Home Video Hovel: Tales from the Crypt: Bordello of Blood, by Tyler Smith
The 1990s were an interesting time for horror. With the ultra-violent offerings of the 1980s and the eventual flameout that occurred at the end of the decade, horror fans appeared to demand something different. Horror started to take on the attributes of the era, with a special focus on being hip, distanced, and self-aware. It was a decade in which Wes Craven- a horror icon whose previous projects had an unnerving sincerity to them- offered up to meditations on the genre that he helped create, with Wes Craven’s New Nightmare and Scream. It wasn’t enough to shock or horrify; movies and television shows had to let us know that they were in on the joke, sometimes to such an extend that the joke became the primary reason for their existence.
Which brings us to Tales from the Crypt. The macabre TV show from the 1990s was known just as much- if not more- for its one-liners and winking performances as its creepy tone and frightening stories. Every week, different celebrities would appear on the show to cut loose and overact. The tone of the show allowed everybody involved- from the writers to the make-up artists to the extras- to enjoy themselves as much as possible.
In the mid-90s, the creators of the show decided to take the fun to the big screen with Demon Night and Bordello of Blood. While I haven’t seen Demon Night, I will say that, if it’s anything like Bordello of Blood, then it’s understandable (not to mention a welcome relief) that there were only two Tales from the Crypt movies.
In Bordello, a group of vampires run a brothel out of a gothic mortuary. They lure in horny young men and eat their hearts. A young woman enlists the help of a skeptical private investigator to search for her missing brother, who we know met his fate at the brothel. It’s a pretty simple story, and that’s perfectly okay. Movies like this don’t need to be overly complex. In fact, the simplicity is more than welcome, as it can allow the filmmakers to focus their energy less on the storytelling and more on the make-up, art direction, and general tone of the film.
And, indeed, there are a couple of nice flourishes in the film. To gain access to the girls at the brothel, the clients must climb into a coffin and get pushed through a crematorium, eventually sliding down a secret passage to a room full of buxom babes. And the mortician himself- the legitimate face of the operation- is gleefully creepy.
Sadly, whatever horror elements the film contains stop at the general atmosphere and look of the mortuary. Anything having to do with the story itself quickly gives way to goofy comedy, which somehow manages to feel both forced and lazy. Whether it be the awful vampire puns or the over-the-top preacher who sees the brothel as a way of punishing lust, the jokes and characterizations are eye-rollingly obvious.
Perhaps the most interesting element of Bordello of Blood is the decision to cast comedian Dennis Miller as the private investigator. In a film meant to be self aware and winking, it makes sense that one would cast Miller as the cynical detective; few comedians were more hip and detached in the 1990s. Being a fan of Dennis Miller myself, I enjoyed many of his jokes (many of which he wrote himself) and found him to be a pleasant-enough on-screen presence. He keeps the character and the events at arm’s length, choosing instead to comment on the proceedings. The character (if you can even call him that) is reminiscent of Peter Venkman in Ghostbusters, always ready with a quip in the greatest danger. And while the detective never quite breaks through into becoming a full-fledged character, one wonders how the character might have fared in the midst of a better film.
In the end, though, Bordello of Blood seems more than anything like a slightly longer episode of the TV show. This isn’t necessarily a crime, if the tone of the show could conceivably be stretched to that length. But this isn’t the case. Instead, the offbeat charms of Tales from the Crypt feel like they wear out their welcome, leaving only a paper-thin story with few laughs and even fewer scares.