Written by: Tony Lazlo, CC2K Staff Writer
For April Fools' Week, CC2K's Letty Tomlinson chose one of the all-time cinematic clunkers to inflict on a fellow staff member: A Polish Vampire in Burbank. CC2K Staff Writer Tony Lazlo drew the low card and so had to sit through the interminable 1984 vampire comedy.
A word from the nominator, Letty Muse Tomlinson:
As undersexed teenagers in small-town America, my best friend Mandy and I had to find creative ways to amuse ourselves, and since we couldn't attract the opposite sex and didn't have any older sibling to buy us booze, we would deliberately rent crappy-looking movies from the local video store and mock them. The experience was simultaneously entertainment and therapy – entertainment in how we channeled Crow and Tom Servo as we made fun of the movies, and therapy in how the act of ridiculing the movies helped us vent our frustrations as put-upon nerds.
One of these afternoon video store excursions turned up Mark Pirro's A Polish Vampire in Burbank. I don't remember much about the movie, other than its atrocious acting, writing and cinematography – the damn thing looked like they'd shot it on my dad's 1983 Hi-8 camera – but I remembered A Polish Vampire in Burbank well enough to inflict it on a fellow CC2K member for April Fool's Week, and that member is Tony Lazlo. Enjoy, Tony!
Digging up Vampires in Burbank
By Tony Lazlo
Didja ever see The Worst Witch?
Let me explain: Back in the 80s, there was a Halloween TV special about a youngster learning how to perform magic at a secret prep school that taught the magical arts. Everyone flew around on brooms, and most of the students had cats. The heroic young student got tormented by a draconian professor and often had to deal with an asshole classmate.
1. Cinematic Archaelogy
Well, it ain't Harry Potter. It's The Worst Witch, and it starred a Return to Oz-era Fairuza Balk along with Diana Rigg (as the Severus Snape character) and Charlotte Rae (as the Albus Dumbledore character).
I mention The Worst Witch because it's funny how sometimes you catch an old movie and you spot an actor making an early onscreen appearance – like Richard Dreyfuss in an old episode of Bewitched. Or sometimes you'll listen to a piece of classical music and you'll hear three notes from the Star Wars theme emerge from a symphony.
Or in the case of The Worst Witch, you'll see an ancestor of a more recent work. In every case, you've found yourself hip deep in a cinematic and literary archaeological expedition. It's funny – the way literary critics around the world praised (or condemned) J.K. Rowling for drawing on dozens of mythological sources for her novels, while very few critics pointed out how she lifted virtually all of the conceits and trappings for the Harry Potter books wholesale from an existing work. I mean, really – Diana Rigg's character is even the school's potions teacher. I wonder why nobody sued?
(Don’t worry – I'll get to A Polish Vampire in Burbank soon.)
For the record, here's the opening to The Worst Witch:
Hee hee. I had forgotten what a hoot this is. Here's another clip – this one of Tim Curry playing Gilderoy Lockhart by way of Liberace in The Worst Witch:
God. I had forgotten how fucking insane The Worst Witch is – and here's where my April Fools' Week assignment comes in: Sometimes crappy old movies like A Polish Vampire in Burbank are like rabbit holes – you climb into them, and you find yourself immersed in a fascinating evening of cinematic archaeology – and a hilariously bad movie, too.
2. A Once-Bitten Lost Boy
The premise for Polish Vampire is fine: A family of vampires lives in the Hollywood Hills. The son of the clan is a nebbishy wimp who thinks drinking blood is icky, so his father tasks his sister to teach the kid how to seduce women and drink their blood. The kid eventually connects with a hot, blond aerobics teacher, but he shies away from biting her because he's falling in love with her.
Fair enough: That's a good idea for a lighthearted vampire comedy, and indeed, while watching Polish Vampire, I couldn't help but think of the other lighthearted vampire comedies I watched growing up, including Once Bitten and Love at First Bite.
In the very likely event you haven't seen either of those, here are the pitches for both:
Once Bitten: A vampire countess must drink the blood of a virgin in order to keep her eternal life. At first it looks like she won't be able to find any virgins, but then she discovers one of the only virgins alive in L.A. county. She seduces him, and shenanigans ensue.
Trivia: Guess who plays the virgin? A very young Jim Carrey in one of his first film roles. Shockingly, there aren't any decent clips of it online.
Love at First Bite: For some reason, Count Dracula (George Hamilton) gets kicked out of his castle in Transylvania, so he moves to New York and joins the swinging singles scene. He starts putting the moves on a woman (Susan Saint James). Meanwhile, her boyfriend (Richard Benjamin) starts to suspect that she's involved with a vampire.
Trivia: There aren't any fucking videos for this online, either.
Now that you've read the basic storylines for Polish Vampire, Once Bitten and First Bite, can you see what they have in common?
I'll tell you: They all sound equally ridiculous. There's nothing any more or less stupid about any of those stories, but clearly Once Bitten and First Bite are more successful. (Hell, Splash fits into this category, too, because it also takes a mythological creature and puts it into a contemporary romantic comedy.)
It's all about execution, and to be sure, Polish Vampire's execution is, well, lacking.
