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Plot: federal agents and mercenaries wage war over Civil War gold treasure.

In 1993 Malibu Bay Films mascot Dona Speir uttered the prophetic words, “my work here is done” at the conclusion of Fit to Kill, the closing chapter to Andy Sidaris’ multi-decade spanning LETHAL Ladies franchise, a series he had been dedicated much of his life to at that point, or at least since 1985 (although it was conceived as far back as 1973.) Picking up where his father left off Christian Drew Sidaris produced and directed the two expanded universe episodes Enemy Gold (1993) and The Dallas Connection (1994) with his Skyhawks Films in the two years that followed. What Christian Drew would come to learn was that with great boobs comes great responsibility and that you can’t go replacing beloved platinum blonde duo Dona Speir and Hope Marie Carlton with just about any random pair of boobs and expect the same results. History would record the two Christian Drew Sidaris directed parallel sequels as retroactively serving to link the 1980s and 1990s periods of Sidaris the elder. Holding it all together and illuminating this rather confusing period in LETHAL Ladies history was the Sybil Danning of the 1990s and newly-minted series icon, the late great Julie Strain.

Whereas his father had spent over a decade experimenting with and honing the formula for his LETHAL Ladies when Christian Drew Sidaris stepped into the breach he didn’t have innovation on his mind. Instead he simply branched out out within the existing universe while largely adhering to the same principles as his father. The original LETHAL Ladies were a series of fun-loving spy/action romps set in and around the lush and verdant islands of Hawaii with the thinnest veneer of story as a pretext for an abundance of explosions, shootouts, and funny one-liners. What little story there was largely existed as a preamble to have a rotating bevy of bosomy belles in candy-colored bikinis bounce around and break out the big guns, both literal and figurative, as soon and as often as humanly possible. Sidaris the younger mostly eschews odious comic relief assassins, gadgets and rigged model miniatures and the Hawaii locales have been replaced by Shreveport and Bossier City, Louisiana masquerading as Texas. During his two year tenure stewarding the series Christian Drew tried his darndest to find the right pair (interpret that any way you want) but he never quite was able to recreate the chemistry between Dona Speir and Hope Marie Carlton. In two years and as many episodes he would try several but only Julie Strain would remain.

Suzi Simpson, Tanquil Lisa Collins and Julie Strain are the main attractions here. Simpson and Collins are the typical Sidaris platinum blonde beach bunnies whereas Strain was not only vertically superior with her towering 6'1½" but she also was entirely stacked with her mouth-watering 40D (90D) bust. Suzi Simpson was Miss District of Columbia Teen USA 1984 and landed a part in a 1984 Pepsi commercial starring Michael Jackson. From there she scored small roles in St. Elmo’s Fire (1985), appeared in the Aerosmith music video ‘Love in an Elevator’ from 1989 as well as Men at Work (1990). She was Playboy's Playmate of the Month for January 1992 and was a regular warm body in many of their home videos. Tanquil "Tai" Lisa Collins was Miss Virginia 1983, was on the cover of Playboy (October 1991) and her alleged affair with senator Charles “Chuck” Robb was subject on an Arny Freytag article "The Governor and the Beauty". As an actress she could be seen in Thunder in Paradise (1994), Baywatch (1995-2000) (for which she wrote several episodes) in 1996 and 1997 and Baywatch Nights (1995-1997) in 1996. Naturally, she figured into the June 1998 "The Babes Of Baywatch" in Playboy. In more recent years Collins has completely reinvented herself and these days is mostly known as a humanitarian and philanthropist.

Kym Malin was a regular in the Andy-verse by this point. She rose to fame with small roles in Die Hard (1988) and Road House (1989) and appeared in Picasso Trigger (1988) and Guns (1990). Stacy Lynn Brown and Angela Wright had no association with Playboy, Penthouse, or Hustler and were purely meant as eyecandy. As beautiful as these women were the series never quite recovered from the loss of Hope Marie Carlton, Liv Lindeland and Cynthia Brimhall. It wouldn’t be until The Dallas Connection (1994) the following year that Julie K. Smith woud join the cast and establish the next generation of LETHAL Ladies. Julie Strain was the kind of woman born to be in an Sidaris flick, dominated every scene she was in and set the new proportional standard.

