It takes little more than a few seconds after the passing of the Anchor Bay trail for you to realise that this is going to be a less than serious telling of the vampire story. Where vampire films have a tradition of favouring sombre, funereal music - Blade excluded, of course - Revenant opens to the light, jaunty sound of a big band, suited more to Doris Day than Dracula. Not that it lasts long and not in a film that owes more to I'm Gonna Git You Sucka than Nosferatu but just for a moment, Revenant is almost a sitcom peopled by the undead, featuring Terry, June and Vlad The Impaler, when a nasty incident with garlic in the punchbowl leads to a sticky situation when the vicar arrives...
Revenant stars Rod Steiger as van Helsing, the famous vampire hunter, who arrives in Los Angeles in search of the vampire, Dallas (van Dien) that turned his son many years before, believing him to be in the city. What van Helsing doesn't know, however, is that Count Dracula (Robert Pastorelli) is also alive...er, undead in the city and that the count has sworn to kill a young vampire, Nico (Gregson Wagner) who's running wild. Armed with garlic, stakes and a crucifix, as well as the heavy weaponry provided by four members of the Crips, van Helsing sets out to destroy the count whilst his partners look only to put a cap in the ass of some bloodsuckers, sink a 40oz and smoke a fat spliff by sunrise.
Given that description, it's not hard to see that Revenant is going to err on the comedy side of comedy/horror but it tries to pack in so much in a brisk ninety-minute running time that it's largely a hit-and-miss affair, with much of the humour failing to land. The crux of the film is largely in the contrast between the uncivilised L.A. gang members, the nasty and bigoted van Helsing and the cultured vampires, who makeover Gregson Wagner's Nico à la Pretty Woman. Indeed, much of the humour in the film is in the contrast between the racist van Helsing - the film occasionally mentions his time spent working in Nazi concentration camps - and the black members of the Crips that assist him and, again, between Craig Ferguson's posh art gallery owner/vampire/proper toff and Count Dracula's cockney henchman but unless hearing Ferguson drop his Scottish accent in favour of hearing him say, "Tewwibly wude...but would you mind if I wipped your fucking head off", there really isn't much to get awfully excited about. The use of gang culture should have provided many more opportunities for comedy in the script, as it did in CB4 and Fear Of A Black Hat, but there's simply nothing to laugh at nor, beyond a comedy gang rape in which four gang members are turned to vampirism in the manner of catching gonorrhea, which leads, somewhat obviously, to the joke, "I'm gonna bite somebody in tha ass", is there much to be shocked at either. Of course, the very phrase, "comedy gang rape", not to mention the topless scenes from Gregson Wagner, says much about the audience for this film.
Gregson Wagner is an attractive lead but is blank-faced, much like her co-star, van Dien, but neither of them gets to the heart of their characters. I've long suspected that van Dien never quite realised that Starship Troopers was a satire on fascism and, again, it doesn't really look as though he sees Revenant as a comedy. Where the film throws up naturally funny situations, the script tumbles over them and where the last third of the film could have been a spiraling mix of Blacula, Van Helsing and From Dusk Till Dawn, with much bloodletting and comedy, it comes over no better than the kind of eye-wateringly bad films that Bravo schedules in between sub-Eurotrash pornography and reality shows featuring car crashes, retired criminals and grown men who wear babygrows.
There is much besides the casting of van Dien that faults the film - Steiger is an embarrassingly hammy presence as van Helsing, a visit by Nico to her white-trash parents that can only have looked good in initial script meetings - but it's the low-rent, cheap vampires that hurt Revenant most. Made at the same time as Blade, which offered a glimpse of the power held by vampires at the top of global corporations, Revenant has its vampires slumming it in warehouses and factory buildings. Nothing here is as impressive as the blood party in Blade's opening minutes and not even the presence of Count Dracula can lift the film beyond looking like an amateur effort.
Transferred in 1.33:1, which would appear to be the film's original aspect ratio - corrections please in the comments below if this is incorrect - Revenant looks rather murky given its limited budget. Given that it looks to have been shot as and when, with little time spent on preparing each scene, it's not an impressive picture and neither is the soundtrack, which is 2.0 stereo by default, with optional Dolby Digital 5.1 or DTS.
Whilst missing a documentary and a commentary, Anchor Bay have done their usual thorough job on extras although they do lack imagination on this release:
Trailer (2m21s): Much as you'd expect, this plays up the humour in the film with only brief glimpses of horror.
Photo Gallery: Thirty-seven still images from the film are included in this bonus feature, which can either be viewed as a slide show or flicked through using the Chapter Next/Previous buttons.
Film Notes: Twelve pages of text are available here, only four of which talk about Revenant with the rest given over to explaining the history of the vampire through literature and films.
Biographies: Regardless of whether or not you wanted it, Anchor Bay have provided biographies on Casper van Dien (7x Pages), Kim Cattrall (5x), Natasha Gregson Wagner (5x), Rod Steiger (6x), Udo Kier (6x) and Richard Elfman (4x).
Revenant is the kind of film in which, being as messy, fragmented and hopelessly amateurish as it is, you're never quite sure if a good idea is really that or is, instead, something that, by accident, has made it into the film. Is the use of the Crips in the film - indicated by their use of blue - a comment on the opposing gang in Los Angeles being the Bloods and, thereby, illustrating one gang being on the employ of the vampire-hunters, whilst the other enjoys the backing of Dracula? Or did the actors playing the gang members just show up on set wearing blue those days?
Were the extras aware that a film was being made whilst they strolled past the actors or were such moments caught on the hop in L.A.? Was it necessary to show so many podgy actors in bondage gear and is the good-looking-but-dim van Dien now convinced that vampires exist, little realising that it was a film that he was starring in and not some freaky reality that he staggered into? So many questions and not an extra to answer them all.
Revenant is not a great, nor even a good, vampire film. It all-too-clearly takes its cue from Fright Night but remakes that film for those who struggled with its depth, its wordplay and its complex themes of isolation, fear and vampirism. Playing to a crowd that will move their lips and point at the screen when reading the subtitles in the exchanges between Dracula and van Helsing, this is a cheap little movie that shows its lack of ambition in almost every scene - not good, not even funny and not worth owning since you can have Blade.