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Let no one say that Blade, a blindingly overwrought hybrid of horror, action, and Oedipal drama, fails to mark some kind of great leap forward for vampire cinema. Not only does the film feature one of the genre’s first African American slayer-heroes (he was introduced in a 1973 Marvel comic), but its version of Dracu-lore makes explicit connections between vampirism and sickle-cell anemia. But Blade is less interested in representing a watershed than in delivering the usual bloodshed, and director Stephen Norrington, a special-effects wizard on films like Alien 3, wastes no time in getting down to his real business: chic carnage for the wish-they-were-smart set.
A brief prologue depicts the hero’s tragic origins: his pregnant mother was gruesomely attacked by an undead fiend, so baby Blade grows up to be Wesley the Vampire Slayer, torn between his altruistic and bloodsucking natures. Then we leap forward to the present day, to a nameless city of tech-noir gloom, where a young man is lured into a vampire-sponsored nightclub, featuring the very latest in recherché Downtown entertainment: carcasses of indeterminate species hanging from meat hooks, an overhead sprinkler system that drenches the crowd with blood, and clubgoers having sex right in front of everybody. Like, they’re so undead they don’t even care about conventional morality. Our hapless victim is too besotted with his hostess (Traci Lords, looking very fit) to notice his predators, but Blade comes to the rescue, armed to the pointy teeth with weapons custom-made by his human helper (undead actor Kris Kristofferson, in a luxuriant gray wig).
Thus, in this sequence alone, Blade manages to include at least 50 identically revolting shots of staked and machine-gunned bloodsuckers, who rot, burn, or disintegrate before our eyes. And there’s more to come: dissections, beheadings, reanimated corpses, giant syringes stuck into human necks, and a smelly Jabba the Hutsized vampire librarian. Children of the night, what disgusting movies they make.
Blade may not be for the faint of heart, but it’s sure to please those who adore lots of complicated, contradictory back story (vampire overlords, a mysterious “Blood God,” and an ancient, supposedly undecipherable sacred text that can be swiftly translated via Windows 95). Though Snipes makes a fine martial artist, he spends much of the movie hidden behind dark glasses and layers of body armor, and he turns in a rather muted, humorless performance. As the villain, a snotty little upstart vampire, Stephen Dorff—astoundingly unlikable even under the best of circumstances—brings his most odious qualities to bear in what might be described as a very committed performance. When he menaces the kidnapped heroine, an impossible-to-gross-out hematologist played by N’Bushe Wright, his sexually charged threats sound like they were written in a junior high school study hall: “What’s the matter? You seem kind of… pent up. Blade not… giving it to you?” You can’t blame her when she responds with a blasé “Bite me.”