As it stands I can firmly say I am genuinely not a fan of vampire movies. It’s just a subgenre in the world of horror that I’ve never really enjoyed. There’s really only one I enjoy and it’s Mel Brooks’ classic spoof, “Dracula: Dead and Loving It”. Everything about that movie is absolutely fantastic. If you were to consider it a horror comedy, it would be extremely light on the horror and wonderfully heavy on the comedy. But recently this one came up in casual conversation and it’s been stuck in my proverbial craw ever since. I even had this in my amazon cart for a short while under the notion that I was going to potentially blind buy it and then watch it. But after scouring a number of the streaming services as of late in search of titles I could include in this 31 days of horror, I was able to locate this Craven/Murphy crossover in a couple locations. I will credit Paramount+ once again as my service of choice for streaming this one tonight.
I really didn’t know exactly what to expect with this flick. A few months ago I loaded up on a few Eddie Murphy titles and expanded my personal collection with a handful more of his films. As we all already know, this one was note in that haul but I did wrestle with a purchase even then. I’ll cycle through actors from time to time indulging in titles I’ve either not seen or maybe double down on some old favs. Recently I went through a number of his “cop” movies as this seemed to be a role he really preferred. This movie was definitely a departure from his standard fare but I feel like he really rose to the challenge of it. This film was one of the last few films Murphy did of the R rated variety in the waning days of his initial phase of his career. In the later 90’s he began transitioning to more of a mix of more mainstream comedies and by the latter end of the decade heading into the 2000’s he had really entered his family friendly phase of his career. While I feel like Metro and Life were stronger remnants of his more mature career, I do applaud Murphy for stretching himself in this film. Not surprisingly his comedic ability in this film is of note but he really does embody the persona of the last Caribbean vampire in a truly horrific capacity as well. There are a number of times in the movie where he commands the screen handily and drives some of the legitimately scarier parts of the film. The practical effects mixed with a convincing score and some relatively impressive cinematography for a film of this caliber makes for some truly tense and creepy scenes. I know Murphy, and many others, credit the wig he donned as Maximillian as a regrettable aspect of the character, but I have to say that whatever detraction his hairpiece had on the film, the rest of his costuming and makeup, namely the contact lenses, really amplify the scare power Murphy exhibited in the film.
That’s as good as any a segue into Kadeem Hardison’s role as Julius in the film. Hardison has a unique role in this film as he gets to enjoy more spotlight attention in a comedic capacity. While Murphy gives himself some room to entertain with some of his costumed side characters, ala Preacher Pauly and Guido similar to his work in Coming to America and a similar tactic he would use far more egregiously and deliberately throughout his career, Hardison gets to enjoy being funny head on in the film. He gets to be loud and outlandish and there are a number of times that even his physical comedy is impressive to say the least. And in his role as this vampire’s stand in for Renfield, Julius enjoys the benefit of some of the rather impressive makeup as his body continues to decay throughout the film, a secondary source of cheap, but effective, laughs and rather enjoyable sight gags. Paired with Hardison is the lasting comedic genius of John Witherspoon. He is peppered in sparingly but that’s typically all you need from Witherspoon for his impact to be meaningful. One of the things I do appreciate about many of Murphy’s films is his proclivity to surround himself with other genuinely funny people. When he could hog the spotlight, he chooses many times to amplify the humor in his movies by multiplying the comedians. Knowing Richard Pryor was one of his strongest influences, I think he took this page out of his book as well. While Pryor had many opportunities to shine in his films, some of his most notable performances were amplified by other known comedians such as Gene Wilder. Knowing Murphy was instrumental in casting in this film and by this point in his career he had plenty of room to throw his professional weight around, I admire his attentiveness to ensuring the comedy aspect of this film was more than shored up properly.
