The dark, seductive allure of the vampire has held great interest for women over the past several decades. From Anne Rice's novels through to the Twilight series, the modern vampire is generally a mysterious man preying on an innocent girl who is unable to resist his advances. In the interest of cashing in on an audience that's stronger than ever (as well as a 2013 remake), Anchor Bay has dredged up Embrace of the Vampire, a 1995 production that catches the eye as a rare example written and directed by several women (Anne Goursaud behind the camera, with Halle Eaton, Nicole Coady, and Rick Bitzelberger penning the script). Too bad that intrigue turns almost immediately to agonizing tedium, as this attempt to mash up a classy period piece with a 20th century college flick is an unmitigated disaster.
Charlotte (Alyssa Milano) is a former Catholic schoolgirl, out in the real world for the first time at college. She's got an understanding boyfriend, Chris (Harold Pruett), who doesn't put any pressure on her to duck under the covers for the first time. Things are going fine until she is plagued by visions of a centuries-old vampire (Martin Kemp), who tries to entice her away from Chris and the mortal world and into eternal sleep with him. She bears a resemblance to the princess he was in love with when he was bitten, and he begins to manipulate her through her dreams in the hopes she'll dismiss her feelings for Chris and give herself over to him before his time on Earth is up in 72 hours.
The single most frustrating part of Embrace of the Vampire is that not a damn thing happens in it. The script fails to clearly establish the way in which the vampire plans on luring Charlotte, leaving the viewer with zero sense of why he's not succeeding, what his abilities are, or what exactly is meant to happen if he succeeds or fails. At one point, he's about to bite into Charlotte's jugular only for the bells on a clock tower to ring, sending him back off into the night. Is there a window of opportunity? Did the ringing somehow break a trance he had her in? Why, if he can simply materialize near her and go to town, does he revert to more psychological tricks on subsequent evenings? There are no answers for any of these questions, nor does the movie appear to think the viewer should care.
Instead, Goursaud focuses attention on obnoxious mean girl drama between Charlotte and Eliza (Jordan Ladd), an especially great example of a useless antagonist without any actual character or purpose in the film beyond working against whatever the protagonist wants. Every time Eliza shows up, it's a painful reminder of how pointlessly aggravating her character is. The film would be better off spending more time developing Charlotte, so that the endless scenes in which she dithers between the vampire and her noble boyfriend actually have some sort of emotional foothold. The same goes for an entirely baffling thread involving a photographer named Sarah (Charlotte Lewis), who becomes more than a background player out of nowhere halfway through the movie, nearly initiates a lesbian sex scene without any developments on Charlotte's part that suggest she'd allow it to happen, then promptly returns to being a nobody.
Honestly, the only reason anyone remembers Embrace of the Vampire nearly 20 years after its release is undoubtedly the numerous softcore sex scenes, which build in cheesy romance novel ludicrousness from a forest lovemaking session (complete with an arrival on horseback and heaving corsets) to two orgy scenes full of arterial spray. For a film that was made by women, the movie seems absolutely primed to play to an audience of teenage boys, favoring skin over story at every turn. A glance at the IMDb page for the new remake suggests it's not much better than this one. It's not just too bad (something about the premise calls out to be done with a little skill), but kind of jaw-dropping: this is already trash cinema at its most bloodless.
Anchor Bay's Blu-Ray of Embrace of the Vampire isn't compelled to mess with tradition, arriving with the same key artwork the film's had since VHS. They've even kept the red banner at the top announcing its unrated status. The disc comes in a standard eco-friendly Blu-Ray case with no insert.
The Video and Audio
Sound is an equally underwhelming Dolby Digital 5.1 TrueHD track. Again, I can believe this uncompressed version of the track does a better job of presenting what's available than the DVD, but that doesn't make what was available all that impressive. To my ears, there's only a little extra clarity here that elevates this track above a SD 5.1 mix, whether that's a bit more bass in thunder, separation in the music and crowd ambience, or richness to the dialogue. Immersiveness is there, just not particularly impressive. English and Spanish subtitles are also provided.
Hoo boy. This 1.85:1 1080p AVC transfer is very weak, clearly identifying itself as a years-old DVD master through its drab, artificial appearance. Nearly every mid-range shot in the movie shows clear signs of sharpening, with garish whites surrounded by halos. Worse, the look of the opening credits suggests a Blu-Ray technician has occasionally crushed these whites in order to minimize the ringing. Colors are drab and uninspiring, and blacks crush in dark scenes. Grain becomes gray noise in any low-light scene (of which there are many), and texture is non-existent in anything that isn't a close-up. Edges are consistently blocky and jagged, further destroying the illusion of detail, and depth is basically non-existent. On top of it all, minor print damage also pokes in from time to time in the form of nicks and specks. I'm sure what information exists in the master is more resolved here than on the 1999 DVD release, but the advantage this provides is almost entirely non-existent. Fans of the film are sure to be disappointed.
Bad movie, bad transfer, okay sound, no extras. Nope. Skip it.
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