In 1864, the Battle of Pleasant Hill. General Quantrell (Don Primrose Jr.) orders twelve of his men to break off behind enemy lines and disrupt the Union supply chain and seize a buillion of gold deep in the woods of Bossier, Texas. The men are attacked and slain by Union soldiers but two men manage to flee with the gold in tow. While one of them is mortally wounded a Confederate Lieutenant (Carl Weatherly) buries the treasure on the root of a big tree, marking it with his knife and writing everything down in his journal. Busy committing his story to paper the soldier is killed by an unseen assailant (Marcus Bagwell). More than a century later, in 1993), federal agents Chris Cannon (Bruce Penhall) and Mark Austin (Mark Barriere) are preparing a raid on a farm used in the drug-running business of Bolivian narcos Carlos Santiago (Rodrigo Obregón, as Rodrigo Obregon). They are interrupted by the arrival of fellow agent Becky Midnite (Suzi Simpson). The three quickly lay out a strategy where Midnite will provide a much-needed distraction whereas Cannon and Austin will gather evidence and apprehend and arrest whoever they can find. In the ensuing fracas the three cause massive collateral damage and when Cannon and Austin are making their arrests The Agency division chief Dickson (Alan Abelew) shows up out of nowhere. He summarily suspends the men for not following agency procedure, failing to produce the correct paperwork and using excessive force during their clandestine operation.

The sudden suspension of the three agents raises the flags of team leader Ava Noble (Tanquil Lisa Collins, as Tai Collins) who cross-examines Dickson over his motivations. Now suddenly overwhelmed by unscheduled leisure time the three decide to make the best of the situation. They agree on a camping trip while they’re in the woods of Bossier, Texas. By sheer luck and happenstance the three unearth the hidden treasure. To the outside world Santiago poses as a debonair entrepreneur with his high-end Cowboy’s club & restaurant in Bossier City, Los Angeles, California. Unknown to but a select few, including hostess Kym (Kym Malin) and Santiago’s concubines (Stacy Lynn Brown, as as Stacey Lyn Brown and Angela Wright) it also functions as the heart of his criminal empire. First the Bolivian crimelord orders his incompetent henchmen Rip (Tom Abbott) and Slash (Ron Browning) to take out the agents but when that fails he’s forced to take more drastic measures. For interfering with his operations and causing him to lose $20 million in street value cocaine Santiago calls upon his good friend Jewell Panther, known professionally as The Amazon (Julie Strain) and described as “as deadly as she is beautiful”, picks her up at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport with orders to neutralize the federal threat. As Noble digs deeper into Dickson’s case she discovers far too late that he has ulterior motives and that he was corrupt and a compromised asset all this time. As Santiago grows more desperate and The Agency digs deeper into the case a clash between the two factions becomes an inevitability.

If Enemy Gold feels familiar despite not being set in and around Hawaii and featuring none of the classic cast – that’s because Christian Drew recombines several plotpoints and iconic scenes from his father’s original series. Enemy Gold opens with a drug bust gone belly up just like in Savage Beach (1989). An agent of good is in cahoots with the enemy just like Pantera in Picasso Trigger (1988) and the violent tug of war over an ancient gold treasure was used earlier in Savage Beach (1989). The villain is blown up by rocket launcher just like in Picasso Trigger (1988) and Guns (1990). Becky Midnite is prone to wearing tank tops and bootyshorts just as Donna and Taryn in Savage Beach (1989), Picasso Trigger (1988) and Hard Ticket to Hawaii (1987). Midnite and Ava Noble are peroxide blondes in the good old Sidaris tradition. Angela Wright, one of the unnamed dancers in the Cowboy’s club, wears the same suspender-hose combo as Cynthia Brimhall in Do or Die (1991). The vacation cabin doubled as a restaurant earlier in Do or Die (1991) and the helicopter killshot was recreated almost verbatim from Do or Die (1991) and Hard Hunted (1992). The prerequisite shower -, hot tub – and dressing scenes are all here and account for much of the nudity. For all intents and purposes Enemy Gold is the lightest redressing of Savage Beach (1989). Christian Drew stays close to his father’s established model but Sidaris the elder’s exercises in spy-action pulp were generally, but not always, funnier and wittier than this.