3. A Scary Movie Ahead of Its Time
At this point in the essay, I could very well launch into a detailed rundown of the movie's storyline and how awful it is. I will refrain from doing so, because I don't want to bore the shit out of everyone – I'll leave the recapping of bad movies to trained professionals. Suffice it to say that the movie's dialogue sounds like it was looped in a grain silo, and the "scary" castle where the vampires live is built out of cardboard and detailed with Crayola markers. I think the estate of Ed Wood filed a formal complaint with Polish Vampire's writer/director/star Mark Pirro, asking him to stop giving shitty movies a bad name.
But besides my lack of skill as a recapper, I also hesitate to rip Polish Vampire a new asshole because it's so damn harmless, so well-meaning and so self-aware.
In fact, this movie's pop-culture-drenched self-awareness makes it – no bullshit – ahead of its time. Over the course of Polish Vampire, Pirro makes overt references to James Bond (which I'll address in a minute), John Holmes (I think) and Rocky. He also pokes a lot of fun at how shitty his script is.
For example: Because he's a vampire, the lead character by definition must meet up with the human characters at night, but Pirro is constantly using the threat of the sun to make his lead character dash offscreen. Naturally, this raises the question: Why the hell are all these people hanging out in the city at 5 in the damn morning? Pirro acknowledges these head-scratchers by having his characters say, "Poetic license."
Pirro also populates his movie with good-looking women in all of the main female roles. Given the general popularity of breasts, I'm surprised Pirro didn't throw a few topless scenes into his movie – even the Zucker brothers couldn't resist a few in the Airplane movies.
In the "familiar faces" department, keep an eye out for Eddie Deezen in Polish Vampire – Deezen was one of the chief nerds in Revenge of the Nerds.
Going back to the pop-culture references: During one scene, Pirro's vampire character sits down in a hot-tub at what is apparently a 24-hour gym. When he sits in the hot-tub, there are two guys already there: a blond surfer-looking guy, and a guy in a full tuxedo. Pirro starts asking the tuxedo guy why he's fully dressed, and the tuxedo guy keep saying that he's waiting for someone. During the scene, tuxedo guy is speaking with what sounds like some kind of eastern European or middle-eastern accent.
The whole time I'm watching this scene, I'm thinking, "Is this Count Dracula?" But no – it turns out it's actually James Bond, who eventually realizes he's at the wrong club. He leaves, accompanied by a beep-boop-beep rendition of the Bond theme that sounds like it was rendered on an Atari 2600.
That's a shitty scene, right? Oh, but it's not over yet. Pirro's character turns to the blond guy, who reveals himself to be – and I'm not making this up – a "queerwolf." Here's how the scene goes:
QUEERWOLF (advancing on Pirro): Three years ago, I was bit by a queer, and now whenever the moon is full, I turn into one.
PIRRO: But the moon's only half full!
QUEERWOLF: I know! That means I'm bi!
OK, by combining shitty jokes, pop-culture thievery and a dose of galloping homophobia, Pirro made a scene that would fit into the the Scary Movie, Epic Movie or Meet the Spartans mold without so much as a rewrite.
To wit, here's the intro from Scary Movie 3:
Notice how Scary Movie 3 draws on up-to-the-minute pop-culture references – The Ring, the Pamela Anderson sex tape, the career of Jenny McCarthy – that became dated as soon as the movie hit theaters. The sequence also includes less overt nods to Psycho, The Others and the Hostel movies. Pirro's script for Polish Vampire doesn't pack the same pop-cultural punch – but you can see that if given a few more years, he might have become a staff writer for these shitstorms.
And whaddaya know: It turns out Mark Pirro's still around. His production company's website is Pirromount.com, and their newest movie will come out (in some form) this year. Even the kindly old queerwolf got his own spinoff movie.
4. Where Did It Go Right?
But there's a bright side to the awfulness of Polish Vampire. It turns out that Pirro had some good writing instincts in him, too, back in 1984.
One scene shows a vampire trying to attack a bouncy blonde babe, but get this: It turns out that she's a bible-thumper, complete with a cross – and that's not all. As soon as she brandishes the cross, we see that she belongs to a group called "Judo For Jesus," and she proceeds to beat the crap out of him.
Joss Whedon would be proud. I was proud, too, to see someone else take a poke at the ludicrous organization Jews for Jesus.
But finally, I'd like to leave you with the most startling news from my viewing of Polish Vampire: one of the scenes really works. And here's more startling news – I found it online!
Now, before you watch this scene, let me explain: By no means am I arguing that this scene could stand up to scrutiny. I concede that this scene only looked as good as it did when viewed amidst the wreckage of the rest of the movie. All the same, this scene – a dream sequence – stuck out like a prom queen at WorldCon:
What happened here? Pirro actually took the time to light the scene, frame his shots, costume his actors, choose his music and edit everything properly. The music is pretty cool, and the jump-cuts look great. If Pirro put this much time and energy into all of his movie and not just one scene, I might be writing a very different essay.
Author: Tony Lazlo, CC2K Staff Writer
Robert J. Peterson is a writer and web developer living in Los Angeles. A Tennessee native, he graduated from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. He’s written for newspapers and websites all over the country, including the Marin Independent Journal, the Telluride Daily Planet, CC2KOnline.com, Offscreen, and Geekscape.net. He co-hosts the podcasts Make It So and Hiram’s Lodge. He’s appeared as a pop-culture guru on the web talk shows Comics on Comics, The Fanbase Press Week In Review, Collider Heroes, ScreenJunkies TV Fights, and Fandom Planet. He’s the founder of California Coldblood Books.