Vampire in Brooklyn ★★★½

After The Serpent And The Rainbow and The People Under The Stairs, Wes Craven had unofficially become a director willing to tell African-American horror fiction honestly and directly, and in so doing would employ a lot of black talent in a non-exploitative way. It must have been these qualities that drew Eddie Murphy to Craven, as the superstar chameleon-like artist was looking to break out of the comedy world and expand his repertoire. (Murphy was also reportedly a big Craven fan, for as Craven tells it, Murphy quoted The Hills Have Eyes to him on their first meeting). It’s on that basis that Craven was approached to direct Vampire In Brooklyn, devised initially as a modern gothic horror/romance, with Murphy as the very Bram Stoker-like titular vampire. Unfortunately, pressure from the major studio (as well as Murphy himself) to use Murphy’s star power as a comedian muddied the script and tone of the film, and thus Vampire In Brooklyn is neither a horror film, gothic romance, or horror comedy, but some odd hybrid of all three.

That it works even at all is a testament to the powers of both men, as the film is one makeup suit character and one sketch comedy digression away from falling completely apart. Ironically, the comedic asides are what helps set Vampire apart from other vamp films, especially Francis Ford Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula released just a few years before. The basic story of vampire Maximillian (Murphy) coming to America (hah) from a mysterious island in the Bermuda Triangle in search of the last half vampire daughter who is now a cop, Rita (Angela Bassett, badass and radiant) is essentially Stoker-by-the-numbers. There’s a few fish out of water jokes, a few elements of the story that feel modern and of its place, but nothing about the plot really jumps out as strikingly original. No, the originality comes from Murphy’s portrayal, not quite a comedic performance and not quite a dramatic one, but he manages to never lose a sense of presence, charisma, and menace. Craven’s direction helps as much as possible here, giving the proceedings an eerie gothic atmosphere that feels appropriate for a vampire tale. 

As far as it’s place in Craven’s filmography goes, Vampire is clearly one of the rare “work for hire” gigs he took, yet it still retains a large amount of his tropes. Certainly his penchant for criticizing religion turns into all out mocking here, as Max-in-disguise as a deadbeat preacher manages to convince an entire congregation that evil is necessary for good to exist, and is therefore good. (It’s a great little satiric moment, if on the nose). Rita, in her struggle between her natures, endures some trademark Craven hallucinations and dream sequences, and there’s a standout scene where Max kills Rita’s roommate Nikki that is relentless in its composition and quick, aggressive editing. There’s a bit of Craven’s (and Eddie Murphy’s) penchant for social commentary too, in a great scene where Max attempts to teach a newly vampiric Rita to feed on an affluent white woman (who is living in Brooklyn, of course—some gentrification commentary there). Again, it’s very on the nose, but no less welcome.

Ultimately, Vampire In Brooklyn is a muddled film, with an ending that is satisfying...if it ended five minutes earlier, instead dragging a joke on too long and messing up the victory that the film just gave us. Nevertheless, it’s an interesting footnote in Murphy’s career, and especially Craven’s, as this was the film whose (not entirely warranted but understandable) failure led him to his next project, one that would put him on the A-list for good and would secure his legacy for all time.