A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, I saw a preview for Nudist Colony of the Dead. It was on a screener that my father, a freelance writer at the time, had gotten in the mail, and I was convinced that I'd finally stumbled upon the greatest movie ever. I never did actually get around to seeing the apparently still-in-print flick, but those few minutes of footage made enough of an impression on me that, a decade and change later, I eagerly gobbled up DVDs of two other movies by writer/director/whatever-else-er Mark Pirro. MTI Home Video is releasing two of Pirromount's Super 8 horror/comedy opuses (opi?), stuffed to the gills with pretty much every conceivable supplement.
A Polish Vampire in Burbank follows Dupah, a virgin vamp who's yet to sink his fangs into a victim, reliant on his father and sister to bring him home doggie-bags after their late night slaughters. Pops is afraid that Dupah will wind up like his brother Sphincter (Grease's Eddie Deezen), another reluctant neck-biter charbroiled by sunlight after just his second failed attempt. At the insistence of family (including a skeletal Sphincter), Dupah skulks around Burbank in the wee hours of the morning, where he quickly stumbles upon a young woman having a spat with her boyfriend. Delores, a vampire fan who's watched The Horror of Dracula twenty times, quickly takes to Dupah, wholly unaware that he himself is a creature of the night. Dupah, meanwhile, is torn between his insatiable thirst and :sniffles: his budding love.
The first glimpse of Dupah in A Polish Vampire in Burbank has him opening his coffin, revealing a Farrah Fawcett poster taped inside. That's a pretty good indication of the type of humor scattered throughout the movie, which was shot whenever time would allow between 1981 and 1983. In a lot of ways, the goofy sight gags and seemingly endless onslaught of puns reminded me of some of Troma's horror-inspired comedies from the same general time period, if quite a bit lighter on gore and nudity. The comedy's somewhat inconsistent, coming more in small batches of jokes rather than being gingerly distributed throughout the length of the film. Some are just dated. For instance, a several-minute long Sonny and Cher routine doesn't hold up all that well in 2003. Other exchanges left me groaning, such as Delores' ditzy roommate being told that she's watching a test pattern on TV. "If I thought there was going to be a test, I would've studied!" Yikes. A lot of the gags do connect, but there aren't quite enough of them as I would've liked. As far the rest of the movie goes, production values for a feature-length $2,500 flick are expectedly slim, but not to the point of being difficult to watch. As lean as the budget was, Polish Vampire comes across as a "real movie" for the duration. I never felt as if I was watching some half-assed attempt from a guy with an idea, a couple of friends, and a camera.
It should go without saying that A Polish Vampire in Burbank isn't for everyone. Having been weaned on Troma at an early age, I have a soft spot for that brand of horror-inspired humor. It's not a hysterical movie, but I'd definitely give it a checkmark under the "Funny" column. For cult enthusiasts, A Polish Vampire in Burbank is worth checking out, especially considering the lavish treatment it's been given on DVD.
Video: The non-anamorphic widescreen image is slightly letterboxed to the unusual aspect ratio of approximately 1.55:1. A Polish Vampire in Burbank was shot on Super 8 two full decades ago for a couple grand, so obviously there's a ceiling as to how good this DVD can possibly look. Sure, there's heavy grain, not much at all in the way of fine detail, anemic black levels, and pasty colors, but it's unavoidable. Mark Pirro comments in the documentary on this disc that he did considerable fiddling in the digital realm to make the movie more presentable, and 'before and after' shots do show substantial improvement.
Audio: Since pretty much every syllable and sound effect was recorded after principal photography had wrapped, the newly-remixed stereo audio fares quite a bit better than the visual presentation. The fidelity's surprisingly high, thanks to some spiffing up of the original masters, and some of the clunkier bits of looped dialogue have been repositioned. If anything, I'd say the audio is almost too good, seeming out of place with the soft, grainy visuals.
For those of you keeping track, there are no alternate language tracks, no subtitles, and no closed captions.
