Bordello of Blood

(Gilbert Adler, USA, 1996)


When I saw the first film in the Tales From the Crypt series, Demon Knight (1995), I reacted like a purist. Hadn’t that generic hybrid horror-comedy become just too smarmy and calculating in the way it pandered to jaded young audiences? The worst sign of such terminal hipness was the narrator of the series on both big and small screens, the Crypt Keeper – a cackling skeleton who has obviously never learnt the lesson of Patrice Leconte’s Ridicule (1996) that “puns are the death of wit”.

I am unsure whether it was Tales From the Crypt or me that changed in the interim, but Bordello of Blood is a far more gratifying experience. The formula, as devised by Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale, remains essentially the same: a furious stream of pop culture in-jokes set within a story that is unashamed, old fashioned schlock – right down to the obligatory haunted house with cobwebs.

The plot centres on the legendary vampire Lilith (Angie Everhart) – described, with a complete lack of political correctness, as “the most horrible woman the world has ever known”. When this fetchingly bisexual ghoul returns for action in the modern world as the Madame of a lurid brothel, her store of corny quips linking eroticism and death outdoes even Freddy Krueger from the Nightmare on Elm St series.

Bordello of Blood generates much of its trashy charm from a classic B movie contrast: the dirty world of Lilith’s bloody bordello as opposed to the shining, hypocritical empire of a smooth televangelist, Current (Chris Sarandon). When Current’s squeaky clean assistant, Katherine (Erika Eleniak), loses her renegade brother, Caleb (Corey Feldman), to the fires of the bordello, she calls upon a flakey private detective, Rafe (Dennis Miller).

Rafe beats both Lilith and the Crypt Keeper hands down in the verbal humour department. Hurling about “weird Duchovnian riffs” and stepping out of the plot to crack remarks like “I feel like I’m in a bad Tales From the Crypt episode”, Miller is relentlessly brittle and wise-cracking, but somehow an enormously appealing presence.

As directed and co-written by Gilbert Adler, the film recycles some of the most energetic aspects of the underrated vampire opus, From Dusk Till Dawn (1996). Gross-out scenes of rampant slaughter are rendered comical through the high artifice of special effects and the spirited use of pop standards such as The Sweet’s “Ballroom Blitz” on the soundtrack. And there’s a priceless, five-second cameo from Whoopi Goldberg, too.

© Adrian Martin January 1997

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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