ComicsAlliance Reviews ‘Blade’ (1998), Part One
Over the past year, Chris Sims and David Uzumeri have provided ComicsAlliance with in-depth reviews of the final season of Smallville and the Batman film franchise. Now, as Halloween approaches, they turn their attention to a comic book movie with a supernatural edge: Blade.
David: Alright, everyone. We’ve Batmanologized about as much as we can reasonably Batmanologize without spending another 18,000 words fawning over Mask of the Phantasm. It’s time for something new.
Chris: Something… spooooooky.
David: So here we are with our look at 1998′s Blade, the movie which arguably reinvigorated Marvel Comics as a film franchise factory. Ironically, basically nobody in the world knows that this movie is based on Marv Wolfman and Gene Colan’s Tomb of Dracula run, albeit very, very, very loosely, to the point where the film version of Blade has probably impacted recent portrayals in comics far more than Wolfman’s original material.Chris: Going by conventional movie-making logic, this movie shouldn’t have been made. It was produced in the aftermath of Batman & Robin‘s disappointing box office (a mere $100,000,000 in profit) and the dismal flop that was Steel. Add to that the fact that it starred a third-string Marvel character who wasn’t even a super-hero in the traditional sense, and it’s a surprise that this thing even got approved for a script.
David: If Goyer were smart, he would have left the CREATED BY credit off the script. Not to screw Wolfman and Colan, but just because “Wesley Snipes kills a f***load of vampires” is a way more salable concept than what you just described.
Chris: Marv Wolfman actually sued for $50,000,000 after the movie was released, but lost the lawsuit. His version of Blade, co-created by legendary artist Gene Colan in the classic Tomb of Dracula #10, was a very different character from the one in Goyer’s script. The original blade wasn’t the super-powered “Daywalker” that you’ll see in the film, he was just a dude who was immune to vampirism, who used wooden throwing knives in an almost fanatical crusade against vampires.
David: The “daywalker” thing has absolutely taken hold in the comics now, though. This is who Blade is, this movie.
Chris: Yeah, I’d venture to say that the Blade movies affected the source material more than any other mass-media interpretation of any comic book character, ever. And a lot of that comes from the fact that the Blade of the comics just never caught on. He was a fixture in Tomb, but the focus in that book was obviously on Dracula, and despite a revival in the ’90s and the Midnight Sons line of supernatural titles, he just never really clicked. It wasn’t until the movie that he really became a going concern at Marvel, getting a new set of powers, a couple of self-titled series, and a sadly abbreviated run in Captain Britain and MI-13 by Paul Cornell, where he was once again pit against (crazy racist) Dracula.
David: Slightly off-topic, but while Paul Cornell has had a lot of great ideas in comics, making Dracula an actual Muslim-hating racist was particularly inspired, since it fits perfectly with what’s actually historically known about Vlad and Transylvania at the time.
Chris: What we’re getting at here is that if you haven’t read “Vampire State,” you should. It might be the best vampire story in all of Marvel comics. But anyway, even with cinematic success propelling him, Blade still hasn’t achieved the same level of popularity in the comics, which is almost completely insane when you think about how big this movie was.
David: God, I have no idea how many times I saw this movie in high school. I know “a lot” applies. It’s also worth noting just how much Blade had to do with kickstarting the contemporary vampire craze, too. Prior to Blade, the idea of blood-sprinkling vampire nightclubs was restricted largely to the imaginations of White Wolf nerds. Vampire Diaries, Twilight, True Blood — it all comes back to here, guys. At least in the mass popular consciousness.
Chris: Not only that, but it was absolutely massive for Marvel. It not only kicked off an entire film trilogy (which itself is probably only stalled out of becoming a full-fledged saga due to Snipes’ current prison sentence due to tax troubles), but it revitalized the super-hero film genre in general and Marvel movies in particular. Without Blade, there’s no X-Men, no Spider-Man, no 6 movie Avengers franchise. In that respect, it’s arguably as important a movie for super-heroes as Batman ’89.
David: So of course, in honor of All Hallow’s Eve, we had to take a look at this b*tch.
