As Boomer mentioned in our Swampchat discussion of April’s Movie of the Month, the romantic horror comedy My Demon Lover, the film’s star Scott Valentine had struck it somewhat big as a bad boy heartthrob on the televised sitcom Family Ties, but mostly failed to convert that success into a long term film career. It wasn’t for lack of trying, though. Valentine had a long string of starring roles in minor titles throughout the 80s & 90s, but his turn as the titular monster in My Demon Lover would mark the high point of a career that never truly took off. Topping out with My Demon Lover might help explain why the actor later returned to the antiheroic position of romantic love interest/supernatural threat in the straight-to-VHS oddity To Sleep with a Vampire six (six six) years later. To Sleep with a Vampire & My Demon Lover are two vastly different films working in two entirely separate genres (the erotic thriller & the romantic comedy, respectively), but Scott Valentine’s starring roles as the dangerous, titular love interest in both works serve as a clear connecting piece between them.
Some of the genre markers of To Sleep with a Vampire are seemingly at war with themselves. The film opens with Scott Valentine stalking back alley as if he were the brooding antihero in a self-serious neo-noir, immediately announcing himself as a vampiric threat. Once the film shifts gears, Valentine does his brooding in a cheap strip club, revealing the film’s true nature as a sleazy erotic thriller. To Sleep with a Vampire commits a little too earnestly when it reaches the strip club, indulging in so many passionless strip teases that it started to feel like a strange, vampiric modernization of the Ed Wood-penned “classic” Orgy of the Dead. Thankfully,the film eventually moves on and blossoms as being . . . actually pretty great? Valentine’s vampiric sex demon materializes at a sleazy strip club not only to oggle, but to search for a potential victim, one he finds in a down-on-her-luck stripper who is hopelessly suicidal due to an estranged relationship with her young son. The stripper, who’s essentially hit rock bottom on this particular night (and, thus, more attractive to her vampire predator, since killing someone suicidal is justifiably more ethical), is convinced to follow the bloodthirsty beau back to his bachelor pad (lair?) to discuss the delicacies of mortality until he plans to feast on her blood just before sunrise. Eventually, they bone.
A straight-to-VHS triviality produced by Roger “The Best There Ever Was” Corman, To Sleep with a Vampire is far more entertaining than it has any right to be. At times threatening to devolve into a deeply misogynistic masturbation fantasy for immature man-children, the film gradually reveals itself to be something much more poignant. Its all-in-one-night plot structure eventually morphs the film into something of a glorified stage play (from way, way, way, way off Broadway) akin to Steve Guttenberg’s passion project PS Your Cat is Dead. It’s far from the vampiric romance of titles like The Hunger, Near Dark, Only Lovers Left Alive, Innocent Blood, or A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night in terms of quality, but there’s still an interesting back & forth in the film’s understanding of gender politics through a vampiric lens & Scott Valentine’s monstrous heartthrob really does have great chemistry with his sex worker victim (Charlie Spalding) despite the predatory aspect that relationship dynamic implies. This is an atmospheric work where the gloomy, horny atmosphere is often undercut by an overbearing sense of camp, but it’s a compromised formula that works surprisingly well. In particular, the objectively bad acting of the two leads makes their overwrought characters seem all the more “human”. In a more tongue-in-cheek work, the exchange “Tell me about the daylight. How does the sun feel on your skin?” “How the hell should I know? I work nights,” might’ve been worthy a hearty eye roll, but the deadpan performances sell it wholeheartedly here.
That’s not to say that To Sleep with a Vampire is anything more than a campy trifle. There’s plenty to scoff at here: the black & white vampire cam, the titular antihero’s oversensitive concern with vampire stereotypes, weird exchanges where the mismatched protagonists become physically a combatitve & then immediately make out, an inevitable love-making scene that nearly outdoes The Room in sheer audacious cheese, etc. However, the movie still has a surprising emotional weight to it, especially in its exploration of the vulnerability in following a complete stranger home for casual sex. Scott Valentine also shows a surprising amount of range here. His two portrayals of sex-obsessed demons could not be more different. In My Demon Lover he’s pure cartoonish id, not unlike a murderous version of Rik Mayall’s performance in Drop Dead Fred. In To Sleep with a Vampire he goes full Batman in his performance (this was the Tim Burton era of the character’s popularity spike, mind you): gruff, brooding, misunderstood, conflicted. Again, it’s difficult to discern which is the better film out of To Sleep with a Vampire & My Demon Lover because they are so artistically disparate (and so politically regressive in their own unique ways), but both are transgressively entertaining in an odd way & both do their best to showcase Scott Valentine’s talents as a dangerous bad boy sex symbol. My Demon Lover is more readily recommendable to potential Scott Valentine fetishists in its (minor) cultural significance & its commitment to let the actor run wild, but To Sleep with a Vampire features the 80s semi-icon wearing only a pair of leopard print bikini briefs on a moonlit beach, so who’s to say which is more essential in that regard? Either way they compliment each other nicely & they’re both worth a watch for the shlock-inclined.
For more on April’s Movie of the Month, the 1987 romantic horror comedy My Demon Lover, check out our Swampchat discussion of the film, this look on how it reflects the work of director Ate de Jong, and last week’s unlikely, uncomfortable look at how it compares with Harold Ramis’s 2000 remake of Bedazzled.