The makers of Slamdance victors Harry Knuckles and the Treasure of the Aztec Mummy are back with a cautionary tale involving Jesus, lesbians, vampires, Mexican wrestling, Kung Fu, and God knows what else I missed because the smile on my face was so huge, I couldn't see over my cheekbones. We're talking about a film whose tagline is "The power of Christ impales you," so religious nuts, consider yourself warned: Jesus Christ, Vampire Hunter (screens Saturday, August 30, at the Dryden) will offend the pants right off of you.
Hunter, which was shot on 16mm stock to (presumably) make it look more like a campy '70s exploitation flick, takes place in Ottawa, a city plagued by a problematic shortage of lesbians. Suspecting foul play (read: vampires), Father Eustace (Tim Devries) heads down to the shores of the St. Lawrence to get some help from Jesus H. Christ (Phil Caracas), who emerges from the water clutching a pitcher of refreshing lemonade like the Kool-Aid Kid. "Lemonade?" he offers. "Will there be enough?" Eustace's sidekick wonders. "Oh, there will be plenty," Jesus assures him, reminding us of that deal with the loaves and fishes.
This is the kind of humor to expect from Hunter. And a few seconds later, you'll understand the film's action quotient when a trio of lady vamps, led by the hysterically named Maxine Shreck (Murielle Varhelyi), kick Jesus in the nuts and toss sand in his face. What kind of way is that to treat Our Savior? And what, pray tell, is the Big JC doing wasting his time helping Canadians? You know it's on after that.
After getting a fashionable haircut and some ear piercings (who knew he had such a pronounced widow's peak?), Jesus teams up with devout follower Mary Magnum (Maria Moulton) and discovers a horrible underground secret. It seems that local lesbians are being snatched up and brought to the lair of Johnny Golgotha (writer Ian Driscoll), who grafts their skin onto his vampire pals so they'll be able to walk around in the daylight.
Once in a while, characters break out in song, making Hunter some kind of twisted concoction of Godspell, Jesus Christ Superstar, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Jesus croons, "I was born in a manger/Doomed to live in danger," and we cheer when he does it --- we really can't help it.
Jesus's adventures, which feature surprisingly original action sequences, involve a battle with a clown car full of atheists ("Let the conversion begin!"); God appearing in a bowl of ice cream to nag Jesus to call his mother once in a while; and, eventually, an appearance by Jesus's longtime crony, Mexican wrestler El Santo, who I think might have been played by Harvey Weinstein. Scenes are separated by a spinning crucifix, à la the Batman logo from the equally campy '60s television series. And the sound --- oh, Lord, the sound --- has all been (purposely, I hope) redubbed to look like a bad Godzilla knockoff.
While Caracas makes a fine Jesus, Hunter is nearly hijacked by Moulton's Mary Magnum. She looks like Diana Rigg reimagined by Russ Meyer, and the shiny red spandex they pour her into brought back fond (yet sometimes painful) memories of Italian actress Ornella Muti working a similar outfit in the Sam J. Jones-Max von Sydow version of Flash Gordon (she was Ming's bitchy daughter).
Cram Wet Hot American Summer and But I'm a Cheerleader into a musty cabin for a few weeks, hire Stephen Sondheim as a counselor, and you get Camp (opens Friday, August 29, at the Little), a sometimes witty but unnecessarily long comedy that does for musicals and the people who love them what Best In Show did for dog fanatics. (Note: The author of this review is a straight male who likes musicals about as much as he likes Kate Hudson films, and knows as much about them as he does rocket science, so a lot of humor may have flown right over his dumb hetero head.)
Camp is set in Upstate New York's Camp Ovation, which is the place to go if you're young and fantasize about Broadway stardom. In other words, it's a place where the sports counselor is incredibly bored, if you catch my drift. The story follows a very familiar trajectory despite focusing on a half-dozen characters. There's New Hot Straight Boy (Daniel Letterle) who can't choose between Ugly Duckling Fag Hag (Joanna Chilcoat) and Slutty Blonde (Alana Allen) With Parker Posey Lite Sidekick (Anna Kendrick). There's also Cross-Dressing Justin Guarini Clone With Bad Skin (Robin de Jesus) and Fat Girl With Jaw Wired Shut (Tiffany Taylor), who are each looking to earn respect from their parents. And there's Washed-Up Drunk Slash One-Hit Wonder Turned Reluctant Leader of Ragtag Kids (Don Dixon), who constantly lives in the shadow of his former glory.
Writer-director Todd Graff, who used to be a counselor at a similar camp, fills his cast with talented novices, which makes Camp seem like Fame for a new generation. But I don't mean that in a good way. Graff also pads his running time with a lot (about 20 minutes) of stuff that just doesn't need to be in there. Again, the humor and your ability to appreciate it will be based on your expertise in the field of musicals... or the enjoyment you might derive from watching Fame.
Interested in raw, unsanitized movie ramblings from Jon? Visit his site, Planet Sick-Boy (www.sick-boy.com), or listen to him on WBER's Friday Morning Show.