Tales from the Crypt Presents: Bordello of Blood
Review by Mike Finkelstein
The Tales from the Crypt franchise followed a rather strange and interesting path. Based on the EC Comics franchise from the 1950s, with a number of works telling tales of comic book terror, the show pulls these stories (and many others) together to create an anthology series to terrify and delight. It aired a total of 93 episodes on HBO, but it also saw the show's lead "star", the puppet called the "Cryptkeeper", enter into the main stream. There was a kid's spin-off, Tales from the Cryptkeeper, featuring animated tales of (mild) horror, a game show for kids, and then another adult-oriented sci-fi series (none of which lasted nearly as long as the main series).
Along the way, Hollywood studios started sniffing around. If the show was popular enough to go seven seasons and produce three spin-offs, why not also a series of movies? Tales from the Crypt Presents: Demon Knight came first and gave audiences some low-budget charms. It pulled in a respectable $21 Mil against a $12 Mil budget, showing there was some life in these old bones. That encouraged Universal to continue with a set, three-picture deal for the franchise, leading to the release of Tales from the Crypt Presents: Bordello of Blood. Despite having a winning title, a smaller budget, and lots of titillating vampires, audiences were far less enamored with this vampire-riffic sequel than Demon Knight. That pretty well killed the filmic franchise right there, condemning the last film, Ritual, to foreign release. On video. Never to be acknowledged again.
On it's own, though, It's hard to really hate Bordello of Blood. I'd actually go so far as to say that the least interesting part of this film are the Cryptkeeper segments at the start and the end. These feel tacked on, more so than even in the normal episodes, and you gave to wonder if this film would have done better if it had just stood on its own. It's goofy, and dumb, and does appeal to the more prurient minded vampire fans, but then it is called "Bordello of Blood". If you're going to the theater looking for everything that title promises, this film delivers. That might have been a small segment of the audience but it still did manage to come through on its promises, goofy as that is.
The film focuses on Rafe Guttman (Dennis Miller), a private investigator hired by Katherine Verdoux (Erika Eleniak) to find her missing brother, Caleb (Corey Feldman). Days earlier Katherine got into a fight with her brother (who also lives with her), he stormed out to hang with his friends, and then never returned. The police, already overloaded with missing persons cases, just throw Caleb's onto the ever-growing pile, likely never to be addressed. Thankfully sleazy hack Guttman is there and gets Katherine to hire him.
Tracking down Caleb's friends, Rafe learns that Caleb and a buddy went off to a super-secret whore house they'd heard about (from a creepy dude at a bar). That house of ill repute is hidden away in a mortuary, but once Rafe gets access he finds a pleasure den filled with mostly-naked women. Fast talking his way back out, Guttman takes the news back to Katherine, who immediately says "case closed", not wanting to know anything more about the matter (as she's a good, Christian woman working for a good, Christian church, and houses of sin are not her cup of tea). Guttman, though, stays on the case, with the gut feeling (or Guttfeeling) there's more to find out. And he's right, because the bordello is filled with vampires, and the strongest of them all, Lilith (Angie Everhart), is leading the coven.
The Tales from the Crypt episodes were known for a few easy talking points: horror, comedy, and titillation. Airing on HBO in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the show could benefit from a general Laissez-faire attitude towards content. Sex and gore and horror and comedy all got mixed up together to create a potent little series. Anyone coming to a "Tales from the Crypt" presentation, then, must have known what they were getting into. Maybe they did, and that's why audiences stayed away, but certainly the film does deliver on everything you'd expect from the series. It has a bordello, it has blood, and it has everything in between.
Now, in fairness, the film really isn't scary at all. It's a horror comedy that leans hard on the comedy aspect, in large part because it's lead hero, Rafe Guttman, is played by Dennis Miller. Whether the film could have been more serious and more scary is debatable, but when you had Miller there, being Dennis Miller, not giving much of a shit and throwing off his usual one-liners, the film was never going to be able to muster a true horror vibe. Hell, it doesn't even really bother, instead leaning hard on the idea of Miller's comedy, plus lots of boobs, would put butts in seats. It didn't, but you have to respect the math.
The movie is cheesy, there's no mistaking that. It only cost $2.5 Mil to make and, for better and worse, it looks on screen like it cost no more than $2.5 Mil to produce. It's a horror cheapie of the highest order. The effects are at times shoddy, the acting (outside of Miller and Eleniak) is questionable, and the film has to keep everything to just a couple of sets so as to keep the budget down. This film was never going to win any quality awards. Hell, the fact that it managed to claw back $5 Mil at the Box Office is a testament to the fact that vampire babes plus comedy can equal some amount of success. Maybe with a better budget the film could have been something.
But it's hard to hate the film because it does try. It has a delightfully goofy premise that blends well with the over-the-top horror comedy. The last act especially reminds me of From Dusk Till Dawn (also from 1996), with its go for broke attitude towards action, comedy, and gore. This movie was never going to be classy, and it knew it, so instead of wallowed in filth and fun, delivering both. It's the right kind of cheese for the right kind of night.
I would never argue that this film is good -- it isn't -- but it does deliver on exactly what it promises. You can't hate a film for wearing its motivation on its sleeve, and when it has fun giving you the goods you have to respect it. There are better vampire films out there, and better horror comedies, but this goofy little film set out to combine vampire vixens with gory comedy and it found a way to do all of that. For a film titled Bordello of Blood, frankly that's enough.