A lot of great horror movies hit theatres in the 1990’s. But horror was also a genre in transition in the decade of flannel and grunge. Slashers, which had dominated the 1980s, had fallen out of style. Major horror franchises – including Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street – were pretty stagnant for most the 90s. And big-name horror directors weren’t enjoying the same consistent success. Wes Craven bombed with Vampire in Brooklyn. And John Carpenter missed with Village of the Damned and Escape From LA. After a string of hits in the 70s and 80s, John Landis also landed on hard times. Since he mixed horror and comedy so well in An American Werewolf in London, Landis re-visited the formula with Innocent Blood, a vampire and wiseguys mashup. Neither critics nor audiences were impressed.
Marie, a vampire hiding in Pittsburgh, refuses to feed on the innocent to sustain herself. Instead, she finds her prey amongst the city’s criminal underworld. But when Marie ‘has dinner’ with mob boss Salvatore “Sal the Shark” Macelli, she fails to finish him off. Now Sal is a vampire with ambitions of turning his crime syndicate into a blood-sucking undead army. In over her head, Marie teams with an undercover cop to put an end to Sal’s reign of terror before it ever starts.
Innocent Blood Tries to Be Many Things, But Fails At Doing Any of Them Very Well
When he made An American Werewolf in London, Landis did so many things right. Immediately, his classic movie mixed dark humor and genuine horror with affectionate homage to werewolf movies past. In contrast, it’s not really clear what Landis intended with Innocent Blood. Once again Landis tips his hat to classic vampire movies with Bela Lugosi and Hammer’s Horror of Dracula playing on background televisions. Too bad Innocent Blood never taps into what made those movies so good. In fact, Innocent Blood rarely feels like much of a horror movie despite some occasional throat ripping. Don’t expect to find anything in the way of atmosphere or scares. Landis also makes little effort to present a clear vampire mythology.
In contrast, it’s not really clear what Landis intended with Innocent Blood.
Perhaps Landis was aiming more for dark comedy this time around. With its horror elements muted, Innocent Blood leans into its hybrid of gangster tropes and humor. Unfortunately, Landis struggles to find a consistent tone in Innocent Blood. Things lurch awkwardly from attempts at satire to more goofball jokes. One scene feels ripped from Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein. It doesn’t help that most of the movie’s humor falls flat. Throw in some sex and nudity alongside an unnecessary romance between vampire and cop, and Innocent Blood is something of a dog’s breakfast. And at nearly two hours, Landis’ vampire comedy feels unforgivingly long with lots of drag.
Innocent Blood Can’t Quite Drain the Life Out of an Impressive Cast
Even if Landis went into Innocent Blood on a bit of a losing streak, he could still attract quite a cast of familiar faces. In the 1980s and 1990s, Robert Loggia appeared in just about everything. And he’s the best part of the movie. Loggia’s clearly having a blast in the role with some pretty impressive scene-chewing that reminds audiences that the movie is supposed to be fun. Our vampire and undercover cop, played by French start Anna Parillaud (La Femme Nikita) and Anthony LaPaglia (Annabelle: Creation), do an admirable job in their respective roles. What’s disappointing is the way in which Innocent Blood often sidelines Parillaud’s ‘Marie’ in favour of LaPaglia’s ‘Detective Gennaro’. Something feels amiss about the vampire playing ‘damsel in distress’ by the movie’s climax.
Loggia’s clearly having a blast in the role with some pretty impressive scene-chewing that reminds audiences that the movie is supposed to fun.
A host of recognizable character actors are also along for the ride in Innocent Blood. Luis Guzman (Traffic), David Proval (The Sopranos), Kim Coates (Sons of Anarchy), and Chazz Palminteri (The Usual Suspects) round out a stacked cast in supporting roles. Though she has limited screentime, Oscar-nominated actress Angela Bassett (What’s Love Got to Do With It) turns up, too. And if you’re a certain age, you’ll undoubtedly recognize comedian Don Rickles who nabs the movie’s best vampire moment. Not surprisingly, Innocent Blood continues a John Landis tradition of including inspired cameos. Among the notable brief appearances, Dario Argento, Sam Raimi, Tom Savini, Frank Oz, and Scream Queen Linnea Quigley all pop up.
Innocent Blood Probably Best Left in a Dollar Bin Casket
Ultimately, Innocent Blood is a lot of different things. It represents a continued slide in the quality of John Landis’ work. On one hand, it’s a horror movie lacking much in the way of horror, while also being a mostly unfunny dark comedy awkwardly mixed with wiseguys. One thing the movie excels at is representing that time period in the early 1990s when horror was struggling to find its identity. For better or worse, this absolutely feels like a horror-comedy released in 1992. Young horror fans won’t find much to like about Innocent Blood. In fact, only avid horror fans who are collectors and completists will likely enjoy this forgotten Landis movie.