Some critically-slated movies live firmly in the realm of 'guilty pleasures' and this John Landis comedy-horror is one of them. While it is not in the same league as his now-classic "American Werewolf in London" (1981), it shares the same comic sensibility without being quite as consistent and without having the same ground-breaking special effects. Despite this, I still find it good fun.
Set in Pittsburgh (Romero-Land) the lead character is a female vampire played by French actress Anne Parillaud, so superior as the lead in "La Femme Nikita" to Bridget Fonda in the U.S. remake. It is one of her few English-language roles, but her exotic accent only complements her other-worldly character. When the film opens, she is feeling hungry and fancies 'a bit of Italian', setting her sights (and fangs) on the local mob. Rejecting undercover cop Anthony LaPaglia because she can sense his inner 'goodness', she feasts on henchman Chazz Palminteri, shooting him in the head after she has gorged to prevent his becoming another vampire. Her next victim is mob boss Robert Loggia. However she is interrupted before she can finish him off, and he awakes vampirized after he has been carted off to the local morgue.
By and large it is really Loggia's movie. He quickly realises that as one of the undead he can not be easily killed and has new powers and strengths. After noshing on his lawyer -- an amusing turn by comedian Don Rickles, who is subsequently disintegrated by exposure to the morning light -- Loggia sets about converting his entire mob to vampires to create an unbeatable collection of baddies, while still wanting to get even with LaPaglia whose cophood has been deliberately exposed by his superior, an early role for Angela Bassett. This is done in a humourous fashion with flashing eyes, lashings of blood, and some very foul language. Meanwhile Parillaud and LaPaglia, who have fallen in love despite their obvious differences (like he's alive and she's an immortal) set about dealing with Loggia's ambitions and cronies.
If nothing else, Landis usually manages to turn out entertaining films, if not great art -- which is 100% OK with me. In this one, giving cameos to such genre types as Sam Raimi, Frank Oz, Dario Argento, Forrest J. Ackerman, and others adds to the movie's fun, as the latent horror buff recognizes these elusive faces in turn. Landis has always been a great one for this kind of ploy -- his "Blues Brothers" being another of his movies to honour other directors in unlikely appearances.
Finally a few words about the Australian LaPaglia. I shall never forget the first time I noticed him in his breakout role as a rather dim American hoodlum in "Betsy's Wedding" (1990). There and then I predicted a fabulous film future for him and he was indeed very charismatic in the following "29th Street" (1991) and in this flick. Subsequently, while he is still very active, his star has dimmed with me. He's remains an acceptable presence in both film and TV roles, but his magic is long, long gone.