Saturday, August 3, 2013

#162: Razor Blade Smile (Jake West, 1998)

I'm not sure why I find this film so entertaining. The dialogue is either unintentionally funny or reaching for intentional humor but falling short and is often pretentious in a precocious college freshman sort of way. Jake West's aggressively hyper-stylized filmmaking style rarely settles on an image for more than a second. The film's low budget feels like a hindrance. Some filmmakers come alive with just a sliver of money, but the low budget here occasionally gives the whole affair a rinky-dink, glued-together feeling. I don't say this often, but I would have preferred a bit more polish.
That's a lot of check marks in the negative column. So why is Razor Blade Smile so enjoyable? West hires a lot of character actors from the British horror film scene, including Christopher Adamson from Dead of Night (or Lighthouse if you're not in the U.S.), Kevin Howarth and Jonathan Coote from The Last Horror Movie, and David Warbeck in his final screen performance, and these actors all seem to be having a great time. Despite its many flaws, the film succeeds in its pacing and rarely drags. The locations were chosen with a lot of care and contribute greatly to the atmosphere and tone. Despite its art film on ADD style, West always lets viewers know where they are spatially, unlike his big-budget genre contemporaries. Just try to figure out what the hell you're looking at or where anybody is in relation to anyone else in a Christopher Nolan movie. The '90s time capsule feel is of interest to the armchair historian. And I have a soft spot for vampires, and this vampire film has lots of fang-baring and bloodsucking and neck-biting.
Like a lot of superhero movies, Razor Blade Smile begins with its lead character's origin story. Unlike a lot of superhero movies, it manages to do this in seven or eight minutes, not as the opening two-and-a-half hours of a trilogy. The film begins in the 19th century at the scene of a duel between two men on a country estate outside of London. A woman, Lilith Silver (Eileen Daly), runs toward the men to attempt to stop them. It's too late. The man Lilith was trying to save has just been shot and killed. Lilith pulls out a gun of her own and shoots the victor, Sethane Blake (Adamson, a man with the perfect face to play a killer or a supernatural being), who just laughs. He's a vampire. All he has to do is drink some blood and his little gunshot wound will heal. He guns her down (or maybe his assistant does, I can't remember). Blake is intrigued by the woman, though, and instead of letting her bleed to death, he bites her on the neck, transforming her into a vampire. He then offers up his assistant as her first kill in order to heal her wounds.
Flash to the '90s. Blake is still living on his country estate, but now he's one of the heads of the Illuminati. Lilith is a sexy, leather-pants-wearing hitwoman. On her off hours, she hangs out at a bar called Transilvania with a group of young goth counterculture types who pretend to be vampires. Blake and Lilith's lives have taken these turns out of their attempts to kill boredom. When you're immortal (save for the two things that can kill you: not drinking blood after a heavy loss of your own blood and a beheading), you have a lot of time to fill up, so you have to do crazier and crazier shit to avoid turning life into a one-way ticket to dullsville. Their eternal lives once again converge when Lilith is hired to assassinate a bunch of Illuminati types. Vampire showdown at the Illuminati Corral! Oh shit!
I don't have much to say about this film that I haven't already covered in the preceding paragraphs. My criticisms still stand, but the film survives its many drawbacks because it's fun. The actors look like they're having fun. The filmmakers seem like they're having fun. Fun is missing from most current blockbuster and genre films. No one looks like they're having fun. The films are lumbering, ponderous behemoths of anti-fun that seem to have been generated by a computer program. Razor Blade Smile is fun. Fun is important. Fun is good. Fun is fun.
By the way, a character in the film credited only as "Transilvania extra" is played by someone named Louisianax Caliban. Chew on that name for a while.

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