Written and Directed by: Hans Rodionoff
Starring: Yan Birch, Alex Erkiletian, and Monica Baber
Reviewed by: Brett G.
When trudging through the horror genre, one is bound to find films that end up surprising you for better or worse. Sucker: The Vampire represents one of the former for me. Like its "Troma Triple B-Header" brethren, Tainted, Sucker is a much different film than what you would expect from its marketing and reputation. Of course, whenever someone thinks of any movie associated with Troma, one expects grade-z cheese and schlock; however, like Tainted, Sucker proves that Troma has more to offer. Whereas the former was merely distributed by the kings of Reel Independence, the latter actually boasts Troma legends Lloyd Kaufman and Michael Herz as executive producers.
Also like Tainted, the film is nothing like what the Troma DVD plot synopsis suggests, as the film describes Anthony as a "modern bloodsucker who uses his popular rock band as a front to lure, beautiful, young groupies to his lair." While this isn't exactly misleading, this really only comprises the film's first 30 minutes. Furthermore, Anthony isn't even the film's main character; that distinction belongs to Anthony's lackey, Reed Buccholz, a daytime nurse who disposes the dead bodies of Anthony's victims at the hospital morgue everyday (but not before having sex and photographing it first). Meanwhile, Vanessa Helsing (a descendant of the legendary vampire hunter) is picking off Anthony's band members. Once she finally makes it to the lead singer himself, she stops him not with a stake through the heart, but by allowing him to suck her AIDS-infected blood, which radically alters Anthony's once-immortal life.
Okay, so with all the necrophilia and the outlandish AIDS plot device, I admit that this probably does sound like standard Troma material. However, believe it or not, this is also one of those Troma films that has a bit of a heart and emotional center underneath it all. Furthermore, the film never really feels like it's trying to be campy or too over the top. Reed himself is presented as a bumbling doofus complete with corny sound affects accompanying his every move, but he somehow becomes a sympathetic character throughout the course of the film (despite his penchant for screwing dead bodies). Likewise, Anthony starts out as the film's villain, but he soon also becomes a sympathetic character in his own right, as he soon becomes the victim to Lenore, a mysterious vampiress who takes pleasure in the fact that Anthony will slowly whither away.
Going into the film, I was obviously expecting something more in the vein of The Lost Boys, with cool, rock-star vampires preying on nubile young groupies (it is interesting to note that Rodionoff did write the screenplay for Lost Boys: The Tribe). While the film did satisfy this a bit, I never would have expected it to become more of a character drama, as the relationship between Reed and Anthony really takes center stage in the film's second half. This actually leads to some rather touching moments between the two, which gives the film a strange feel overall because it's laced with over-the-top humor, yet remains somewhat serious as well. This doesn't mean the film is uneven, however, because the humor is appropriate for the most part, though Reed's cartoonish antics do somewhat undermine some of the more serious scenes.
From a direction standpoint, the film is pretty solid. It's not flashy by any means, but it is nicely shot. The film does betray its independent roots by looking pretty cheap, but everything looks competent enough. Like many independent features, acting is a weak point, but it doesn't sink the film, and I think Alex Erkiletian turns in a very solid performance as Reed. As a horror film, there's really not much gore to be found, a few groupies are dispatched early in the film. There are a few supernatural and atmospheric sequences to be found, but it's nothing spectacular. The vampire elements aren't really anything new, though the idea of a vampire contracting AIDS and essentially whithering away is something interesting, I suppose. The relationship between Anthony and Reed is an interesting turn, as the genre has featured vampires having human lackeys ever since Dracula had Renfield. Horror fans will also appreciate a scene featuring masks and busts of various horror characters, including Predator and Pumpkinhead.
So, Sucker is interesting, to say the least. I can't claim that it's anything groundbreaking, but it certainly is much better than you might expect. Both strangely over-the-top and emotionally-centered at the same time, Sucker is worth the trip to Tromaville. It's available as a stand-alone disc from Troma, but you can also find it on the "Troma Triple B-Header Tainted Vampires" collection along with Tainted and Rockabilly Vampire. As an extra, there's a pretty funny introduction by Lloyd Kaufman and Troma superstar Debbie Rochon, who make about 5 puns on the word "taint" in 2 minutes. Lloyd also tells us that the miracle of V3 technology has allowed us to see all three films on one disc; of course, the only miracle involved is the requisite use of low-quality transfers that are par for the course for Troma. It's certainly watchable, but it's only marginally better than VHS. The film's soundtrack is quite crisp and clear, however, which is good considering how dialogue-driven it is. Considering you can get this collection for less than $10 in most places, it's certainly quite a bargain. Buy it!
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