vampire has come into vogue -- a creature tortured by its own inhumanity and appetites. While these existential nightstalkers have an appeal as character studies, they aren't all that frightening. True evil, of the absolute, soulless kind, is what makes for a terrifying bloodsucker. Unfortunately, that's not exactly what Vampire in Brooklyn offers.

To be fair, Eddie Murphy does a better-than-average job as Maximillian, the last vampire on Earth. There are moments when Murphy is positively chilling, and he doesn't ham it up too much. Comedy is mixed in effectively, but it's what the humor is mingled with that doesn't work. As a horror film, Vampire in Brooklyn is a failure. Aside from Murphy's creature, there's nothing compelling in this picture. The script is dull, the characters are flat, and the direction is rather ordinary. (This is especially surprising considering that horror master Wes Craven, who did the first and last Nightmare on Elm Streets, is at the helm.)

Maximillian makes his entrance to Brooklyn by crashing a ship into the docks. On board are numerous corpses, all drained of blood. A huge wolf is seen disembarking, but no one believes the eyewitness. Next thing, there's a vampire roaming the streets, feeding on gangsters and recruiting a young thief/con man (Kadeem Hardison) as his ghoulish servant. But Max is in New York for a reason -- he's on the trail of the only other member of his kind, the offspring of a vampire/human mating, a woman whose "other half still sleepwalks in humanity." He intends to bring out her true nature and introduce her to immortality. The person in question happens to be Rita Veder (Angela Bassett), a police officer assigned to investigate the murders on the ship that brought Max to the United States. And the vampire isn't the only one interested in her. Her partner, Justice (Allen Payne), is equally smitten.

The hero is supposed to be Justice, but Allen Payne's portrayal lacks energy. The result is a bland and unsympathetic character. Why should we care about this guy? Instead, our attention gravitates to Murphy, the only performer attacking his role with relish. Thus, as in all recent vampire movies, it's the villain, not the good guy, who keeps us interested. And Max isn't really such a bad seed -- he's just lonely and misunderstood. The centuries can turn tedious without a mate to share them with. There's some chemistry between Murphy and Bassett, but absolutely none in the Bassett/Payne pairing. Yet both relationships get equal screen time.

There are a few comic highlights. One occurs when Max shape-shifts into an Al Sharpton-type preacher who gives a sermon on how "evil is good." Here, as the script ventures into pure satire, it acquires an edge that is absent most of the rest of the time. Also, some of the interplay between Julius (Hardison) and his older buddy Silas (John Witherspoon) is witty, and worthy of a few laughs. This pair does a great "Two Stooges" act.

Overall, however, Vampire in Brooklyn doesn't live up to its promise or premise. The humor is hit-and-miss and the horror just isn't all that frightening. Eddie Murphy proves that he still has screen presence, but he needs a better showcase. The problem here isn't as much the talent in front of the camera as it is the weak and hackneyed script. Vampire in Brooklyn is in need of an infusion (or should that be transfusion?) of originality and creativity -- two qualities that are blatantly absent.

Vampire in Brooklyn (United States, 1995)

Director: Wes Craven
Cast: Eddie Murphy, Angela Bassett, Allen Payne, Kadeem Hardison, John Witherspoon
Screenplay: Charles Murphy, Michael Lucker, and Chris Parker
Cinematography: Mark Irwin
Music: J. Peter Robinson
U.S. Distributor: Paramount Pictures
Run Time: 1:40
U.S. Release Date: 1995-10-27
MPAA Rating: "R" (Profanity, Violence, Sexual Situations)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1