AMERICAN WEREWOLF, “Makin’It” sensation, and self-professed pepper DAVID NAUGHTON stars in this 1982 television movie that propels classic vampire lore into the age of Members Only Jackets. Its intentions to modernize the undead are made clear in the opening credits, where light chamber music and details of KLIMPT portraits give way to cat calls and neon clad hookers on Hollywood Boulevard. Looking like an extended version of the HALL AND OATES video “Maneater,” I, DESIRE concerns a mysterious femme fatale who, masquerading as a streetwalker, parasitically dines on her clientele.
NAUGHTON plays law student David Balsiger whose part-time work as a morgue assistant puts him in contact with the corpse of a unlucky john who is not only drained of blood but also has tell tale bite marks on his neck. The slippery slope of obsession is not far behind. Mild curiosity leads to late nights spent combing the gritty streets and even an eventual arrest for soliciting an undercover police officer. Soon his sweet natured girl friend Cheryl (MARILYN JONES) is not only questioning his sanity, but also his fidelity.
Television vampire movie or not I, DESIRE does a fine job of presenting a relationship on the skids due to one member’s dubious nocturnal activities. When we first meet David and his girlfriend they have recently moved in together and there are subtle signs that he is resisting domestication. As it turns out, the vampire David is pursuing only feeds upon men who have strayed from their relationships. In fact, he learns that a vampire has no power over a “righteous” man. When he finally comes face to face with the object of his infatuation (the female vampires’ name is “Desire”) David’s dilemma is presented as a choice between light and dark, but it’s more like a choice between picket fences and prostitutes.
I, DESIRE does have a few clunky missteps (I could have done without the canned mountain lion growl that accompanies each vampire attack), more than a few notable lines of dialogue (“You wear your righteousness like a coat so you can slip into something more comfortable when it gets too hot”), a couple neat twists, and it actually does offer a unique take on the vampire legend. The contrast between safe domesticity (complete with fifties era black and white television and music-box tunes) and seedy, early eighties Los Angeles night life (complete with bluesy saxophones and spandex) is nicely presented and a lot of fun.
In some ways I, DESIRE makes a great reverse companion piece to AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON. It also fits keenly beside PAUL SCHRADER’S 1982 take on CAT PEOPLE, with its constant rotation between fascination and fear of the erotic. As a television movie, it is limited from going to certain extremes, but if you read between the lines it has more to offer than many current attempts to tackle similar material. NAUGHTON’s presence alone is enough of a reason to watch, but I should add that a young BRAD DOURIF delivers a remarkably forceful, borderline deranged performance that threatens to steal the entire production. Currently I, DESIRE is not officially available on DVD but it is indeed possible to track down. It’s sleaze-light tone makes it worth the extra effort, particularly for all of you blood thirsty vampire fanatics out there, plus we’re talking 1982 here, was there any better year for horror?
Note: Special thanks to Richard of the great DOOMED MOVIETHON !!!