One of my favorite things about the Halloween Horrors series is seeing just what topics our contributors choose to write about each year. There are always sure to be a few bigger name films that get covered, just as there are always a few obscurities added to the list as well. And then, there are those titles that fit somewhere in-between. These are films that aren’t the classics that everyone has heard of and seen a dozen or more times, but also aren’t those films that readers tend to have to look up on IMDB because they have never heard of them.
Our good friend, Roger Braden of Valley Nightmares, chose such a film for last year’s series with his piece on 1977’s The Car. He returns once again this year (his 3rd year as part of our series) with another film that quite a few may remember, but (if box office results are any indication) few actually bothered to see upon its initial release…. 1992’s Innocent Blood. Since then, the film has developed a small collection of fans, but still hasn’t managed to find a sizable cult following. Who knows? Maybe this piece will help change that. Ehh, maybe not.
Even if it doesn’t, Mr. Braden has been a great friend to me and an ardent supporter of Horror And Sons, so it’s always an honor to have him be a part of our annual series!
Innocent Blood (1992)
By Roger Braden
The Horror and Sons randomizer selected the letter “I” for me and I was relieved and then downright thrilled to have the letter. I sat down at my desk and wrote down about 15 titles immediately, messaged H&S and said “Hell yes, that’s my letter, no re-draw for me!”. Then, it was all about which movie to write about, and “Innocent Blood” kept rising to the top. There are a lot of classic horror flicks that start with the letter “I”, but I’ve always been someone who likes going down a different path, so that’s where I went.
Innocent Blood was directed by John Landis, who one could argue was THE director to have from the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s. You know his stuff; Animal House, The Blues Brothers, An American Werewolf In London, Coming to America, & Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” to name a few. He was working with Disney, making videos and documentaries for MJ, Paul McCartney, and B.B. King as well. Other than the horrible incident that claimed three lives while filming his segment of Twilight Zone: The Movie, the dude could seemingly do nothing but make hits. Then the 1990s arrived.
Oscar (1991), was Landis’ first feature after Coming to America, and the $35 million comedy starring Sylvester Stallone as a gangster changing his ways was a bomb. (Although, I will say that the film has aged well and isn’t nearly as bad as first thought).
Landis’ next feature was Innocent Blood, the film I chose to write about. Given a $20 million budget this time, Landis dipped back into the horror genre that he was so successful with in “American Werewolf“. However, the audience was confused with this one, and they stayed away in droves. The film grossed less than $5 million U.S. and had multiple ad campaigns trying to tie it into the success of his earlier films. The ad campaigns bombed as well.
Innocent Blood is about Marie (the smoking hot Anne Parillaud), a vampire from France who laments her life in an opening monolog while she wanders around her apartment nude. She’s lonely and she hates taking lives, which is why she now only seeks out criminals and those that hurt people. She refuses to take innocent blood despite her thirst.
Enter Sal “The Shark” Macelli (a fantastic Robert Loggia), Pittsburgh’s most ruthless and violent mob boss. His face and his crew’s deeds are splashed all over the TV and papers. Marie considers him “a beast” and has found her next target. Yet, little does Marie know, the Feds have an inside guy in Sal’s crew, Joe (Anthony Lapaglia), who has been building a case against Sal and the mob.
It’s a cold, snowy night when petite, “lost”, and spunky Marie makes herself known on the street outside Sal’s hangout. After some confrontation, one of Sal’s underbosses offers her a ride home. She accepts. After a tension filled drive to an overlook of the city, Marie reveals herself to the goon, and it’s fantastic. After feeding, she has to “always finish, disconnect the central nervous system” and blows his head off with a shotgun. When he’s found the next morning, Joe blows his cover checking out the scene. This pisses off the Feds, who then plaster his face to the media and announce the end of Sal’s reign of terror.
On what appears to be the very next night, Marie is able to get Sal’s attention and she agrees to go with him and relax at one of his hideaways in the city. All is well until Sal offers Marie some food with garlic in it, which makes her run to the bathroom sick. When Sal checks on her, a Hell of a fight breaks out between the two and Marie manages to shred Sal’s neck, but Sal shoots her in the process. With Sal’s driver as a witness and having been wounded, Marie has no resort but to escape the scene, but leaves the job on Sal unfinished.