With Suzi Simpson and Tanquil Lisa Collins manifesting no visible acting talent and Julie K. Smith set to arrive in the next episode all eyes fall on the late great Julie Strain who, quite literally, towers above everybody else. Enemy Gold was Julie’s second go-round as a villain in the Andy-verse – and, unlike the tradition of Sidaris the elder, she would persevere as a villain in The Dallas Connection (1994), the second and last Christian Drew Sidaris production. Likewise would Strain, who played a villain in Fit to Kill, return as an The Agency operative in Day Of the Warrior (1996) and Return to Savage Beach (1998) from Sidaris the elder. Something which, lest we be remiss to mention, only Roberta Vasquez preceded her in. Strain is up, front and center in Enemy Gold, eclipsing every other female in the cast and her character is given a seductive campfire dance for absolutely no other reason than capturing Strain’s ample curvature on camera. Nobody watches these things for the story or characters anyway. Everybody in the Andy-verse has a penchant for wearing impractical battle-gear and Jewell Panther – seemingly a recombination of Roberta Vasquez’ Pantera from Picasso Trigger (1988) and Ava Cadell’s assassin Ava from Do or Die (1991) – can be seen strutting around in either lingerie or leather-and-studs worthy of a 1980s metal music video. Most of the time she’s wearing not much at all because why hire somebody like Julie and burden her with trivial things such as clothes? Not that there’s any shortage of boobs.

Sidaris the younger may not have gloriously risen to the occassion by stepping into the limelight and out of his father’s shadow. While Christian Drew kept the bumbling cartoonish henchmen to an absolute minimum he also excised the running gag of remote controlled model planes/helicopters with it. Thankfully the gun-toting, wisecracking, top-dropping action babes were never tampered with and they keep on baring breasts and arms, usually in that order. Rejuvenation was wanted, nay, perhaps needed as old Andy’s formula was started to wear thin and fatigue crept into later episodes. No other series canonized and celebrated the naked female form the way old Andy did (his only closest contemporary probably being Tinto Brass in Italy). Nobody watches an Andy Sidaris flick for the story or the characters and the only depth was, is, and continues to be found in the cleavage of the various ladies. Even in this younger incarnation the Andy-verse remains staunchly Caucasian in every respect. Enemy Gold makes a person nostalgic for the more innocuous times of Malibu Express (1985) when Lynda Weismeier was the most ridiculous of outliers and who had an ass to match. The fixation on proportion wouldn’t become truly problematic until Sidaris the younger dragged his father out of retirement and he duly made his return several years later.

Plot: vampire recounts his life, losses and regrets over the centuries.

There’s no contesting that the nineties were a trying time for horror at large. The genre had been reduced to broad comedy, toyed with science fiction with things like The Lawnmower Man (1992) and Brainscan (1994) and was at its lowest when made-for-television thrillers such as Mikey (1992) were passed off as the genuine thing. While Frankenstein Unbound (1990) and Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992) didn’t exactly usher in a new decade of gothic horror revivalism, it was Jan de Bont’s 1999 redundant remake of The Haunting (1963) that effectively killed the subgenre amidst the deluge of self-reflexive Scream (1996) imitations and pretenders. Interview with the Vampire: the Vampire Chronicles (just Interview with the Vampire hereafter) answers the question what an Andy Milligan or Jean Rollin gothic horror and vampire epic would look like on a mega-budget with an all-star cast and money to burn. Sadly, it’s also terminally unscary and, this being Hollywood, repelled by the naked female form.

