The Queue: ‘VAMPIRE IN BROOKLYN’ (1995) – A Work From the Late Wes Craven, Starring Eddie Murphy

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Jared McMillan // Film Critic

VAMPIRE IN BROOKLYN | 100 min | R
Director: Wes Craven
Cast: Eddie Murphy, Angela Bassett, Allen Payne, Kadeem Hardison, John Witherspoon, Zakes Mokae and Joanna Cassidy

We recently lost one of the most revered directors of horror, Wes Craven. Known primarily for the creation of the Scream killer persona and horror icon Freddy Krueger, his career as a whole was very hit-or-miss. He had his highs like the aforementioned SCREAM and A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, but then he had bombs like DEADLY FRIEND and CURSED. Upon his passing, I, like a lot of other movie fans, paid tribute by watching his greatest, including the under-appreciated THE SERPENT AND THE RAINBOW, but I also took in one I hadn’t seen before. In 1995, after his critical success with NEW NIGHTMARE (also available on Netflix today), Craven teamed up with Eddie Murphy on a project that would hopefully bring his career out a funk. Unfortunately for Craven, the result was the terrible VAMPIRE IN BROOKLYN.

Murphy plays Maximillian, a Caribbean vampire looking for a specific woman to help continue his bloodline now that most of the vampire race has been killed off. We get a voice-over of Max telling the audience his background during the establishing shot, leading to a sequence that lets you know exactly where this movie is headed. His ship comes into harbor, and chases down Julius to become his Renfield of sorts, and help him find the woman necessary to increase the blood-sucking population. As Max and Julius go back to the ship to get his coffin, they get interference by two cops investigating the crew’s death, Rita (Angela Bassett) and Justice (Allen Payne). Wouldn’t you know it?! She’s the girl Max has been looking for in Brooklyn! That is some sweet vampire luck.

Angela Bassett and Eddie Murphy star in VAMPIRE IN BROOKLYN. Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures.

Angela Bassett and Eddie Murphy star in VAMPIRE IN BROOKLYN. Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures.

I won’t get into any more specifics, suffice to say that it is a loosely based version of Bram Stoker’s classic. I can say that, while I watched the movie, I could still appreciate Craven’s direction. He always had an eye for lighting, and it shows here as well, specifically close shots of Max as he’s bathed in low light. It gives off an awareness that this movie should be horror but with a bit of biting humor. Also, every take is deliberate and steadies the pace of the movie accordingly, and Murphy does a good job in his performance as Max, charming you as if the audience is his victim…the victim of bad writing, that is.

The story is so muddled that I didn’t know when to be involved as a horror fan or laugh when there were jokes. The screenplay, written by Murphy and his brothers, doesn’t know when to pull back on either, and the result is an ineffective narrative. It’s as if it had the life sucked out of it, as there is no continuity to anything happening. For example, at one point, Rita shuns Max after an attempt to woo her, but she’s so mad at Justice that she would be willing to forget it? And Max has mind control over everyone, apparently, and can also shape-shift into anyone he bites. Plot holes solved!
The more I think about VAMPIRE IN BROOKLYN, the more I realize that it’s a terrible movie. While Craven’s creation of Freddy involved a sort-of camp in his dialogue, he barely spoke and was surrounded by characters that feared him. However, Max’s own ghoul Julius doesn’t even respect him even though he is at his mercy. If his own servant doesn’t fear him, then how can we be afraid for the other characters? Also, the humor needs to be isolated from everything else, compartmentalized from the central characters. It’s hard to appreciate John Witherspoon as the comic relief when every other side character is cracking jokes. It’s difficult to take anyone in the frame seriously.

While VAMPIRE IN BROOKLYN bombed with critics and audiences, both Craven and Murphy bounced back the following year in a big way, with the director launching the SCREAM franchise and Murphy returning to form in THE NUTTY PROFESSOR. It’s a good thing too because then I can forget about VAMPIRE IN BROOKLYN. Regardless of the bombs you disliked or the greats that you repeatedly watch, Wes Craven still made his mark on every movie. That’s something that can’t be said for every legacy. Rest in peace, sir. Thanks for scaring us.

About author

Preston Barta

I have been working as a film journalist since 2010, dividing the first four years between radio broadcasting and entertainment writing in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. In 2014, I entered Fresh Fiction (FreshFiction.tv) as the features editor. The following year, I stepped into the film critic position at the Denton Record-Chronicle, a daily North Texas print publication. My time is dedicated to writing theatrical film reviews, at-home entertainment columns, and conducting interviews with on-screen talent and filmmakers, as well as hosting a podcast devoted to genre filmmaking (called My Bloody Podcast). I've been married for seven happy years, and I have one son who is all about dinosaurs just like his dad.