Supplements: A Polish Vampire in Burbank is a pretty loaded special edition, kicking off with an audio commentary with Mark Pirro and moderator Patrick Hunter. There's a steady flow of discussion, often centering around the cast and crew, when and where certain sequences were shot, and how some of the visuals and effects were accomplished on such a microscopic budget. A number of the main points in the commentary are covered in the lengthy documentary provided on this disc, but it's still pretty entertaining and worth a listen. I noticed a jarring skip around the 8:38 mark when Mark is talking about sliding dialogue around. At first I thought it was my DVD player hopping around and losing sync of the commentary, but the same problem occurred on my DVD-ROM.
The "TV Spots" include just under five minutes of Mark Pirro and Polish Vampire making the rounds on the small screen. The first couple of minutes are of a 1983 interview with Mark and Craig Bassuk on Mid Morning L.A. They talk about how the two filmmakers met, and along with some brief discussion about Polish Vampire, Mark chats about an earlier hamburger-slasher of his called Buns. The interview is followed by a bumper on USA's Up All Night in which Gilbert Gottfried quips about the many hats Mark Pirro wore during production. Brief comments from Mark are also included in clips from Hard Copy and CNBC's Real Story about feature filmmaking for used car prices.
There are also five minutes of full-frame deleted scenes, each introduced with a description and comments such as "the idea sucked and was scrapped." First up is an extended version of the scene where Yvonne finds out about Dupah's girlfriend. The second piece of footage features Eddie Deezen as Dupah attempting to bite his first victim. After Deezen dropped out of the project, the last part of the sequence was rewritten and made it into the final cut as a flashback. Problems with cast members not showing up also led to cutting and reshooting the opening sequence, presented here as victims are being stalked by undead legs. The remainder of the deleted scenes follow the climax, featuring Delores darting off after a night with Dupah, our hero fretting about his lady love, and an abandoned idea of a character continuing to wreak havoc from beyond the grave. The final moments are devoted to a compilation of the skeletons' problematic jaw bones falling apart on camera.
One of the highlights of the disc is the nearly-half hour documentary Polish Vampire: Behind the Fangs, narrated by none other than Forry Ackerman. The documentary follows production from its conception as Virgin Vampire through its half-million dollar success years later. A number of members of the cast and crew, including the skeletal Sphincter McBoner, comment on their experiences and how professional the $25-a-week production was. Behind the Fangs begins, not surprisingly, with Mark Pirro's early interest in filmmaking and how his day job as a tour guide at Universal Studios led him to assemble a regular cast for his shorts. Also discussed are the innumerable problems that plagued production -- a wrecked car and accompanying neck injury, a lead actor dropping out, cast members getting cold feet, and greatly diminished access to a key location. Behind the Fangs ends on a sunnier note, delving into the wholly unexpected success of the film, which went on to be distributed worldwide on home video and was picked up for two years by USA Networks. The movie was so successful that the Screen Actors Guild took action against several members of the cast a decade and a half after its release for appearing in a non-union film.
A shot-on-video two-minute teaser from 1981 features an interview with Mark Pirro, punctuating some of his comments with clips from the film. Being the disturbingly large "Weird Al" fan that I am, I'm pretty sure I spotted a sample from "Another One Rides the Bus" when Mark chats about exploiting women. There's also a brief biography of Mark Pirro, followed by a list of his film credits. Rounding out the extras is a full-frame trailer (4:15), but since it makes reference to Nudist Colony of the Dead, not to mention the director's website, it's obviously not vintage.
The disc's static menus are, like the movie itself, not enhanced for widescreen televisions, and there are twenty chapter stops.
Conclusion: Viewers who think they might like a movie called A Polish Vampire in Burbank are probably right. The movie has some good laughs in it, and its release on DVD is about as comprehensive as can possibly be hoped for. I'd opt for a rental if possible, but for fans of Troma's early '80s output, A Polish Vampire in Burbank is Recommended.