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Jesus Christ Vampire Hunter

review by Rob Gonsalves

DIRECTOR
Lee Gordon Demarbre

SCREENWRITER
Ian Driscoll

PRODUCER
Lee Gordon Demarbre

CINEMATOGRAPHER
Lee Gordon Demarbre

MUSIC
Graham Collins

EDITOR
Lee Gordon Demarbre


CAST

Phil Caracas (Jesus H. Christ)
Murielle Varhelyi (Maxine Schreck)
Ian Driscoll (Johnny Golgotha)
Maria Moulton (Mary Magnum)
Josh Grace (Dr. Praetorious)
Tim Devries (Father Eustace)
Jeff Moffet (Santos)


MPAA rating: None
Running time: 85m
Canadian release: June 10, 2001
U.S. release: January 15, 2002
Video availability: DVD
Official website


This is the kind of movie for which beer and pizza were made. Jesus Christ Vampire Hunter boasts an exploitation premise of such purity -- and follows through on it with such a sharp sense of fun -- that it's a ready-made cult movie (and is, incidentally, a lot more entertaining than Buffy the Vampire Slayer has been this season). Lee Gordon Demarbre's film is not trash, but it genuflects to trash -- great trash, I should clarify; the breed of chintzy throwaway pulp many of us have spent too many hours watching on video. It will offend those who are offended by the very title; it will probably thrill those who take one look at the title and immediately want to see the film.

Vampires are daywalkers now, it seems; for reasons I'll allow Ian Driscoll's script to reveal for itself, the vamps are singling out lesbians for bloodsucking. (Why not beefy heterosexual men? Well, then you wouldn't get the Sapphic blood-draining scenes, not to mention a couple of agreeably gratuitous lesbian kissing scenes.) Led by the powerful Johnny Golgotha (Driscoll himself) and Maxine Schreck (Murielle Varhelyi), the vampires are rapidly depleting the lesbian population of Ottawa. Enter Jesus Christ (Phil Caracas), the only man who can thwart the hordes of the undead -- with the love of Christ, of course, but also with the fists and feet of Christ.

With the help of red-latex-clad Mary Magnum (Maria Moulton) and legendary Mexican wrestler El Santo (Jeff Moffat), Jesus readies his stakes and girds himself for battle. And there's a lot of battle. Every ten minutes or so (sometimes even less), we can expect an elaborate kung-fu showdown: Jesus against voracious female vamps, Jesus against a seemingly never-ending parade of atheists, Jesus against a bunch of vampires hanging out in a bar. I was slightly disappointed that Jesus doesn't retain the classic Jesus look throughout; early on, he gets a makeover -- a haircut, shave, ear piercings, sleek new clothes -- partly to blend in better, but also, I think, because a guy with long hair getting in his face and flowing garments impeding his movements isn't going to last long in hand-to-hand.

There are even a couple of musical numbers, which are in the same what-the-hell spirit as everything else in the movie. JCVH is essentially good-hearted -- Demarbre is laughing with his film, not laughing at it in the manner of a cold-blooded hipster inviting you to ridicule junk. A hairy-chested transvestite is brought in for some comedy, but s/he is also the only one who picks a bleeding Jesus up off the street and nurses him back to health. At one point, Johnny Golgotha sneers that lesbians are "deviants"; Jesus counters, in their defense, that any love is good. Phil Caracas plays Jesus seriously, but also as a regular guy with frailties (Jesus gets his ass kicked more often than you'd think). The movie's portrait of Jesus is, in its own retro-exploitation way, reverent. He even heals the mortal wound of a violently deranged human he's just dispatched.

The movie carries no MPAA rating, but I'd judge it a hard PG-13. The gore is obviously fake, the guts are of the farcical mad-lab school, there's no nudity (some will be saddened), and the only real profanity appears as a gag on a T-shirt. The typical line on JCVH is that it's a cheerful throwback to a particular type of '70s drive-in fare; between the out-of-sync dubbing and the scratchy 8mm look, the homage is perfect. Demarbre was right to avoid shooting this on digital video, where it would've looked too much like a lot of direct-to-video crap. It feels wrong, somehow, for this to be on a nice DVD with extras; it needs to be on a grainy videotape with the Vestron Video company animation in front of it. I'd like to persist in the fantasy that this is really a recently unearthed 1977 movie.

Still, we're seeing a growing number of filmmakers paying tribute to the cinematic Big Macs they wolfed down as kids. There's Tarantino, of course, whose every film seems designed to stand alongside the bad-ass '70s stuff he loves, and Kevin Smith's Jay and Silent Bob may as well have been Cheech and Chong for a new generation. Jesus Christ Vampire Hunter falls into the same lovably (and lovingly) disreputable category. It has nothing in particular on its agenda except to have fun and share it. That it hails from Canada, which we Americans have been conditioned to view as the home of pensive art-house directors like Cronenberg and Egoyan, just adds to the fun. Would Cronenberg ever make a movie about a vampire-ass-whupping messiah? No, but Lee Gordon Demarbre would.




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