Director: Wes Craven
Stars: Eddie Murphy, Angela Bassett, Kadeem Hardison
pampered sadistic African prince vampire travels to Queens Brooklyn, New York, and goes undercover to find a wife that he can respect for her intelligence and will woman that he can bite to live forever.
As far as bad movies go, I’ll take an interesting failure over a lazy mess any day. And VAMPIRE IN BROOKLYN is fascinating in its shortcomings. It represents two cinematic legends—Eddie Murphy and Wes Craven—coming together at the top of their game and making something…not great.
THE FOLLOWING FRIDAY AFTER NEXT was where the franchise really started to go off the rails.
There’s been a lot of back-and-forth over the years regarding exactly what went wrong with VAMPIRE IN BROOKLYN, from Murphy only doing it in order to get the rights to THE NUTTY PROFESSOR from Paramount, to Craven having to deal with a star who was suffering from depression and a career crisis. However, from direct interviews with both parties, the one thing that is clear is that neither actor nor director was on the same page while making this movie. Murphy, coming off of BEVERLY HILLS COP III, was looking forward to doing a straight horror film, while Craven wanted to try his bladed hand at comedy after a career in scary movies. It really sounds like just an unfortunate case of bad timing for both.
At least they don’t sparkle!
The result is pretty much what you expect—an awkward movie mish-mash that doesn’t know if it wants to be funny or scary. Ironically, both Murphy and Craven are so good at what they do that they still save it from being an irredeemable disaster, but VAMPIRE IN BROOKLYN is definitely far from a good movie. The main issue is the discrepancy in tone, which leads to it feeling like two different films—the one Eddie Murphy is in and the one everyone else was making. Murphy plays ancient bloodsucker Maximillian completely straight, as if he’s in a real horror film, while the script, editing, music and most of the supporting actors all seem to be doing broad comedy. It gives the film a very strange vibe where everything feels off and the comedy and scares consistently have the air sucked out of them.
So you might get one scene where the vampire violently murders people in horrifying fashion and in the next, hey, there’s Eddie Murphy comically making a police dog explode. (Oddly enough, that’s not the only pet that gets killed in this movie for laughs.) Not knowing what you’re going to get scene-to-scene saves it from ever being boring, which is a positive, I guess. However, that also keeps it from being truly successful on any level, especially as a comedy. Really, the only time Murphy even attempts to be funny on purpose is when he’s playing other characters, like a preacher teaching a congregation that evil and “ass” are both good, or donning whiteface to play a sleazy Italian mobster. And even those are met with varying degrees of success.
The Tonguey cameo from KUNG POW! ENTER THE FIST was a welcome touch.
As you can see from the plot synopsis above, VAMPIRE IN BROOKLYN shares a lot of similarities with Murphy’s COMING TO AMERICA, which makes sense since Murphy also came up with this story too, along with his brother Charlie. There’s actually a lot to like about the concept and from a high-level point of view, I could see why this would be appealing on paper. The Caribbean spin on vampires is fun and allows for some unique iconography, the New York City setting works, and Murphy’s talents seem like they would be well-suited for a horror-comedy (if he was really trying).
Unfortunately, the script itself, penned by three first-time screenwriters, is a complete mess, full of stilted dialogue and a poorly thought-out story that wastes the concept completely. (I’m still not sure exactly why Max needed to find another female vampire in the first place, other than *plot reasons*.) There are a fair number of memorable lines, but those were all clearly adlibbed by the talented comedians completely ignoring what was on the page.
Ceiling Eddie Murphy is watching you masturbate.
I do remember it being fun back in the mid-90s to see Eddie Murphy tackling the role of a fairly unlikable villain. He’s given some great non-comedic performances over the years and I have no problem with him playing against-type. But there are still a couple of things you’re going to have a hard time getting past with the character of Maximillian. One is the wig, which Murphy has since publicly blamed for the film’s failure. (“I walked out in that longhaired wig and people said, ‘Oh, get the f*ck out of here! What the hell is this?’”) The other is his choice of accent, which is both inconsistent and sometimes incoherent. It’s definitely not helped by the script or some of the painful banter he has with Angela Bassett. Or the fact that he’s also stuck trying to act under some truly unfortunate makeup that makes him look more like an action figure than a vampire. And the less said about Preacher Pauly and Guido the better.
TFW you realize Rick Baker is not available.
The ones that come out looking the best are the supporting cast. The late John Witherspoon was great in absolutely everything and that’s no exception here, stealing the movie with only a handful of scenes. (I will always yell “Ahoy motherf*cker!” anytime I go on a boat.) Kadeem Hardison is also a highlight as the vampire’s increasingly decomposing familiar and gives Murphy a great partner to bounce off of. Angela Bassett is as good as she can be as the hardened cop turned helpless romantic interest. Her and Murphy have solid chemistry in spite of the writing, but again, it feels like they’re in their own movie separate from everyone else. Also, a good chunk of her performance is her repeatedly flailing her arms and running away at the first sign of vampire danger, which is hilarious in an unintentional sense.
“Dear Diary, Today everyone made fun of my movie. I’ll show them. I’ll spend the next decade making family films nobody asked for…”
Parts of it are fun and there are a number of laughworthy lines, but VAMPIRE IN BROOKLYN still amounts to a waste of everyone’s time. Luckily, both Craven and Murphy would rebound hard in 1996, leaving this to remain a cult oddity in both of their filmographies.
One very loud, but very PG-13 sex scene.
Take a shot or drink every time:
- Eddie Murphy’s accent changes
- Eddie Murphy transforms in someone/something else
- Eddie Murphy kills an animal
- Angela Bassett runs funny
- Kadeem Hardison looks worse
Double shot if:
- They say the name of the movie
Thanks to Diana for suggesting this week’s movie!
Seen a movie that should be featured on this column? Shoot Jason an email and give him an excuse to drink.