Tune in Tonight: "Desire, the Vampire"
My memory works in odd, largely useless ways. While I forget telephone numbers seconds after hearing them, I can remember exactly where I was the first time I heard “Jessie’s Girl”–in my mother’s car, riding down Shore Road in Linwood, New Jersey on the way to pick up my father, who worked as a maintenance man in a Prudential office building. It wasn’t a particularly meaningful moment for me (though I did eventually own a baseball t-shirt with Rick Springfield’s face on it), it’s just remained very vivid in my mind, taking up valuable real estate.
For whatever reason, I also remember watching a silly made for TV movie called Desire, the Vampire. I was sleeping over a friend’s house sometime in the early 90s, and woke up early in the morning before everyone else, as I usually did. I sat up flipping through the TV, and encountered it just starting on a cable channel. For no discernible reason, other than this was an embarrassing time when I consumed any sort of media related to vampires, I sat there and watched the whole thing.
Originally airing in 1982, Desire, the Vampire (also known as I, Desire) stars David Naughton, immediately following An American Werewolf in London and somehow playing another student named David who encounters a bloodthirsty creature of the night. Here he’s David Balsiger, attending law school by day and working as a coroner’s assistant in Hollywood by night. David’s girlfriend (Marilyn Jones) has just moved in with him, and all seems perfect.
Domestic bliss lasts less than twenty-four hours before David finds himself tangled up in a serial killer case, where the victims are married men who were found missing several pints of blood. The audience knows long before David and even the cops investigating the case that the culprit is a lady vampire disguised as a hooker (Barbara Stock), who dons lingerie and lets out a bobcat screech before attacking her victims. Why this particular sound effect was chosen to represent a vampire I have no idea, but it almost instantly kills any chance of this movie being taken seriously. It doesn’t make you think of monsters, it makes you think the soundtrack got mixed up with a commercial for Lincoln Mercury.
ANYWAY, in what seems like just a couple of days, David becomes so obsessed with the case that he stops attending law school, quits his job, and loses his girlfriend, in favor of wandering down a Hollywood Boulevard that is populated almost entirely by prostitutes (accompanied, of course, by lurid saxophone music). His suspicion that the killer really is a vampire is confirmed after an encounter with a defrocked priest played by Brad Dourif. BDo, inhaling the scenery as only he can, tells David that he’s been following the vampire all over the country, and that the only way to end her reign of terror is by killing her. Why the ex-priest hasn’t managed it yet is unknown, but either way it’s now up to David to be the “righteous man” and get the job done. However, when David finally meets the vampire, who calls herself Desire (great, great name for a vampire disguised as a hooker) and is a total 80s hair metal video babe, he finds that righteousness slipping a bit.
For a TV movie about a vampire disguised as a hooker, Desire, the Vampire is more entertaining than it has any right to be. Let me be clear, this isn’t a great movie. It’s extraordinarily silly, particularly when you factor in the weird mountain lion noises and an end shot that suggests that one of Desire’s victims is going to take her place (sorry, movie, a middle-aged bald man who looks like an Amway salesman bearing fangs is not scary). Even if David’s wholesome, impossibly sweet girlfriend wasn’t blonde in contrast to the raven-haired Desire, the “will he choose light or dark?” plot twist isn’t terribly subtle.
And yet, I’ll be darned if it isn’t watchable. The performances, particularly those by David Naughton and Dorian Harewood, playing the detective investigating the serial killer case, are surprisingly strong. If you’re making a movie about a vampire hooker, you have to choose between playing it straight or playing it campy, and both made the wise decision of playing it straight. Imagine the nightmare mess Desire, the Vampire would be if it were remade today by Ryan Murphy.
Original airdate: November 15, 1982