Jesus Christ: Vampire Hunter (2001)
There's a crappy little 1970s low-budget horror flick called Satan's Children that I saw once on a Something Weird DVD. I didn't think it substantial enough to merit a review at the time -- the 16mm source was damaged and grainy, and the soundtrack was half a second out of sync much of the time. All told, it was the kind of exploitation flick that somebody finds in their attic and wonders what Uncle Joe was up to in '75. I mention it only because watching Jesus Christ: Vampire Hunter effortlessly took me back to that kind of hacked-together, grindhouse filmmaking, filling the screen with good vibes and guilty pleasures.
The accursed vampire scum of Ontario, Canada have discovered a way to walk in the daylight without singeing an eyebrow, leaving them available to pillage the populace of their precious bodily fluids. Only one man can stand and face this undead plague -- Jesus Christ. Luckily for us, he happens to be down at the beach, drinking lemonade and baptizing the converted. One vamp attack and two dead priests later, big JC is on the job, getting a haircut and cool new duds. With the help of leather-clad mercenary Mary Magnum (Maria Moulton) and Mexican luchadore Santo (Jeff Moffet), the Slayin' Savior will discover the source of the vampire's daywalking powers (the skin of lesbians!) and reaffirm His Love by doing what he does best -- kickin' ass.
Jesus Christ: Vampire Hunter wants laughs -- desperately wants them -- and will go to unholy lengths to get them. Its aim occasionally swings a bit broad (there's a protracted battle with dozens of atheists that results in one or two good physical gags and generally no plot advancement), but it's always at least amusing, if not outright funny ("We're out of skin. I suggest we harvest another lesbian"). Part of this is because the filmmakers rarely stoop to mean humor, and they keep an underlying message of tolerance and love without actually getting preachy. Plus, it has a grand musical number complete with a chorus of the healed and resurrected.
The plot occasionally undercuts its own potential, however. After only a single brawl, Jesus crops his hair and loses the beard. There's some mirth in seeing the classically hippiesque Son of God wearing an earring and jeans, but I feel like the filmmakers lost a great opportunity for fish-out-of-Heaven antics, and the move deemphasizes some of the built-in fun that comes with the title's incongruities.
Director Lee Delambre can't hold a shot, his editing jumps around like a first grader on crank, and his framing screams amateur. I loved it. It lovingly evokes that bad movie, "Something Weird" vibe and does it knowing full well what it looks like, damn the critics. For that extra 1970s touch, Delambre shoots Jesus Christ: Vampire Hunter in 16mm, complete with faded colors, pops, hisses, and scratches. The soundtrack is lovingly unsynched ever-so-slightly. If it weren't for a few contemporary references and a handful of other telltale signs, you'd almost assume this film had been made at the height of the grindhouse era. Toss in a freaky and disturbing narrator who emerges from bushes to talk about the empty house of your soul and you complete the low-budget, exploitation, cheesy-as-hell package.
If there's anything to hold against the film (minus the obvious poor technical craft which I choose to mark as a positive), it's that it just doesn't go far enough. It's rated R, but for what? There's an obviously fake open chest cavity and a few bloody scenes of neck-chomping goodness, but a major studio could've easily gotten this past the MPAA with a PG-13 (mind you, no studio could ever make this). Neither does its content really bother to push any buttons that are going to impress anybody who got past actually popping a film with this title in the DVD player.
Jesus Christ: Vampire Hunter is the kind of film that walks up, shakes hands, and then eats a live goldfish hoping to amuse. Some folks will dig its bad movie charms, others will just see a bad movie. Still others will never see it at all, and they're missing what's a weirdly genial film that just happens to feature the Son of God fighting vampires. Frankly, I don't see why anybody would want to miss that.