1998, R, 120 min. Directed by Stephen Norrington. Starring Wesley Snipes, Kris Kristofferson, Traci Lords, Arly Jover, Udo Kier, Donal Logue, N'Bushe Wright, Stephen Dorff.

REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Aug. 21, 1998

It's so nice to see Udo Kier back in fangs. Trash cinema aficionados will remember Kier as the star of Paul Morrissey's Andy Warhol's Dracula way back when, and although the actor isn't on the prowl for “wirgins” this time out, it's still a vast relief to know that someone knows how to hiss properly these days. Based on Marv Wolfman's Marvel comic of the same name, Snipes plays Blade, a half-human, half-vampire “daywalker” with a Corleone-esque vendetta against the hidden vampiric forces of the world who caused his genetically bifurcated lot when they savaged his pregnant mother as he was dozing in utero. Consequently, Blade is able to move about in direct sunlight, and has paired himself with silversmith/weapons manufacturer Abraham Whistler (Kristofferson, as a ham on wry) in his battle against the undead. Specifically, Blade is out to get the renegade bloodsucker Deacon Frost, a young upstart originally “turned” by Kier's Dragonetti who now feels it's time for fresh blood to take over the vampiric. In Blade's world, the cities are practically owned by the children of the night, who maintain fierce, proprietary ties within the business and political arenas of the living. “They're our food!” cries Frost at one point, and he has a point. Why the undead would prefer to remain in the shadows when they could just as easily, it seems, rule the world is one of the film's more mysterious aspects, but such minor quibbles are quashed in a hail of silver bullets, lavishly staged set-pieces of gore, and Blade's much-admired Bushido pig-sticker. In the midst of this little war, Blade rescues bitten hematologist Karen (Wright) and a grudging respect blossoms between the two: she tries to cure him, while he tries to keep her alive. That takes a firm back seat to the ultra-mayhem onscreen, some of which is mightily impressive for a film adapted from something Stan Lee once had his hands on. (As publisher of Marvel Comics, Lee's cinematic track record has remained cursed up 'til now.) Cinematically, Blade falls somewhere between Judge Dredd and The Crow, though it's really closer to Tank Girl in terms of devotion to its source material. Not quite the blaxploitation of Blacula (though early scenes of Wright's tussle with a charred, animated corpse do recall that earlier film, especially in the blue-gray palette and dull lighting), Blade instead opts for what might be called a more millennial approach to vampirism. Blade's city seems awfully quiet, pale, washed-out. Speeded-up footage tracks the sunup/sundown progress of the dead amongst the living, while roiling cloud banks flare overhead. In its own small way, Blade is quite a success: Snipes is well-cast, and the script is thankfully free of tough-guy quippery. Interview With the Vampire it's not, but marginally thrilling nonetheless, and besides, any film that features a house party in which the ceiling-mounted fire extinguishers expel freshets of crimson goo in place of H2O gets my vote.

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Blade, Stephen Norrington, Wesley Snipes, Kris Kristofferson, Traci Lords, Arly Jover, Udo Kier, Donal Logue, N'Bushe Wright, Stephen Dorff

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