The other side of this cast is really summed up in Angela Bassett. While Allen Payne as Detective Justice is another important vehicle in the cast, Bassett is a far more important and vibrant part of the story. It is interesting to me that both Bassett and Payne do feel a bit sluggish in the pacing of this movie. Their penchants to under and overact were some of the biggest detractors overall for me. It wasn’t a huge distraction as the stakes (pun very much intended) were not that high with this film overall. Bassett seemed distracted and prone to unnecessarily amplifying scenes with her presence. Payne seemed to perpetually have just woken up from a nap and could not be bothered to show much, if any, emotion. If this was a baseball game for them, it was very much a pre-season exhibition effort in my estimation. I think this is partially why the final act of the film feels a bit lackluster. Combined with the least appealing makeup efforts on Murphy in his most prominently front facing vampiric presence in the climax of the film where he’s made to look as much like an actual bat as possible, Bassett and Payne delivered what I would equate to a Tuesday night production of a community college spring play. They were there but couldn’t really be bothered to do much. But by the end of the movie, I was ready for it to be over as is so it still didn’t bother me much. It just sort of fizzled out which was kind of unfortunate but it seemed to still work somehow.
Ultimately I think if there’s one thing this film is a victim of is that it was made with some of the least appealing versions of all the people involved. While Murphy was clearly still funny, He wasn’t classic Eddie but he wasn’t new Eddie either. He was subdued which works on the dramatic/horror front to a degree, but it does hurt Murphy to a degree in this film. I think because he was in that transitioning phase of his career he just was not at his best that that’s too bad. If you had Eddie from ’88 or ’89 you’d have had prime Murphy for this movie. Similarly for Wes Craven. I will say that this movie really does feel like it has some real horror aspects to it. I’ve been on a 90’s kick but this one has a different energy. This one doesn’t second guess it’s birthright as a horror movie, it does own it. And I like that. But knowing that Craven did New Nightmare the year before this one and Scream the year after, I have to note that this is clearly not the best that Craven had to give. He clearly hadn’t waned in his ability, nor was he transitioning into a new part of his career. If anything what this movie seemed to suffer from on the Craven front was that it was not meta enough. By the mid 90’s that seemed to be the direction Wes really wanted to head and even something as outside the box for him as Vampire in Brooklyn, it just did not his on the sweet spot and so what could have been a home run ended up with the runner reaching base on an error. Not sure why so many of my metaphors are of a baseball nature. Maybe the original Dodgers were reaching out to me via this film. Whatever the case is, even Bassett and Payne just weren’t really bringing the magic to this movie. With Waiting to Exhale just a year later and Stella getting her groove back in 98, Bassett just found herself in a bit of a lull for this one. It’s just kind of a shame because with performances as “on” as background players Hardison and Witherspoon, if everyone else had shown up with similar prowess I think this movie would have really hit a lot harder. And I refuse to blame it all on Eddie’s hair.
Ultimately I’m not going to rag on this movie too much, though I may have once again come on a little harder than I needed to. This horror comedy was very much enjoyable. I don’t regret the watch, though I will admit I’m happy with myself that I hadn’t gone ahead with a blind buy. While I have a number of Eddie Murphy’s films in my personal collection, I won’t lose any sleep knowing this one isn’t on the shelf. I know I’ve been kind of middle of the road lately but I think that’s honestly where a lot of horror falls. This movie isn’t so bad it’s unwatchable. But it’s also not so great that I’m going to tell you to rush out and watch it. I will say that if you’ve exhausted yourself on the standard fare and don’t want to venture out into things that are too weird, Vampire in Brooklyn is a pretty solid choice. It’s a cheeseburger of a movie. It’s hard to really go wrong with an Eddie Murphy vehicle. Not that he never made a bad movie. I’m looking at you Bowfinger and Norbit. But during this spooky season if you want to take the edge off the horror with a few laughs, this will do well. There’s plenty of staple horror comedies that everyone goes to this time of year. Killer Klowns and Shaun of the Dead. But if you’ve worn out your copies of those, Vampire in Brooklyn will give you a few spooks and a few laughs as well. I’ll give it a 5.25 out of 10 so its just slightly over that middle of the road hump. It worked for me tonight and I think it will do the same for anyone else who gives it a shot. So until next time, I’ll catch you on the flip side.