• Bible Films Blog

    Looking at film interpretations of the stories in the Bible - past, present and future, as well as current film releases with spiritual significance, and a few bits and pieces on the Bible.

    Tuesday, October 31, 2017

    Jesus Christ, Vampire Hunter


    Inspired by a line from Thriller, and blazing the trail for a series of films such as Abe Lincoln Vampire Hunter and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Lee Demarbre's Jesus Christ, Vampire Hunter (2001) is an ultra-low budget, B-movie style kung-fu horror comedy musical that gained a solid following and Honorable Mention for the Spirit of Slamdance award. Not one for the devout, the film is not so much a biblical adaptation as a pastiche of snippets from the gospels and translated into a modern day, and often bizarre context. It's undoubtedly blasphemous, but, as Ken Eisner put it, "too silly to offend" (2002). Given that the title tells you more or less all you need to know about the film, and that it's not exactly easy to track down, why go out of your way to see it if it sounds like it might offend you?

    Like many low budget cult hits, what might be considered as cheapness or sloppy craftwork are often a deliberate part of the joke. The bad dubbing references low-budget kung-fu movies of years gone by. The grainy 16mm footage also reminds audiences of films from their youth. The over the top story is a hat-tip to Hammer Horror. The bizarreness of the Santos character will probably be lost on those not familiar with the rather niche Mexican Wrestler fighting supernatural creatures sub-genre (real life masked wrestler Santo starred over 50 such films).

    Indeed there are plenty of other references for film fans to enjoy. The opening shot of road dividing lines flashing past the camera a reminder of Detour (1945) and slew of other nourish B-movies and road trip films. Demarbre cites Russ Meyer as the inspiration behind both the opening  narration and for his opening credit, and plainly Meyer's influence saturates the film, winking at every bold move. There's also an early 70s style dance scene feels like a deleted scene from the similarly named Jesus Christ, Superstar (1973) and as if to ward off accusations of all his references being too  low-brow, there's even a musical reference to François Truffaut's 400 Blows (1959). And of course, one of the leading vampires is called Maxine Schreck, tipping the hat towards the original vampire movie - Nosferatu (1922)

    Whilst it's easy to imagine that the film very much began with the title, there are plenty of biblical references to complement the cinematic ones. Of course, the western vampire myth has it's roots in medieval Christianity, so mentions of drinking Jesus' blood almost come full circle. But the plot is, very, very loosely based around the Jesus story and a number of more direct elements remain. Jesus comes to earth and takes on the forces of evil. Along the way he meets a Judas figure and a Mary Magdalene figure (dressed in a shiny red jumpsuit), before facing defeat and death before a sort of resurrection at the climax. The scenes paralleling Mary anointing Jesus' feet, or the Good Samaritan, might not make for a helpful sermon illustration, but it does suggest the filmmakers have looked to incorporate elements of their source material beyond their leading character's name.

    Some have seen deeper connections. Laurel Zwissler has argued that the film "is essentially a Christian text that presents Christ as a hero much as Jesus' first-century followers did" (Beliefnet). Just as they presented Jesus as a "combination of...past heroes" such as Moses, David and Elijah, "Jesus is Bruce Lee, Shaft, and John Travolta all rolled into one" (Beliefnet). Whilst it's worth emphasising that there's more to the film than just its humour, this does perhaps go a little too far.

    Indeed, perhaps all of the above is an overly serious analysis of a film that is essentially very silly (in the best possible way). It's worth remembering that the other key driver of the plot is an evil doctor harvesting the skin of lesbians after he discovers grafting it onto vampires enables them to go out during the day. Not something that might easily be mistaken for striving for rigorous plausibility. Jesus is only able to save the people of Ottawa by teaming up with the masked Mexican wrestler and making a sign of the cross with a pair of windscreen wipers.

    What I can't quite decide is whether my personal disappointment that Jesus loses his stereotypical beard and long hair early in the film - and his first century-style dress shortly afterwards - is justified. It normalises Jesus and makes the rest of the film a further step away from the character's roots. Yet that somehow limits the film's potential to offend and reminds its audience not to take it too seriously. It's also an indication that the filmmakers are not content just to rely on the one gag.

    Indeed, writer Ian Driscoll's script contains a number of smart lines, many of which are easily missed first time around. Not all of them come off, and the second half of the movie drags a little. Nevertheless, Jesus Christ, Vampire Hunter is an entertaing and, I suppose, unforgettable movie which may not greatly advance the light, but may at least enable to laugh a bit more at the darkness.

    ================
    Beliefnet, "The Superhero for All Times" - undated and uncredited. - Available online at
    http://www.beliefnet.com/Entertainment/Movies/2002/12/The-Superhero-For-All-Times.aspx

    Eisner, Ken (2002) "Jesus Christ Vampire Hunter" in Variety 10 May 2002. Available online at
    http://variety.com/2002/film/reviews/jesus-christ-vampire-hunter-1200549749/

    von Hindman, Jared (2007), "I Bang Chicks in the Biblical Sense" at Head Injury Theatre. Available online at
    http://www.headinjurytheater.com/article77.htm

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