Color, 1998, 96 mins.

Directed by Richard Elfman

Starring Casper Van Dien, Natasha Gregson Wagner, Kim Cattrall, Craig Ferguson, Rod Steiger, Udo Kier, Robert Pastorelli, Natasha Lyonne, Natasha Andrejchenko / Written by Matthew Bright / Music by Danny Elfman and Michael Wandmacher / Produced by Chris Hanley

Format: DVD - Sterling (MSRP $24.95)

Full Frame / Dolby Digital 2.0

One of the more unlikely straight to video titles in recent years, Modern Vampires (known as Revenant in Europe) sports a surprisingly high profile cast and enough clever twists and turns to make one regret that gutsy horror projects like this usually don't wind up on the big screen anymore. Cleverly helmed by the delirious Richard Elfman (Forbidden Zone, Shrunken Heads), this isn't a perfect film by a long shot but should develop a sizable cult following, if enough people actually get the opportunity to see it.

Dallas (Starship Troopers' Casper Van Dien), a world weary vampire, returns to Los Angeles after twenty years in exile. The Count (Robert Pastorelli) receives his presence with less than open arms; even worse, Dr. Van Helsing (Rod Steiger, sporting a funny accent akin to Austin Powers's Dr. Evil) has arrived from Germany to kill Dallas, who was responsible for turning Van Helsing's son. Van Helsing recruits a funny gangsta crew of vampire killers, including Fallen's Gabriel Casseus, while Dallas busies himself transforming a trashy wannabe indie vampire, Nico (Natasha Gregson Wagner), into a sleekly elegant bloodsucker. When the two foes finally face each other down, much fang-baring and staking ensues.

Modern Vampires' greatest strength lies in its supporting characters, with Kim Cattrall doing a hysterial, heavily accented routine as the uptown Ulrike (imagine Teri Garr in Young Frankenstein, but with fangs). Craig Ferguson, familiar as the British overlord boss on The Drew Carrey Show, also has an amusing turn as an overzealous bisexual predator (with the best throwaway lines), and Pastorelli makes an unlikely but funny Count. Van Dien and Wagner essentially carry the film as the two "straight" leads, with most of the comic bits relegated to everyone else, but they make a great looking couple and seem to be giving their all. Udo Kier (Blood for Dracula) does yet another maniacal variation on his signature role in a funny extended cameo. Finally, rising teen star Natasha Lyonne once again rises above an underwritten part to provide some sass as Wagner's low class lesbian protegee (and what's with all the Natashas in this movie, anyway?). However, the film itself is far from perfect. Had Elfman been given a reasonable budget and more resources, Modern Vampires could have been one of the year's most noteworthy genre films, but it's ultimately hampered in the end by its chintzy budget (the flat TV look doesn't help), as well as a few terribly strained lines and too much artsy editing in several of the attack and sex scenes. Still, for adventurous horror fans, this is guaranteed to grab your attention and is definitely miles ahead of Dracula: Dead and Loving It.

The DVD from Sterling features a good if unspectacular fullscreen transfer. No significant information seems to be missing from the image, though it doesn't really look open matte either. The red on black opening credits look awful, but the quality improves dramatically during the film itself. The standard surround audio gets the job done, with a few flashy panning effects and a nicely separated music score (filled with those typical Danny Elfman choral voices, as well as homages to everything from Handel to the theme from Lolita). The DVD contains the unrated director's cut, and they really do mean it; some surprisingly rough gore and full frontal nudity (not to mention a general air of kinkiness) definitely qualify this as non-MPAA friendly material. The disc also features trailers for this and Progeny, as well as a sincere but bland 12 minute "making of" featurette in which everyone involved takes turns praising their coworkers. Elfman and Van Dien also provide an audio commentary in which they enthusiastically recount the various low budget difficulties encountered in getting the film off the ground. While Elfman's biting and eccentric comments come as no surprise, Van Dien manages to keep up with him throughout and makes some fine, insightful observations along the way, proving he really is more than your average coverboy. Where both men go from here should be very interesting to observe indeed; let's just hope they manage to keep their sense of humor. In the end, Elfman must be simply credited for managing to pull off something seemingly impossible: a film with no sympathetic characters, gender bending sex, and extreme gore that also happens to be a good natured comedy.

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