Big-chinned maverick ‘80s cop Chuck Steel (voiced by writer-director Michael Mort) made his debut in a long-ish claymation short, Chuck Steel: Raging Balls of Steel Vengeance (2013), which got in early on the current boom for ‘80s VHS nostalgia in its riffs on Code of Silence, Cobra, Tango & Cash, Shakedown, and a whole era of films about cop or with cop in the title. Now here’s a feature sequel, in which Steel’s uptight black boss Captain Jack Schitt (Mort again) tells him ’it’s not 1985 anymore, it’s 1986!’ and he has to get back in action when the city is threatened by a wave of trampires – alcoholic derelict vampires who prey on the drunk and can only be killed by a stake through the liver (or, this being claymation splatter movie, dismemberment).
Though Chuck runs through a string of partners in a joke on Dirty Harry’s similar ill-luck – a rookie cop, a Swedish exchange student, a monkey and a cheeseplant all become casualties – he mostly relies on Professor Abraham Van Rental (Mort yet again), a moustached Peter Cushing type expert, for exposition. Could the new curvy police therapist Dr Alexis Cular (Jennifer Saunders, giving Mort a break) have anything to do with the plague of creatures. Van Rental admits that in America they should be called bumpires, but that doesn’t sound as good. NB: there was a 1987 porn movie called Trampire, in which the vampire slayer was called Dr Van Vellhung, so be thankful for a level of with that produces Dr A Cular and Professor Van Rental. To give the film enough plot to reach feature level, we also get Chuck showing his emotional side by sobbing over a wife lost in a prologue, a sub-plot about clowns and an anti-alcohol governor (Dan Russell) Chuck thinks is a lizard from outer space — guess where this is going? Mort and his team do an astonishing job of realising the setting and characters, easily on a par with any Aardman animation – though the film is consistently let down by a script which buries its few good jokes in a ton of groaner or grossout gags. A running routine about Jack Schitt becoming a transvestite would have been strained even in 1986 and plays excruciatingly now.
For all its ingenuity, it becomes monotonous – the short pretty much stretched the Chuck Steel character as far as he would go, and a few attempts at giving him something approaching depth in the feature don’t really pan out. The steroided cop genre started laughing at itself early in the cycle, with the relatively joky Lethal Weapon films – and, in fact, 1986 saw the debut of the two-season sit-com Sledge Hammer which presented a tough ‘80s cop parody who was funnier and better company than poor plasticine Chuck. Night of the Trampires is a step up from the puzzling British puppet animation parody Jackboots on Whitehall, but will make you miss the relative sophistication of the not-exactly-short-on-puke-and-poo-jokes Team America World Police. Paul Whitehouse does a few voices – and could probably have done more.