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How Vampire in Brooklyn holds up 25 years later
So we all agree that Rita should have been single at the end, right?
The already-ageless Angela Bassett plays a halfling vamp in the cult classic Vampire in Brooklyn, directed by Wes Craven and written by Eddie Murphy, the late Charles Q. Murphy (his brother), and Michael Lucker. The 25th anniversary of a film always beckons the question: did it age well? In most cases, the answer is no (especially in regards to dialogue) but there were some silver linings to this wacky horror flick released back in 1995.
It should be noted that this film casually makes fun of trans people and women, a sign of the time Hollywood relied on cheap jokes in order to appeal to the cisgender, male masses. However, once you filter through the muck, what is left is a solid attempt at diversifying horror cinema with a touch of Craven’s campy, dark humor. The movie can be considered a successful execution of the burgeoning Black horror film craze attached to the brand of the Murphy brothers and Wes Craven’s clout, as more Black leads were being introduced into the genre.
Opening with Silas Green (John Witherspoon) and Julius Jones (Kadeem Hardison) at a shipyard in pre-gentrification Brooklyn, the vampire Maximillian (Eddie Murphy) arrives in the city. He has come to Brooklyn in search of the last vampire of his coven, since the entire race had been chased out of Africa and now eliminated from their Caribbean home. In a wisecrack against the well-known Nosferatus of cinema, Maximillian expresses that "vampires with taste went to the south of Africa and eventually over the Atlantic." This connection to the traumatic history of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade also segues into the world of the Black community of Brooklyn and its combination of American life and rich African Diasporic traditions (such as the usage of Vodun in the film).
After rescuing Julius from Italian mafiosos, Maximillian turns him into a ghoul to aid him in his search for his true love. Cue the multitalented Angela Bassett as Rita Veder, a New York City detective with a complicated past. Unbeknownst to her, she is a half-vampire that has been "pre-destined" to fall in love with Maximillian. Autonomy aside, Rita becomes entangled between two men who, honestly, do not deserve her (classic story). Justice (Allen Payne) is both a prospective boyfriend (ew) and loyal cop partner (double ew) who toys with his commitment to her, leaving her on a string. Meanwhile, Max just wants someone to spend eternity with, murder indiscriminately, and populate the vampire world. Either way, Rita just needs answers as to why she has always felt a greater purpose and the truth about what happened to her mother. However, there's plenty to ship in the dynamic between Rita and her roommate Nikki (Simbi Kahli) because the men in the film are absolutely self-serving and only looking to claim a prize. Of course, Nikki ends up dying because she is hypersexualized and a textbook Jezebel, which technically renders her as expendable — but maybe in an alternative universe, Nikki and Rita fly away as lesbian vampires, leaving the city to blood suck in peace together. We can dream, right?
In the actual film, however (and not our fanfiction on AO3), Rita is seduced by Max and is turned into a creature of the night. Still, her empathy towards humans and her willingness to be a good, Christian woman tear her into pieces. Max throws consistent shade at her self-esteem and lack of motivation to live out her dreams, though you have to ask yourself, would she be able to achieve that with a corny-ass vampire? Regardless of her desire to not be a vampire, Max has a showdown with a Vodun priest and Justice, who attempt to save Rita before she is completely turned. They succeed in ridding the world of a greasy vampire, but we are left with an open ending for a second film, setting up Julius as Max's inheritor of the bloody gift. Due to its mixed reviews, we were never graced with the Julius in Brooklyn sequel.
While not perfect, Vampire in Brooklyn does hearken back to a time where Black comedies and the prospect of Black cinematic achievements across genres were broadening on the horizon. With films like Tales From The Hood and The People Under The Stairs, it seemed fitting that Murphy, who has a penchant for practical effects and playing different characters, would find solace in a lawless genre. Combining horror and comedy is no easy feat, as there is a fine line between being completely offensive or hilariously outrageous. While the quips about women and the locker room banter definitely don't hold up today, there are chuckle-worthy moments, like the Guido character Murphy created as a tongue-in-cheek commentary on Italian Americans in cinema.
Vampire in Brooklyn should not be remade, but rather should serve as a reminder of how far we have come in regards to Black horror. There has been an onslaught of Black horror films that have been released within the past few years and it seems that more are in the making. One can only hope that these films will pay homage to those who paved the way for the genre, but with an emphasis on eradicating the unnecessary practice of utilizing the marginalized within our own communities as a cheap joke. Oh, and more Black lesbian horror while we're at it — that would be really, really cool.