Innocent Blood is a lady vampire movie very much in the same vein as Lifeforce: a French actress and former ballet student plays a vampire that likes to stand around in the nude. We have some improvement, though. Marie (Anne Parillaud) gets an action sequence or two and some lines. Director John Landis also forgoes Tobe Hooper’s “she’s just so hot I can’t help myself” weirdness in place of male characters who underestimate Marie. But even though the movie opens with a voiceover from Marie, Innocent Blood ends up being a boy’s tale.
At the beginning of the film, Marie tells the audience that she’s bored, recently single, and picky about her food. She really only likes to eat people who deserve it, and she’s having difficulty hunting recently. Then her eye falls on newspaper headlines about Pittsburgh mobster “Sal the Shark.” “I was sad. I was starved,” she says in a voiceover. “It was time to treat myself. And I thought, what about Italian?”
Garlic, Marie. Please tell me you thought of that.
See, Marie’s modus operandi is to let men pick her up, take her to some secluded spot. Then she tears out their throats and has a good nosh. This works for a bit until she gets to mob boss Sal (Robert Loggia), who wants to woo her with mussels and garlic takeout. “Mangia, mangia!” Sal says as Marie recoils. “Garlic,” Marie wheezes, “is hard for me.”
Marie, thrown off her game, attacks Sal but leaves the scene without properly storing the leftovers. This gives Sal the opportunity to rise from the dead and start rebuilding his mob empire as a bunch of thirsty vampires who — it perhaps does not occur to him — can never eat mussels and garlic again.
Innocent Blood’s strength is the cast of characters playing mobsters, which is a parade of familiar faces. Loggia, of course, but we also get Tony Sirico and David Proval, both of whom knocked around in gangster roles for a few decades. And Don Rickles has a major supporting role as Manny, Sal’s lawyer.
Against these excellent and experienced character actors we have Parillaud, who is not comfortable in English. Her delivery is stilted and some people say she can be hard to understand, but Landis resisted re-dubbing her lines. Actors should get to use their own voices, and here the clumsiness helps set Marie’s even more outside the Pittsburgh norm.
Otherwise, the movie suffers from clumsy viewpoint shifts and a romantic (I guess?) subplot between Marie and undercover cop Joe. Landis doesn’t seem to be able to decide who he wants to follow. Is it Sal, undead and drunk on power? Is it Manny, the long suffering lawyer trying to help his friend and client? Or is it Joe who … well, Joe pouts a lot.
Joe has several problems. Marie botches his investigation by killing the suspects. Then, the US Attorney (Angela Bassett) takes him off the case because he’s too emotionally involved. Finally, Joe gets tangled up with Marie as she tries to nip the Sal problem in the bud. Joe’s masculinity is treatened a bit and he also thinks Marie going to kill him in his sleep. This turns him off, and he’s not polite about it. Marie wins him over, of course, with patience, understanding, and an excellent guess or two about his kinks.
As for Marie, I don’t have the foggiest what Marie sees in Joe beyond his “sad eyes.” But that’s because once Marie meets Joe, her voiceover disappears until the last couple of minutes of the movie. We are outside of Marie’s head and in Joe’s whiny little skull.
Further distracting from the story is Landis’s tendency to lean on cameos and references to other films. Frank Oz has a nice comic cameo as the pathologist in charge of Sal’s autopsy, but we also have appearances from Sam Raimi, effects legend Tom Savini, scream queen Linnea Quigley. Giallo master Dario Argento even shows up as a paramedic. Televisions are everywhere so we can see clips of Christopher Lee’s and Bela Lugosi’s Dracula. In a weird sort of meta-meta cameo, one foregrounded television shows Hitchcock wrestling a cello onto a train. This turns the movie into a cinephile puzzle-box, dragging down the pace of an already struggling film.
The movie ends as it must with an amazing effects scene, a windy monologue, a final bit of pouting, and the sense that Innocent Blood missed its potential as a film. As source material for an undergraduate paper on the male gaze, however, there’s a great deal of promise. Pro-tip.