The movie really starts changing gears after this.
The police, reporters, and Sal’s guys all arrive at the hideaway, as does dumbass Joe, who insists on asking his ex “friends” questions about what happened as they resist putting a bullet in his head. Joe is allowed to roam around the inside and outside of the crime scene, hoping to find clues to the person who killed Sal. With Sal dead, the cases Joe had against him and his crew are dead too. Of course, Joe finds Marie hiding on the roof of the house. She scares him, then leaps off the roof and escapes. I have no idea why she didn’t do this earlier. Joe follows after her, and in a scene that diminishes Marie’s escape to refuge, he finds her only to be warned, “Stay away or I will kill you!”
Complete insanity ensues.
Sal is delivered to the hospital morgue. The mortician (Frank Oz!) starts to go about his business when Sal awakes… and he’s pissed! After smashing around the morgue, he runs away. Outside, a press conference is being set up on the hospital entrance stairs with police, reporters, and the mob all in attendance. Sal exits the hospital, runs across the backdrop, and back into the hospital. The mortician and a security guard follow. Sal goes unnoticied in the hospital, exits through a rear door, hijacks a car, and gets away.
And now I have to go back into a commentary mode and ask questions while providing the high/lowlights of the film. There is simply too much going on in this movie.
Is this a gangster/noir film? Yep. The vehicles, style and look is classic noir with a modern twist. The soundtrack is loaded with Frank Sinatra and other cliched “mob music”. There is also one Hell of a compelling movie involving Sal and his crew that was begging to be made.
Is this a “Horror” flick? Not really. And it’s a shame, really, because there is a solid and fun horror framework here. Marie is a great character. Sal, after changing, realizes he’s stronger than ever and can hardly wait to share the strength with his crew so that they can take the city over. While often shown in a humorous light, there is a sense of evil at work here. The vampires (the word is never said in the movie) look great with their colored eyes. Special effects/gore from Steve Johnson are top notch and the film has several well timed jump scares.
Is this a comedy? Absolutely. There are some laugh out loud moments, snickers, and inside jokes throughout the movie. Landis’ casting decisions help this along as well. Sam Raimi, Tom Savini, Dario Argento, Angela Bassett, Forrest Ackerman, Linnea Quigley, Luis Guzman, and others all have roles of varying lengths. Don Rickles plays Sal’s lawyer, and is great in a role that he plays straight, which actually adds to the comedy as things take a turn for the worst.
Which brings us to the last question. Is this a love story? Unfortunately, yes. While that worked well with “American Werewolf“, here it just helps to bog the story down. The attraction between Marie and Joe doesn’t work, despite their fairly graphic and hot sex scene. Honestly, you could cut out the entire love story angle and had a far different and shorter film.
Landis also can’t help but mess with the vampire mythos as well. You can see them in mirrors, but sunlight is still deadly to them. However, the worst is, these vampires can be killed in normal ways. Regular bullets work, break their neck… it really makes no sense. And true to Landis’ style the end credits mention that “no animal, person, or vampire were harmed while making this film”.
Despite all my bitching, I do like this film quite a bit. It looks fantastic, and is well acted for the most part. Loggia absolutely steals the film! I totally understand why the film bombed. It’s all over the place, and it wasn’t “American Werewolf 2”. By all means, check the film out, as much to see what it is, but also to see what it could have been. This was pretty much the swan song for John Landis. After the film bombed in the U.S., overseas distributors released the film as “A French Vampire in America“. When Landis arrived to promote the film he was shocked, and pissed off about the change in title as no one had let him know. Since 1992, other than music videos and some work in TV and for Disney, Landis’ two “biggest” features have been Beverly Hills Cop 3 and Blues Brothers 2000.
Warner Archive released an unrated Blu in 2017 that they dubbed the “International Version”. It’s only a couple minutes longer than the original version, but does feature more nudity, a longer sex scene, and the gore effects are lingered on longer.