Color, 1990, 93 mins. 36 secs.
Directed by V.V. Dachin Hsu
Starring George Chakiris, Wings Hauser, Pamela Ludwig, Diana Frank, Darcy DeMoss
Vinegar Syndrome (Blu-ray & DVD) (US R0 HD/NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)
Shuffled off straight to video in the early '90s and marketed like another in the long line of modern vampire-themed thrillers made around the same time (like Red Blooded American Girl, Def by Temptation, and The Lost Platoon), Pale Blood is a real oddity straddling the line between the druggy, neon-soaked vibe of late '80s horror and the gritty, sax-laden approach that was about to consume the genre for a few years. Smoky nightclub scenes? Check. Sparsely decorated apartments with blinding white walls? Yep. Woozy dream sequences? Absolutely. As far as vampire chic films go, this one may end up closer to The Hunger in terms of its TV series rather than the movie, but that's not a bad thing at all considering how much entertainment value and nostalgia now exists in these little oddities that seemed to fall through the cracks.
Upon his arrival in Los Angeles, covert vampire Michael Fury (Chakiris, far removed from his Oscar-winning dancing days in West Side Story) receives a mysterious phone call instructing him to rendezvous at a Melrose boutique whose window display now houses the latest victim of The Vampire Killer. Played by a gloriously full-throttle Wings Hauser, this very human serial killer is causing major problems for the genuine vampire community with his antics, so Fury has brought in Lori (Ludwig), a detective who also likes to decorate her pad with classic vampire movie paraphernalia. A game of cat and mouse ensues across the nocturnal City of Angels with the real and phony bloodsuckers matching wits during an escalating body count.
Initially released on VHS and laserdisc by Triumph Home Video back in the day, Pale Blood is the handiwork of V.V. Dachin Hsu, a UCLA student at the time who was shopping around a script by her husband at the time. The horror content is fairly subdued apart from some splashy bloodletting scenes with Hauser, and the real value here lies in the priceless footage of late '80s L.A. in all its glory with plenty of location coverage and local atmosphere. Had it been released a few years earlier this would have doubtless gotten some theatrical play and been seen in better condition, but the genre was in a state of extreme decline at the time and so this one really didn't have a shot to get any recognition beyond the store rental crowd. Of course, just seeing Hauser alone is worth the investment here along with the novelty of seeing Chakiris giving his all to a genre film, and now it's a fascinating example of vampire cinema in transition before it would undergo a massive crowd-friendly transformation the following decade.
After years off the radar, Pale Blood comes back into circulation as a Blu-ray and DVD dual-format set from Vinegar Syndrome with a new 2K scan from the 35mm interpositive that certainly feels like a very different, superior experience compared to the old video master we've been stuck with for decades. The dark scenes have a nice sense of depth and atmosphere that was completely lacking before, and those wild, eye-popping shades of red really pack a punch here instead of just turning into NTSC muck. The DTS-HD MA English 2.0 track (with optional English SDH subtitles) is much healthier as well and has some surprisingly nice stereo channel separation whenever the music kicks in. As for extras, "Understanding Immortality" (15m21s), director Hsu (now Jenny Funkmeyer) talks about falling in love with L.A. while doing The King and I with Yul Brynner, studying film at UCLA, the sexual appeal of vampirism in this antihero story, Hauser's professionalism, and the method of making Chakiris look much worse on film than he did in person. Then in "Acting With Eggs" (7m30s), actress Darcy DeMoss chats about the long process of getting the role, the rare joy of working for a female director at the time, her rapport with Hauser on this and previous projects, and her positive reaction to the film during its rare theatrical screening for cast and crew.
Reviewed on May 11, 2020.