Seeing the innate potential of the Anne Rice novel Paramount Pictures optioned the rights in April 1976, a full month before Interview with the Vampire was to see publication. As early as 1978 word broke of a big screen adaptation with either Rutger Hauer, Jon Voight or Julian Sands and Alain Delon in the roles of Lestat and Louis, respectively and John Boorman attached to direct. As these things tend to go, the project spent the next decade-plus languishing in development hell. Actors aged in and out of their intended roles, directors and screenwriters came and went and the project was on the fast track to nowhere. At one point a gender-swapped script with Cher and Anjelica Huston attached to star was considered. As contracts weren’t renewed the rights reverted to Lorimar, and Warner Bros before finally being obtained by producer David Geffen from The Geffen Film Company. It was the box office success of Francis Ford Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992) that prompted Geffen to give Interview with the Vampire a big budget Hollywood treatment allotting it a lush $60 million, an ensemble cast of present and future superstars and a promising Irish director. After 18 years of being shopped around Hollywood Interview with the Vampire was finally here.

Neil Jordan was the force behind the Little Red Riding Hood fantasy horror The Company of Wolves (1984), he had worked with Irish rock band U2 as he filmed the music video for 'Red Hill Mining Town’ from the band’s landmark 1987 album "The Joshua Tree" and closed the eighties with the comedy We're No Angels (1989). In between his award-winning The Crying Game (1992) and the historical biopic Michael Collins (1996) he was lured to Hollywood for Interview with the Vampire. Jordan would spent the following years distancing himself from horror with, among others, the romance The End of the Affair (1999) and the Showtime series The Borgias (2011-2013). Almost twenty years later he would return to the vampire horror subgenre with Byzantium (2012) where Saoirse Ronan and Gemma Arterton sprouted fangs. Interview with the Vampire proved lucrative, collecting a respectable $223.7 million combined at the domestic and international box office. Producers were looking to adapt the surrounding chapters of the The Vampire Chronicles series, namely The Vampire Lestat and The Queen of the Damned. Instead of two stand-alone adaptations the two were clumsily streamlined into one resulting in the often delayed and monstrosity of a sequel Queen of the Damned (2002) with Stuart Townsend and late r&b singer Aaliyah. Understandably, no more The Vampire Chronicles episodes were adapted in the aftermath.

Overzealous young journalist Daniel Malloy (Christian Slater) has been chasing what he believes to be his latest scoop. For that reason he has been shadowing his latest subject for sometime on the streets of New Orleans. When his subject enters a rowhouse and leaves the door unlocked Malloy sees his chance and follows him inside. For whatever reason Daniel has been beguiled by this in no way interesting looking young man and is deadset on interviewing him. He’s in luck as his well-tailored and pallid subject is more than willing and happy to tell his story. He hopes that Malloy’s publication will serve as a cautionary tale to others. Daniel breaks out his tapes and recorder from his duffel bag and encourages the man to introduce himself as he starts recording.

The man introduces himself as Louis de Pointe du Lac (Brad Pitt), a wealthy indigo plantation owner from 1791 Spanish Louisana who emigrated to New World as part of the Louisana Purchase. Ever since losing his wife and unborn child de Pointe du Lac descended into a cynical and self-destructive downward spiral of gambling, whoring, and drinking heavily inciting brawls in taverns longing for the sweet release of death, either by his own hand or by another’s. On one of his nightly escapades he’s observed by member of the bourgeoisie Lestat de Lioncourt (Tom Cruise). Sensing Louis’ desperation and dissatisfaction with mortal life Lestat offers de Pointe du Lac a life free of suffering, frailty and illness. Louis accepts the invitation but comes to regret his decision once the initial euphoria has worn off. De Lioncourt is embodiment of supreme vampyric evil and a paragon of vanity. He’s a suave and fashion-conscious apex predator with a sociopathic streak that sees mortals as mere chattel to be hunted. Louis is far more compassionate instead deciding to drink the blood of animals to sustain his sanguinary needs. In his plantation house the duo’s every need and want is looked after by maid Yvette (Thandiwe Newton, as Thandie Newton) and the houseslaves. Their eccentric, nocturnal lifestyle frightens the superstitious slaves eventually forcing the two to vacate the premises once Louis sets it alight in a moment of desperation.

