I've always found it interesting and hypocritical that Blockbuster Video, as a "family movie store," won't carry porn but will carry R-rated movies that exist solely to show off scantily-clad women and barely bother with anything else, like plot or acting. If you took such a movie, tossed in some well-known actors (including an Academy Award winner), and made it supposedly about vampires but really about sex, you'd have Embrace of the Vampire. This 1995 movie does go a bit further with skin on the unrated edition but maintains all the flaws of this exploitative genre.

Embrace of the Vampire begins in medieval times. A man (played by Martin Kemp, former bass player for Spandau Ballet; really) has a romantic relationship with a chaste princess (Rebecca Ferratti, who has no lines and slightly more screen time), but he is attacked by three barely-dressed nymphs and becomes a vampire. (Since the movie never bothers to give him a name, let's just call him Vampire.) Jump to the present, and Vampire is, for some reason, three days away from death. But there's hope!

College freshman Charlotte (Alyssa Milano) is Vampire's soulmate, apparently because she sort of resembles his long-lost ex. Charlotte is a virgin (she was raised by -- I kid you not -- nuns) whose continuing chastity is frustrating to her boyfriend Chris (Harold Pruett). Charlotte wears white clothes, always has a crucifix on, and could only come across as more sweet and innocent if she were played by a stuffed animal. And she turns eighteen in -- you guessed it -- three days.

For some reason, Vampire won't die if Charlotte falls in love with him and gives herself to him. But he can't just grab and convert her (why not is never explained), nor can he kill off Chris (though he has no problem dispatching plenty of other teens in the movie). Instead, Vampire keeps sending her erotic visions or whispered dialogue on the futility of love, replacing her crucifix with an Egyptian ankh (which, we're told, has "sexual powers"), and sending sexy vampire Marika (Jennifer Tilly, the aforementioned Academy Award winner; but certainly not for this) to seduce Chris.

Of course, in this sort of movie sexual temptations are everywhere. There's Charlotte's friend Nicole (Rachel True), who urges Charlotte to play the field. There's bitchy popular girl Eliza (Jordan Ladd), who spikes Charlotte's drink at a party. There's sexy foreign student Sarah (Charlotte Lewis) who tries for a lesbian seduction via photography. Heck, even Charlotte's art history class is all about sex. What's a virgin to do?

The Embrace of the Vampire dvd has both R-rated and unrated versions, and if you're watching this movie you've got to watch latter version. As opposed to the Blockbuster-style exploitation film, this has Milano topless quite frequently, very close to naked sometimes, and even briefly in a foursome. (It wasn't easy finding movie stills I could use in this review.) It's safe to say that showing off her body is the reason Embrace of the Vampire exists.

Unfortunately, most of the movie doesn't involve nudity -- and those are the times Embrace of the Vampire falls apart. The characters are all paper-thin and forgettable, there's no subtlety (from the ankh glowing to Charlotte becoming a "bad girl" by switching to a red dress and black lipstick), and the plot really makes no sense. (Vampire survived for hundreds of years, but he somehow knows he'll die on Charlotte's eighteenth birthday? Vampire can kill everyone but his biggest obstacle?) Many works have explored the links between vampires and sexuality -- from the original Dracula to many works of Anne Rice to (shudder) the Twilight saga -- but Embrace of the Vampire contents itself with lots of nudity and vampires snarling a lot. This movie works if you want a skinflick that you can pretend is a horror movie, but it fails as anything else.

Overall grade: D-
(but A- for prurient reasons)

Reviewed by James Lynch

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