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Blade: Wesley Snipes and Traci Lords

An obscure Eighties Marvel Comics superhero gets the big budget treatment in director Stephen Norrington’s Blade. It’s money well spent by the Death Machine creator because his shockingly good Vampire Batman is glossy Horror Fantasy of the highest order. Starting in 1967, with the birth of the anti-vampire assassin, and finishing with a Moscow coda to let us humans know all is well in the undead subordination department, Blade is a sensational action thriller propelled by its artful Horror into the ultra-stylish stratosphere.

Norrington, because he has the proper resources to back his imaginative vision this time out, beguiles the eye with ravishing images while stealing the breath away with nasty surprises. Yet in between the toe-curling gore and neat urban updating of undead iconography, there are wonderfully provocative streaks of dark humour and an unusual emotional depth to the dark material.

Wesley Snipes is Blade, infected by the vampire curse in his mother’s womb, who turns out to be neither human nor undead and therefore an outcast from both societies. Endowed with superhuman strength, and a hunger for blood (which he controls via a special garlic serum), Blade has vowed to keep the streets clean of the ‘suck heads’ allowed to infiltrate every part of our world in a top secret agreement with world politicians.

As long as the vampire clan keep a low profile, governments will take a softly, softly approach to their murderous crimes. Unfortunately, punk half-vampire Deacon Frost (Stephen Dorff) is bored with the status quo and the old Transylvanian guard telling him what to do. So Frost makes it his job to memorize the Book of Erebus in the Vampire History vaults – helped by the outrageously obese librarian Pearl (a Greg Cannom make-up triumph) – with particular attention to the invocation ceremony of the Blood God, La Magra. If Frost revives this ancient evil, he could rule the world. It’s up to Blade, his grizzled mortal helper Whistler (Kris Kristofferson), and newly-bitten recruit Karen (N’Bushe Wright) to stop this fully-fledged Vampire Apocalypse.

Thrilling from the moment it begins in one of Frost’s Blood Bath Disco establishments (the red stuff literally rains down through the sprinkler system on the frenzied revellers in orgy mode), Norrington aims for the comic book panel look and ambience and achieves it with nervy panache. Whether it’s the clever high-tech vampire accoutrements (silver nitrate and essence of garlic mace sprays, stake guns, silver bullets) or the non-stop violence incorporating everything from exploding heads and CGI decompositions to Mortal Kombat style fights and supernatural flying skeleton effects, Blade speeds along like the subway train in one of its most exciting central set-pieces.

Snipes plays Blade to the hilt and couldn’t be better as the reluctant ‘Daywalker’ with a chip on his shoulder as big as Dracula’s castle. He’s a typically square-jawed hero in the clear comic book tradition with, thankfully, as much muscle in the brain as elsewhere. Stephen Dorff brings to mind all those Near Dark / Interview with the Vampire pasty-faced decadents and matches Snipes with a subtly ferocious performance. Kristofferson steals practically every scene he’s in as Blade’s cancer-ridden aide, and few will be able to suppress a laugh when head undead Udo Kier utters the immortal line “I was born a vampire” cheekily recalling his Warhol Dracula days.

Well scripted by David Goyer (the Dark City writer – what happened? Did he get a talent transplant?!) and beautifully designed with an eye for the modern macabre and the gorgeously Gothic, Blade credibly balances its high-octane action elements with well-drawn empathetic character development for a truly visceral punch. Apart from being a tad too long during its second hour, this Blade is as sharp as a razor and whets the appetite for a sequel.

Starburst rating: 9 out of 10
Blade picture copyright Entertainment

'Blade is a sensational action thriller propelled by its artful Horror into the ultrastylish stratosphere’

Blade: Producers, Peter Frankfurt, Wesley Snipes & Robert Engelman. Executive producers, Lynn Harris, Stan Lee, Avi Arad & Joseph Calamari. Co-producers, Andrew J Horne & Jon Divens. Director, Stephen Norrington. Screenplay, David S Goyer, based on characters created by Marv Wolfman & Gene Colan. Music, Mark Isham. Make-up effects, Greg Cannom. Starring Wesley Snipes, Stephen Dorff, Kris Kristofferson, N’Bushe Wright, Donal Logue, Udo Kier, Arly Jover, Traci Lords, Kevin Patrick Walls, Tim Guinee, Sanaa Lathan & Eric Edwards. 121 mins. Cert R/15. Released America: August. Britain: November.
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