In a plague-ridden section of the city Louis finds orphan girl Claudia (Kirsten Dunst) among the lifeless bodies of her parents. Seeing a potential mate for Louis Lestat sets his designs on Claudia and decides to turn her. The undead trio find refuge in an opulent mansion and resume their vampiric ways. Lestat initiates Claudia in the art of murder and she quickly becomes the most misanthropic and bloodthirsty of the three. As thirty years pass Claudia grows increasingly resentful of Louis and Lestat for trapping her growing mind into a never changing prepubescent body. He orders Lestat to make her a companion which he lovingly obliges to turning Madeleine (Domiziana Giordano). Claudia’s destestation leads her to betray Lestat, fatally poisoning him with a dose of laudanum, slit his throat, and dumping his exsanguinated body in the nearest swamp. The two immediately take to planning a trip through Europe in search of other vampires. On the eve of their departure by ship a harried Lestat returns and attacks them necessitating Louis to torch him in self-defense.

The two depart for Europe where they after several decades of drifting end up in the court of Spanish vampire Armand (Antonio Banderas). Armand further mentors Louis in the ways of the undead where they hide in plain sight of mortal Parisians in his Théâtre des Vampires where his undead minions perform Grand Guignol-style stage theatrics (“vampires pretending to be human pretending to be vampires” Louis astutely observes). Santiago (Stephen Rea) reads Louis’ mind and realizes his complicity in Claudia’s murder attempt on Lestat, a capital crime against the vampire moral code. Claudia and Madeleine are killed by sunlight and in revenge Louis torches the theater incinerating everyone inside. Ravaged by loss in the years that follow Louis explores the world alone eventually returning to New Orleans in 1988. There he finds a world-wary and tired Lestat. As his story draws to an end has Malloy learned from his interview with the vampire?

Boasting Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt and Kirsten Dunst with Antonio Banderas, Christian Slater and Thandiwe Newton in supporting slots Interview with the Vampire was blessed with an ensemble cast of sorts. Tom Cruise had formally debuted in Franco Zeffirelli's Endless Love (1981) and the only real skeleton in his closet was the raunchy teen sex comedy Losin' It (1982) (which, all things considered, wasn’t much of a skeleton as it was directed by Roger Corman protegé Curtis Hanson). He had a string of hits to his name with Risky Business (1983), Legend (1985), Top Gun (1986), Rain Man (1988), Born on the Fourth of July (1989), Days of Thunder (1990), and The Firm (1993). Cruise had worked with some of the best and brightest in the business, including (but not limited to) Martin Scorsese, Ridley and Tony Scott, Francis Ford Coppola, Oliver Stone, Barry Levinson, Ron Howard, and Sydney Pollack. In other words, by 1994 Cruise was a legitimate superstar with all the attendant clout and influence that brought. He was able to shape whatever project he desired to his personal preferences. Interview with the Vampire is historically the first time Cruise lowered himself to horror and played what nominally could be called a villain. It wouldn’t be until Collateral (2004) a decade hence where he would play one again. In between The Firm (1993) and Mission: Impossible (1996) this must have been a fun little diversion.