Chris: And believe us: We ain’t exactly doing this for the March of Dimes.
David: So here it is, guys. ICE SKATING UPHILL with CHRIS SIMS and DAVID UZUMERI.
David: We kick off with a woman giving birth in a hospital. Her name is Vanessa Brooks. We know this because there’s a slo-cam close-up of her wallet falling from the gurney, and it says VANESSA BROOKS.
Chris: Or as you’ll soon know her, Mrs. Blade’s Mom, a bit of information that will be handed off to the reader in the form of Blade having flashbacks to his own birth, which is the first of this movie’s very, very strange choices.
David: Perfect memory is a vampiric power!
Chris: Is it? Because it seems like it would be seriously awful to remember being born. Like, no wonder Blade is so mad all the time.
David: Maybe he’s just so badass he didn’t get fazed by birth trauma.
Chris: Well I sure did.
David: So she gives birth to this really bloody baby, and then a nurse takes it away, and she dies, because she was bit by a vampire. CREDIT SEQUENCE!
Chris: So right from the start, we know that we’re going to be seeing Evil Dead 2 amounts of blood over the next two hours. Seriously, it’s downright Raimiesque.
David: Cut to the modern-day, with the progression of time conveyed with a during-credits sequence of sped-up shots of the sun going up and down on streets. There’s a horny couple in a car — a female vampire played by Traci Lords and Lem from The Shield.
Chris: I’ve never seen The Shield, so I don’t know if it’s just this dude or not, but he does an amazing job as the clueless douchebag. I mean, he’s already at an advantage by being a skinny white dude trying to dress like Samuel L. Jackson, but that horrible laugh he has and the fact that he’s referring to his ding-dang as “my heatseeker”… it’s a perfect storm of wanting to punch this guy in the face.
David: Lem is actually the most likeable character on The Shield. Now, granted, it’s a show about corrupt cops who plant evidence and ruin lives, so yeah.
Chris: It’s an interesting choice, too, what with the fact that our first look at the non-fetal Blade is going to involve saving a dude that I would be totally fine if he got torn to shreds by vampire ravers. But I’m getting a little ahead of myself.
David: This dude is pretty clueless, because he walks through what looks like a meat packing plant or back of a butcher’s shop to the most hilarious dope-ass vampire nightclub ever, led by former porn star Traci Lords.
Chris: I also love the fact that one dude is just wheeling by a rack of dead human bodies wrapped in plastic, and the guy’s like “Uh…” and then Traci Lords shuts him up by making out with him. But let’s give Goyer his props here: Putting a vampire nightclub in a meat packing plant is actually a really great idea for a set piece. I also like that the vampires speak their own language. I think it might be Russian, but I’m just going to go ahead and refer to it as Draculese.
David: Lem just keeps dancing in his stupid hat and trying to mack on vampire chicks who want nothing to do with him until he gets drops of blood falling on him, which he spends, like, at least fifteen minutes attempting to analyze to ensure they are indeed blood, including rubbing it on his face for some reason.
Chris: Ecstacy is a hell of a drug. And it’s worth noting that this entire sequence is accompanied by the same three second techno loop that threatens to turn into the Mortal Kombat theme at any moment!
David: So he looks up to the DJ booth and finally sees that the entire party is called BLOODBATH, and then the sprinklers spray blood. SURPRISE!
Chris: It really makes you wonder why that one vampire girl wore her all-white outfit to the blood rave. That’s never coming out. Needless to say, Lem is horrified, but the movie’s really unclear as to whether his terrified screaming is because of the blood sprinklers, or the fact that the camera lingers on Donal Logue getting a blowjob for like five seconds, which is about six seconds too long.
David: I hadn’t watched this movie since the ’90s, and man, there’s a lot of FX Networks TV show stars in this movie.
Chris: I think we can both agree that this movie would be a million times better if Charlie Day had played Stephen Dorff’s part.
David: I can’t even look at Donal Logue anymore without being pissed off that they cancelled Terriers. But anyway. Lem tries to leave as quickly as possible, only to run into Blade, who has apparently been standing and watching the vampires for the past few minutes without anybody noticing.
