Cinema/TV, Dracula, Film Notes

Film review – Graveyard Shift (1986)/The Understudy: Graveyard Shift II (1988)

My notes on Graveyard Shift (1986)/The Understudy: Graveyard Shift II (1988)

Your Daily Dracula – Silvio Oliviero as ‘Stephen Tsepes’, Graveyard Shift (1986)

There’s an EC horror comic story – with Jack Davis art – about a vampire with an ideal job as an all-night taxi driver, ‘Fare Tonight, Followed by Increasing Clottyness’ (Tales From the Crypt # 36, 1953).  The protagonist of that uses the trunk of his cab as a coffin.  I suspect this Canadian movie is more influenced by Martin Scorsese than that, though the premise is similar – it’s a surprise writer-director Gerard Ciccoritti didn’t go further and give Stephen Tsepes (Silvio Oliviero) a Travis Bickle-like voice over.

350‑year‑old Tsepes cruises a neon‑lit city (played by Toronto) to the sound of pulsing rock music, preying on the suicidal and the wicked.  He seems to need blood to prevent his hair going grey.  When he wants to settle down with Michelle (Helen Papas), a terminally ill director of music promos, he excites the wrath of his coven‑like harem of previous victims – and Michelle’s husband (Cliff Stoker).  Tsepes reclines nude in his coffin as if it were a bath or struts into a party with a coat-collar turned up like a Dracula cape, and Ciccoritti effectively plays around with vampire fetishism – an early, telling image is a drop of blood trickling down the seam of a fishnet stocking.

It has witty touches, like the final confrontation on the cardboard set of a mock gothic rock video, but was unfashionably serious about its subject in an era when vampire movies tended to be self-parodic (cf: Vamp, The Lost Boys).  After the release of the 1990 Stephen King giant rat movie of the same title, this tended to knock about on homevideo as Central Park Drifter or Central Park Driver.

Your Daily Dracula – Silvio Oliviero as ‘Baisez’, The Understudy Graveyard Shift II

This isn’t strictly a sequel to writer-director Jerry Ciccoritti’s Graveyard Shift, since it brings back the star of the earlier movie as a new character – technically, as two characters: it’s also a weirdly meta piece set around the production of Blood Lover, a low-budget movie about a vampire pool hustler, and Baisez (Silvio Oliviero) – a more ruthless, less romantic piece of work than Stephen Tsepes from the first film (his new hairdo makes him an Abel Ferrara lookalike) – murders the star in order to take over the role of the vampire Apache.

In a complex, not-exactly clear set-up, Baisez appears to leading lady Camilla Turner (Wendy Gazelle) in erotic dreams but as a phantom … he needs to take over her body at nightfall (transforming from a woman into a guy) in order to appear in the film, which means all their scenes together have to be shot with body doubles and in day or night shoots then edited together by Camilla’s understandably ticked-off boyfriend (Mark Soper).  Ciccoritti casts several actors from the first film in new roles – Leslie Kelly, who was a cop turned vampire in Graveyard Shift, is here the director who gets enslaved so the villain can work out whatever issues he has with his hard-to-parse scheme.

Graveyard Shift was heavy on neon, smoke, backlighting and sax-scored sex – this prowls around the city less, mostly taking place on a film set representing a graveyard-themed pool hall, but still goes for a top-shelf video feel.  The fact that it doesn’t quite hang together – we get more of an idea what’s going on in Blood Lover than in the main film – gives it an unsettling, eerie, shiftless quality that’s oddly fascinating.


No comments yet.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: