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'Blade': Black, White and Red All Over

By Michael O'Sullivan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 21, 1998

  Movie Critic

Wesley Snipes is half-human and half-vampire in "Blade."
(New Line)

Stephen Norrington
Wesley Snipes;
Stephen Dorff;
Kris Kristofferson;
Judson Scott;
Traci Lords
Running Time:
2 hours
Prolific blood and violence, profanity and a touch of sensuality
In the lurid, loud and bloodshot "Blade," Wesley Snipes isn't so much cast in the title role of a comic-book superhero vampire hunter as he is infected by it.

As Blade – a half-man, half-vampire born to a mother bitten during pregnancy – Snipes's performance is fever-hot and artery-deep. With his close-cropped hair carved into an aerodynamic V and the flaring trapezius of his neck tattooed like the fenders of a racing-striped muscle car, the actor becomes a nitro-burning vehicle for his larger-than-life alter ego.

In one of the film's earliest scenes, Blade is shown brutally pummeling the face of a policeman he suspects has been collaborating with the vampire underground, which the film would have you believe is everywhere – in the bars and on the subways and in the boardrooms of corporate America.

Using the man's body as an impromptu dust mop, he proceeds to clean up the apartment of a woman he has just rescued from a particularly bloodthirsty jugular-sucker (Donal Logue).

"Is all that necessary?" asks Karen (N'Bushe Wright), as her furniture explodes in splinters.

Strictly speaking, yes. Not to advance the story, however; heavens, no. What narrative there is here – a dense, illogical tangle involving the plot of a young, renegade vampire posse to usurp their elders and deify their leader (Stephen Dorff) – is as ridiculous as the day is long. (Daylight, by the way, is not a problem for today's Gen-X fangsters, as long as they wear SPF-45 sun block.)

What "Blade's" ultra-violence serves – and serves well – is the significant graphic impact of the tale, which is, after all, based on a Marvel comic book, not Shakespeare. Like its inspiration, the film is constructed to engage not the gray matter but the retina, which it grabs and bombards with a barrage of visual stimuli.

With style to burn, director Stephen Norrington, production designer Kirk M. Petrucelli and director of photography Theo Van de Sande have created an entire, lavish world out of only three colors: black, white and red. In the stark, anonymous metropolis of "Blade," there are no other hues.

Blade is an African American, Deacon Frost (Dorff) is a ghostly white man. The film opens in an underground vampire discotheque whose ceiling is equipped with sprinklers that release bright crimson you-know-what. Set to pulse-throbbing techno dance music, the carnal orgy that follows gives new meaning to the term "blood bath."

Neither a traditional vampire movie like "Dracula" nor a post-modern, metaphoric deconstruction of the ancient myth like Abel Ferrara's "The Addiction," "Blade" is a simple commodity: a jarringly framed picture-book of the sort we used to stay up late to read with a flashlight under the bed covers.

The pseudo-mysticism of its preposterous climax certainly contains as much hooey as did the conclusion of Steven Spielberg's "Raiders of the Lost Ark" – with the Ten Commandments and the Nazis of that earlier film being replaced by something called the Book of Erebus and a multinational tribunal of business-suited bloodsuckers. But "Blade's" stomach-turning special effects, bone-crunching martial arts and cynical humor will more than satisfy any action-film addict's need for a fix of eye-popping escapist adrenaline.

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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