Chris: Dramatic entrances are a vampiric power!
David: So then Blade just decides to start shooting stakes into the crowd, and this scene is awesome. A bunch of bloodied-up vampires keep running up against Blade and getting shot by him. And they all have the same cheesy-now-but-impressive-at-the-time CGI decomposition effect.
Chris: There’s also the fact that the second vampire who tries to fight him does so by whipping out a couple of meat hooks and doing some crazy kung fu at him, which results in getting blown away by a shotgun to the face. It’s the rated-R version of the marketplace scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark. And just to make it even better, the whole thing is also done with this techno loop, which makes it impossible to tell if it’s the soundtrack, or if the DJ just thought everyone should have fight music.
David: After shooting some people, Donal Logue shows back up with some more vampires, and then Blade shoots all of them, all while protecting dumbass Lem.
Chris: There’s a ton of crazy wirework involved, and then Blade whips out his Glaive, which was a huge deal in the collectible knife catalogs of the time.
Chris: What? I grew up in the South. They send them to you automatically here.
David: Then he shoots two incendiary stakes into Donal Logue and detonates him, lighting him on fire, asking him to send a message to Deacon Frost. He leaves Lem there on the floor covered in blood when the cops arrive, and you’d think the cops would suspect the guy instead of immediately treating him.
Chris: Well, since the vampires just turn to dust when they get shot it’s not like they’ve got any evidence. Oh, except for the fact that he is covered in blood next to a dead body that’s been lit on fire. But that’s, you know, circumstantial at best.
David: “Dead body?” Let’s find out in the next scene, as we’re introduced to Douchebag Morgue Surgeon and N’Bushe Wright, playing Dr. Karen Jenson, the movie’s studio-requisite love interest.
Chris: She’s a hematologist, or blood scientist, because this movie is nothing if not absolutely consistent in tying everything to its gimmick.
David: Geoff Johns learned Johnsian Literalism from someone, man, and that someone is David S. Goyer. After this movie and Batman Begins, I’m tempted to rename it to Goyerian Literalism. Karen’s ex-boyfriend, who we know is her ex-boyfriend because he keeps bringing up their relationship at the worst times, wants Karen to take a look at this totally messed-up burned body they got brought in, who is, of course, Donal Logue.
Chris: Remember how in Batman ’66, we talked about how the villains busting in on Bruce and Kitka right after Bruce professes his love to her in the form of poetry, so that he can prove his love by beating up assailants rather than actually kissing her, and how that’s a perfect little kid version of love? Well in this movie, right after the ex-boyfriend is rejected by the woman he loves, the undead attack, which is pretty much the adult nerd version of that same idea.
David: Ha! Yes! It’s the ultimate nerd revenge fantasy. “WELL WON’T YOU FEEL BAD WHEN I JUST GET BITTEN BY A CRAZY HOBO VAMPIRE RIGHT NOW!” Except I don’t think he comes up again for the rest of the movie.
Chris: That’s because you don’t pay attention! He comes back later as a vampire, having spontaneously developed a kinda-British accent. But we’ll get to that later.
David: Logue, of course, starts trying to bite Karen, who moves the struggle into the hallway just in time for Blade to show up and finish Logue off. Or try to, at least.
Chris: Blade also says that he came to the hospital to finish Donal Logue off, which… Blade, why didn’t you finish him off back at the meat packing rave? What exactly did you think was going to happen when the cops took him to the morgue? Blade: Not very good at planning things out. He is, however, good at cutting off Donal Logue’s hand, which will be a recurring gag for the rest of the movie.
David: I honestly thought he wanted Logue to live but deliver a message to Frost, but … what did he think the cops would do with the body?Not only does Logue escape, he successfully bites Karen, AND the cops show up, leading Blade to effect his daring escape by route of ragdoll physics. This scene kills me EVERY TIME. And on top of that, he only takes Karen with him because her reaching out to him reminds him of his mother reaching out to him as she died, which, of course, requires that he remembers his own birth.
