DIRECTED BY: Lee Demarbre
FEATURING: Phil Caracas, Maria Moulton, Murielle Varhelyi
PLOT: The Son of God recruits retired Mexican wrestler “Santos” to help him defeat the
vampires who are preying on Ottawa’s lesbian population.
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: It’s defiantly odd, but not consistently funny or entertaining enough to rank among the all-time greats. If you saw any two-minute stretch of JCVH selected at random, you might be convinced that this was a work of camp genius; but string 45 such segments together, and the comedy value runs a little thin. It’s a hard movie to peg: in its own way, given its low budget, its a sort of masterpiece, and at the same time it’s sort of a disaster. I think that if it had offered us one less overlong kung fu battle, and one more song and dance number, it might have had a shot at exalted weirdness. Ultimately, though, just as the tone is more irreverent than blasphemous, the style is more zany than weird, and that should keep it off this particular List.
COMMENTS: Jesus Christ Vampire Hunter is a stew of pop-cinema leftovers, mixing kung fu with horror, Mexican wrestling and even scraps of blaxploitation, all seasoned with a hint of sacrilege. Like all peasant cuisine, it will be comfort food for many, but offend some refined palates—it’s definitely an acquired taste. The technical aspects effectively evoke the feel of late seventies/early eighties exploitation movies, with drab urban cinematography, sound obviously added in post-production, and even a cheesy “waka-waka” funk theme as the heroes cruise down the highway. The action scenes are a problem here: for one thing, there are too many, and they’re too long. They’re just competent enough to remind us that they’re not quite up to snuff; Phil Caracas’ Jesus shows reasonable high-kicking athleticism, but he’s no action hero, and it would have been funnier and more endearing if he’d been clumsier. At any rate, the movie can’t be accused of false advertising. The campy/sacrilegious title scares off the squares and the fundies (though it’s obvious the filmmakers are clearly fans of JC’s philosophy of love and tolerance, if not proponents of his divinity). More to the point, the movie delivers exactly what the title promises: the Prince of Peace staking multiple bloodsuckers through the heart. As if that weren’t strange enough, there are plenty of absurd little low-budget surprises along the way: a crazed, shaggy narrator who jumps out from hedges and spouts Bible verses; punk monks; a martial arts melee between J.C. and a gang of atheists; a talking cherry sundae; a fat masked wrestler with his own theme music. There’s even a musical number, which is decently choreographed and librettoed (“C’mon now gentlemen, c’mon now ladies/We’ll kick these vampires straight back to Hades!)” Still, with all that deliberate jokey absurdity inserted into the movie, it’s the idiosyncratic oddities that catch the mind’s eye. For one thing, there’s the movie’s obsession with lesbians—not fetishized lipstick lesbians, but unglamorous, butch tattooed lesbians. In the movie’s view, they represent the dispossessed—Jesus’ kind of people—the modern day equivalent of the New Testament’s tax collectors and harlots. At one point, the Virgin Mary, speaking through a night light, tells us that God loves lesbians because “they get so much done in a day!” Then there’s the minor character named Gloria Oddbottom (possibly the only heterosexual woman in the film). She’s equipped with a huge prosthetic bottom, and every man she passes gives it a squeeze; she has no other function than to serve as a bizarre running joke. But possibly the weirdest thing about Jesus Christ Vampire Hunter is the fact that the messiah’s first act in anticipation of his grand apocalyptic battle with hordes of sapphic nosferatu is to tool into Ottawa on his wimpy blue motor scooter and go and get a shave and a haircut. Through the rest of the movie Christ sports close-cropped hair and a pair of earrings, and he even dumps his iconic white robes for a nondescript navy blue t-shirt. No explanation is ever offered for this un-Christlike behavior; it’s one of those unconsciously weird touches that turns the film into something a little odder than your typical revered-religious-icon-battling-the-undead comedy.
Actually, I have an explanation to offer for Jesus’ mysterious haircut. If you watch Caracas’ pre-shearing scuffle with the lesbo vamps, you’ll see that his long wig is constantly blowing across his face, making it difficult to execute his stunts. The scene probably required multiple takes because of follicle-induced visibility issues, and a directorial decision was made to lose the flowing locks for subsequent tussles. Jesus’ new, hip look is therefore more the result of practical considerations rather than aesthetics. I consider the above theory to be my foremost contribution to the massive body of Jesus Christ Vampire Hunter scholarship.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“…a chopsocky, zero-budget masterpiece that has ‘cult classic’ written all over it in big, bloody letters.”–Adam Nayman, EyeWeekly.com (contemporaneous)
(This movie was nominated for review by “Funakdelic,” who added, “fair warning, though it’s weird, J.C. Vampire Hunter really is BAD.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)