For Brad Pitt this was his first foray into horror since his guest spot on an episode of Freddy's Nightmares (1989) and the tame slasher Cutting Class (1989). Pitt had blindly agreed on the part without fully realizing what it entailed. When he realized his role was mostly passive and expositionary he, understandably, wanted to renege on his contract. As it dawned on him that backing out would cost him 40 million he honored his obligations by giving it his absolute minimum. Kirsten Dunst landed her first big break voicing Kiki in the English-language version of Hayao Miyazaki’s Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989). She somehow escaped unscathed from the Brian De Palma box office bomb The Bonfire of the Vanities (1990) and this was pretty much her only foray into horror. From there Dunst appeared in Little Women (1994) and Jumanji (1995) and in 1996-97 she had a 6-episode arc in ER (1994-2009). At the dawn of the new millennium she became Sofia Coppola’s muse and was one of the major players in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy (2002-2007).

Antonio Banderas and Thandiwe Newton were up-and-coming in Hollywood. Banderas rose to fame in his native Spain thanks to his work with Pedro Almodóvar. Newton was a British actress of Zimbabwean descent that had a few small indies to her name and Interview with the Vampire was to be her first big budget production. Cruise and Newton would reunite six years later in John Woo’s Mission: Impossible 2 (2000). Cruise, Pitt, and Banderas all give memorable performances for mostly the wrong reasons. Cruise revels in playing the reptilian predator, Pitt is pretty much a by-stander in his own story and as a joyless, sexless wretch Banderas is the antithesis of kink-male he played for Almodóvar. Dunst, at the tender age of 12, outplays all three of her more experienced peers. Newton for her part is stuck in a mostly decorative part but thankfully she would land better roles later.

For a movie so singularly concerned with beautiful people living an immortally condemned life of hedonism and debauchery Interview with the Vampire effortlessly fails to be sexy at any point. Sure, the gay overtones of the novel have been dialed down considerably but even from a heteronormative standpoint this is a pretty sexless affair. Those hoping for a good scare or two will be left with their hunger too because it never grows tense either. With production design by Dante Ferreti it oozes all the atmosphere you could possibly want from this sort of thing, but sensual it is not. In typical Hollywood fashion Interview with the Vampire avoids nudity for the most part. Louis’ philandering whoremonger segment is surprisingly free of sleaze and at the Théâtre des Vampires what little nudity there is falls on the shoulders of no-name extras.

True to the novel Interview with the Vampire has to contort itself into some pretty amusing contrivances to excuse Louis’ penchant for prolonging his suffering; mortal, undead, or otherwise. For someone so eager to die he sure finds excuse after convenient excuse to continue on living and sulking every step of the way. On a similar note do Claudia and him systematically fail to exterminate Lestat, the closest this thing has for an antagonist. Likewise does Louis have the nasty habit of torching his domiciles whenever things don’t go his way. If one was feeling charitable you could sort of see the incineration of the vampires at the Théâtre des Vampires in Paris that has Louis wielding a scythe as a nod to Jean Rollin’s Fascination (1979), although it’s doubtful either Rice or Jordan were familiar with French fringe and cult cinema of decades past. Whatever the case as gothic horror Interview with the Vampire lacks both the scares and sensuality the subgenre is usually known and loved for. It lacks it direly.

As with anything nothing ever happens in a vacuum and everything has an ancestor. The mopey, self-pitying sadboi vampire isn’t remotely a modern invention by any stretch of the imagination. As an archetypical ur-character it has several decades worth of cinematic precedent and tradition. In continental European and Latin American pulp cinema early examples include Italian kitsch as The Playgirls and the Vampire (1960) and the sensually brooding Slaughter Of the Vampires (1962). Argentina’s kink-horror breastacular Blood Of the Virgins (1967) as well as the underestimated Paul Naschy romp Count Dracula’s Great Love (1973). Before the not-so-epic Twilight (2008-2012) saga there was Interview with the Vampire and that would’ve never been greenlit if it wasn’t for Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992) that other throwback to gothic horror of yore doing big at the international box office. Whereas Francis Ford Coppola’s horror epic never hid its kitschy inspirations Interview with the Vampire is deadly (and fatally) serious at all times. Those hoping that this would turn into a heteronormative and sanitized Vampyres (1974) will be sorely disappointed. There’s nothing that Hollywood can’t defang and when you defang a vampire don’t expect some, or a lot, of bite.