Chris: So after responding to being shot by the police by asking “motherf***er are you out of your damn mind?”, which is hilarious since it’s pretty rational to try shooting a dude in black body armor who shows up at a morgue and tries to stab people with a sword, Blade just flat-out chucks Karen out a window. She lands on what i can only refer to as a construction trampoline, and he drives her in his sweet muscle car back to Blade HQ.
David: At Blade HQ we meet Whistler, played by Kris Kristofferson, who’s blasting Bad Moon Rising and working at a metal shop, presumably making more stuff Blade can kill vampires with.
Chris: According to the Wikipedia, Goyer’s original draft of this scene had Karen waking up next to a vampire fetus — a living one — that Whistler and Blade kept in a jar so they could test their weapons on it. This was cut out for reasons so obvious that I think Blade’s “motherf***er are you out of your damn mind?” reaction was actually filmed when the director told Snipes about it.
David: Wow, that’s… that’s pretty hardcore.
Chris: I’m just not sure America was ready for the fetus-torturing action hero.
David: Whistler injects Karen with his special anti-vampirism cure, which is… garlic. He then informs Blade she has a 50/50 chance of making it through the night, turns the radio back on, and gets back to work. Whistler is awesome.
Chris: You should expect no less from Country Music Legend Kris Kristofferson. I really like that even though Blade is built up as this ultimate badass, they give him a gadget man that’s every bit as tough and ornery as he is, just not super-awesome at kung fu.
David: After this scene, we get introduced to the Vampire Nation, straight from the set of True Blood and every other modern rendition of vampires for the past decade.
Chris: They speak a bunch of Draculese to each other about how Stephen Dorff shouldn’t have built a vampire nightclub, and about how he’s not a pureblood. Then they set out to catch Harry Potter for their evil lord, Voldemort. Cor blimey!
David: I don’t get this pureblood stuff. How are you born a vampire? How does vampire impregnation work? I mean, I probably don’t want to know, but still.
Chris: You should maybe ask your parents about that one, David.
David: But seriously, does that mean vampires age?
Chris: According to Whistler a little later in the film, vampires age, but much slower than humans. So if you’re born a vampire, you’re like a baby for fifty years, I guess. An entire century of going through puberty. 100 years of awkward boners.
David: That explains a lot as to why they’re such dicks.
Chris: Point being, they’re getting cold racial at Stephen Dorff and his leather tuxedo jacket.
David: Yeah, Deacon Frost is a loose cannon vampire who needs to turn in his badge and get off the force, because as he rationalizes, humans are food, not friends. Which actually makes a lot of sense, and he calls out these older vampires for being total cowards pretty effectively.
Chris: Frost wants to rule the world, whlie the other vampires want to sit around in suits talking about bank accounts, which would make for a far less exciting movie.
David: Blade meets up with some random dude he’s friends with to acquire a mysterious serum, which he’s apparently building a resistance to, and then meets up with Whistler back in the Bladecave to have it administered while a cured Dr. Karen Jenson watches him go through an extreme amount of pain.
Chris: Karen also discovers Blade’s mom’s driver’s license, as seen in the opening sequence, and this is about where I just go ahead and give up on this movie ever actually making sense. You want me to believe that Blade can remember his own birth? Fine. Weird, but I’ll go with it. You want me to believe that blade, at the age of 1 day, crawled out of a bassinet and stole his mom’s wallet before making a daring baby escape? The line has to be drawn somewhere, folks.
David: Maybe he inherited the wallet legally!
Chris: I’m not sure that they give orphans their parents’ drivers licenses. But to be fair, I’m only really familiar with one orphan, and he got his parents’ mansion, fortune, company and butler out of the deal, so…
David: Blade sees Karen watching him have his serum-induced freakout, and then he and Whistler play a game of cat-and-mouse with her, and when Whistler finally catches her, Blade drops down behind her completely silently. I’m talking they just took the sound out of the soundtrack, it’s hilarious.
Chris: They give her movie’s premise, explaining about vampires and the almost mandatory line about how you can kill them: In the Bladeverse, it’s silver and garlic, but no crosses, and instead of just sunlight, it’s “ultraviolet rays.” Because really, if this movie had magic, it’d be silly.
