Not Your Mama’s DADA: Low Budget Theater of the Absurd Everything in “Jesus Christ Vampire Hunter” /
Jesus Christ Vampire Hunter
Director: Lee Gordon Demabre
Screenwriter: Ian Driscoll
Production and Distribution: Odessa Filmworks
Starring: Phil Caracas, Murielle Varhelyi
Some films are so low budget and so bad, you’d rather go to your gynecology appointment than watch it again. But others are so low budget, so well planned and so well executed, it piques your interest. And still others have Christ fighting the powers of darkness (in the form of sweaty Goth vampires). Someone has to save all the lesbians in Canada, right? I’m not kidding. When a director’s first film goes all the way wrong and oh so right, it might just look like Jesus Christ Vampire Hunter.
First films, particularly student films are known for having a high brow not-so-edginess that reminds you of a boring experimental photography exhibit: you don’t know what’s going on, you’re sure you care, you only know you’d better say the word "poststructuralism" to impress your professor.
Not this film. Someone must have shut this filmmaker in a closet full of all the right chemicals, or else Lee Demabre is just that brilliant. This low, low budget favorite has its background in every knock off movie genre, including kung fu, exploitation, horror, musicals, and slapstick comedy
This film is bad good, a type of bad so aware of its bad, it has to be intentional. This film really makes that goofy swoosh whoosh whack oof pock noises when characters break into improvised high speed kung-fu/judo fistfights (think the 1960’s made for TV Batman series with Adam West).
It’s a ballsy choice to make, but when you make a movie that contains a punk rock priest AND a Rasta priest, a pierced (literally) Jesus Christ, a queer biker bombshell Mary, a Dr. Benway-esque mad scientist, hot AF Goth vampires, a fight scene WITH a ninja, a masked Mexican wrestler, a song and dance sequence, a talking nightlight, a clown car, a Mad Max style motorcycle and car fight, and yes, a hipster scat-speaking clothing store clerk, what do you have to lose ? In watching this, it becomes apparent that all this schlock is actually brilliant. Camp this extensive isn’t an accident. The artist’s method seems to be including as many discordant elements and genre markers into one surprisingly easy to follow plot.
And what plot is that? Well, the sexy Goth leather clad legions of undead darkness are targeting the lesbians of the world as their preferred targets. Why? Because nobody will ever miss them, they’re going to hell anyways. Right? Well, not if the kung fu fighting, laser hand shooting, smart ass, fast talking Son of the Lord has something to say about it.
There is a message here, and even if we don’t take it seriously, it’s worth mentioning. God protects the gay community, and he’s brought all the powers of heavenly whoop-ass to do it. Let’s face it: this Jesus is bringing. And he’s bringing it just as much against bigotry and hatred as he is against blood-sucking hotties from the infernal bowels of Hot Topic.
And there’s another message. To enjoy this madcap, bizarre, playfully grotesque, over the top campy spectacle, the audience must accept loss of control, formal storytelling, and logic. In its place, they enjoy pure pleasure and fun. No matter how much a film snob you may be, it feels good to let go.
What makes this film special its sense of amateurish love: there is an essential joy in pushing boundaries in a good spirited, non-nihilistic way which gives this movie its charm. What makes it different from other first films is its lack of academic high-brow nihilism, insipid abstraction for its own sake, “dream states”, “luminal areas”, “collective unconscious”, “male gaze”, artsy effects and all the rest. Think of Lee Demabre as the anti Derek Jarman, anti Stan Brakhage, and the anti David Lynch. The minds behind Jesus Christ Vampire Hunter believed in themselves enough to skip the egotistical academic jerk-off that typically parades itself as ‘experimental film’. Hallelujah!
But that doesn’t mean that this film is JUST stupid. There is theater of the absurd here at work, but its level of film history and pop sub-cultural intelligence won’t start to dawn on you until you’ve watched it twice. The subtle and overt references peppered throughout this film belie its wild, erratic, earnest enthusiasm.
There’s something profoundly loving and honest about this film. Each character brings new levels of subcultural markers and influence into the film. Maybe Lee simply rounded up all of his weird actor friends in Canada and invited them to interpret their characters. This is the approach John Waters took with his early pictures, inviting members of underground queer community to dictate who their characters were, what they looked like, and what they would do.
The actors in Jesus Christ Vampire Hunter give performances so varied in their tone, emphasis, and level of side-eye sarcasm, one wonders if they even compared notes. There’s no doubt about it: these are amateur actors. But that I no way takes away from the fact that they love the film they’re in, and it shows. This is not good acting by any means, but it’s more than obvious everyone is enjoying themselves.
Need I mention this soundtrack is as eclectic and madcap as the scene changes? I’m biased in my position, but there’s nothing better than a hardcore band’s noisy, distorted garage jam, or the 70’s-esque theme music used as intro/outro. Even the techno-oriented piece of errata seems out of place, but so on point. Add one sing-able theme song, and this soundtrack is pure low brow fun.
I’m not going to ruin the fun for you by telling you exactly how our Son of Man goes about vanquishing the forces of the night (on a beach, in a park, in a pool hall, in an abortion clinic, in a wrecking yard) and just how holy the war gets. Let’s just say a couple wounds come in handy.
I can’t tell you if you’re going to love this film. I highly recommend it, but that’s only my opinion. This film has divided viewers; some love it, some hate it. Buy it, watch it, find out which one you are. Either way, you won’t forget it.
Jesus Christ Vampire Hunter:
4 out of 4 stars: hippest damn Christ ever
4 out of 4 stars: les-vamp-mus-kung-sploitation
4 out of 4 stars: silly gore/hell NO budget
4 out of 4 stars: Goth vampire/ biker chicks +kissing… (Sorry, but I’m that way)
4 out of 4 stars: fights with ‘sound FX’
4 out of 4 stars: soundtracks you can head bang to AND sing at karaoke
4 out of 4 stars: God love gays
4 out of 4 stars: laser wounds of death
4 out of 4 stars: non-academic absurdity and Dada
4 out of 4 stars: amateurs having that much fun being themselves. Everyone’s the star!
Genelle Chaconas is queer, genderfluid, a sex positive feminist, over 30, an abuse survivor, and proud. They’re not interested in publication histories. They enjoy offbeat B movies; American Chinese takeout; experimental writing; William S. Burroughs; cut-ups; queer writing; dotting Ts and crossing Is; underwater basket weaving; Noise, Edm, Drone and Industrial music; and long walks off short piers. This is their first published film review.