David: Whistler’s even created a new ultraviolet flashlight that can kill vampires. When Blade remarks on its weight, Whistler responds, “but you’re so big!”
Chris: Whistler also gives Karen a spray bottle of liquid garlic and tells her to buy a gun and shoot herself. Dude’s got a weird sense of humor.
David: Hey, there’s silver nitrate with the essence of garlic! Blade drives her back into town in his sweet muscle car, while the head vampire checks out Vampire ENIAC to find Deacon Frost hanging out there, decrypting a “dead language” from the “ancient texts” on the facility’s one (1) actual PC and listening to techno music on his Discman.
Chris: Hey man, this was 1998. That thing had over 200 megabytes of RAM and a secure phone line connection! Also, can we take a moment and agree that a race of immortals who have an ancient dead language doesn’t make a whole lot of sense? Just ask around man, somebody probably still speaks it.
David: Karen’s in downtown The City, and meets two people she thinks are vampires in the elevator who shadow her for like half a hallway and then bail just to freak her out. In her apartment, she gets approached and then assaulted by Officer Krieger, a cop who’s a “familiar” for Deacon Frost — a human who gives his/her blood willingly and performs actions in the hope of eventually being turned.
Chris: They also get sweet tattoos out of the deal.
Chris: This is revealed after Blade shows up to stop Officer Krieger, beating the living crap out of him and basically demolishing Karen’s apartment in the process, just because.
David: It’s also revealed that he totally used Karen as bait, and THEN attempts to rob Krieger, asking Karen “How do you think we fund this organization? We ain’t exactly the March of Dimes.”
Chris: Easily the second most amazing line in this movie. Then, in probably the film’s finest example of just completely ignoring any attempt to make sense at all, Blade DRAGS A POLICE OFFICER ONTO A CROWDED CITY STREET AND TRIES TO SHOOT HIM IN THE FACE. IN FRONT OF PEOPLE. AS IN THERE ARE PEOPLE AROUND AND NOBODY SEEMS TO BE ALL THAT BOTHERED BY THIS.
David: A police officer who’s completely bloodied! He’s clearly been beaten up, and Blade doesn’t even bother taking off his badge or his jacket or anything. He’s just a dude holding a bloody cop. Krieger runs away in the street, and Blade takes Karen on a vampire sightseeing tour.
Chris: As it turns out, vampires own a blood bank in every city.
David: And really like nightclubs. Like, a lot. I mean, I guess the implication is that Frost started them all, but still, it seems like vampires pretty much do nothing other than act like eurotrash.
Chris: Karen wants to cure herself of vampirism, and I have to say, it’s a pretty gutsy film that takes its beautiful lead actress and gives her two festering puncture wounds on her neck for the whole two hours.
David: But before they cure vampirism, they’ve got a messed-up Yakuza club to fight in. There’s also the fact that Karen asks to roll with Blade, and despite the fact that she has absolutely zero combat experience, Blade lets her. I guess he’s just hoping she’ll get herself killed and no longer be his problem.
Chris: It’s also pretty amazing that Blade is wearing body armor and carrying a gigantic sword and handing a loaded gun to the girl he’s with in full view of the vampire bouncer, and still somehow expects to cruise right into the club, which is currently featuring a command performance from The Extremely Annoying High Pitched Schoolgirl Karaoke Strippers.
David: Are they strippers? Do they ever actually strip? I’m not gonna lie, this hilariously sleazy backdrop makes for a pretty great action sequence.
Chris: It really does. It’s all just weird creepy old dudes wearing sunglasses — not just inside, or in a smoky room, but inside a smoky room at night that has like zero lighting — leering at schoolgirls.
David: Krieger shows up for some reason, and I can’t imagine how the hell he got let in. I mean, he’s this bloodied-up cop who gets let into what looks like the swankiest, sleaziest nightclub in forever.
Chris: Well, he is a familiar.
David: But Blade sees him, and chases him into the kitchen, and beats him until he discovers the entrance to Frost’s lair is in… the fridge. Deacon Frost. Get it, guys? Except it isn’t Frost’s lair, it’s the vampire database. Except that supposedly Frost’s nightclubs were the dangerous ones, and this is a nightclub that therefore wouldn’t be run by Frost.
Chris: I love that when Krieger tells Blade that the hideout is in the freezer, Blade just goes back to hitting him because it’s too ridiculous to believe.
David: Yeah! But Blade finally takes a look and goes down with Karen to discover the big vampire archive. Then we cut to Frost’s actual lair, which is the most awesome penthouse ever with a retractable wall.
Chris: It has a waterfall with rubber duckies in it, you guys.
Chris: It also has a truly hilarious bed that’s a… Man, I don’t even know. A Sensory Deprivation tank? A hyperbaric pressure chamber like the one Michael Jackson was rumored to sleep in? It’s ridiculous and makes absolutely no sense whatsoever, other than to make it easier for Deacon Frost’s girlfriend to emerge from it without us getting a good look at her face. Frost, meanwhile, is engrossed in having just completed the translation of the Ancient Vampire Texts, which were apparently the code for a kind-of-bad CGI animation of some kind of ceremony.
David: Well, I think the idea is that it’s a 21st century pneumatic coffin of some kind.
Chris: I guess? It’s pretty weird regardless. Even by this movie’s standards, I mean.
David: It seemed a symptom of an attempt to update classic vampire myths with modern technology. Still, you think he’d just get a dope coffin. Having watched the VRML File of the Vampire Gods, he’s finally in a good enough mood to attend his own damn party, which seems to consist of a bunch of people drinking and having public sex while Krieger walks around like an idiot. Everyone also calls Deacon Frost “Deke,” which is great, since it’s such a douchebag name, and reminds me of Delta Kappa Epsilon, the douchiest fraternity in fraternization. COME AT ME, DEKE BROS.
Chris: If there’s one thing I hope you’ve all learned in this series of columns, it’s that David is a young man with strong opinions about Harley Quinn and fraternities. Krieger gives frost the bad news, and Frost responds by straight up murdering him,biting his neck and then having bloody makeouts with one of his (apparently many) girlfriends.
David: He then informs Donal Logue to forget the girl, he wants Blade. Alive.
Chris: Because of reasons!
David: Which is great, since Logue has this big dumb grin on his face until he goes “wait, alive?”
Chris: Meanwhile, back at the vampire database, Blade and Karen find Pearl, who is apparently both a dude and some kind of super-smart vampire that’s been running Frost’s computer translating program. Pearl is also super gigantic huge fat gross.
David: I guess I can see the logic of a vampire computer nerd just becoming unbelievably corpulent, but still.
Chris: I’m not even sure how this would happen. Does he drink high-fat blood?
David: Maybe he doesn’t get enough cardio. (See what I did there?)
Chris: Do vampires need to exercise? Is that why they all knew martial arts on Buffy? “Arise, children of the night! I have made you… IMMORTAL! Now here’s your key to the gym; we have spinning class on Thursday, and you get one session with a personal trainer for free.”
David: Finally, we get a use for the UV lamp introduced earlier, because I’m not sure Blade would even be able to find this dude’s heart.
Chris: The best part of this scene is that he hands the light to Karen and she just immediately takes to torturing Pearl with it. Like, she is down with it, no question, from the first second, just flat-out torturing this guy. You’d think she might be a little reluctant.
David: Hell naw. After Blade gets what he wants, she even straight-up kills Pearl, no hesitation, without Blade even asking.
Chris: Thanks to the 100% reliable information gathering technique of torture, Blade learns that Frost’s plan is to resurrect La Magra, The Blood God! So finally, fifty whole minutes into the film, our plot has arrived. Frost distracts Blade with a young girl vampire and surrounds him with his men, including Donal Logue,who tie him to a post. In other words, things aren’t looking so good for our hero.
David: All in the room Blade’s discovered, containing the Book of Erebus, or Vampire Bible.
Chris: Is this the end of Blade, the Vampire Hunter? Will the Blood Doctor be a part of the Blood God being resurrected by the Blood Ritual in the Temple of Blood?!
David: Find out next week on Halloween in ICE SKATING UPHILL!