Cheesiness is its own reward in "Razor Blade Smile," an over-the-top vampire romp sure to have Bela Lugosi rolling in his grave. Pic's canny combo of omnisexual romping and campy violence makes up for any debits in the acting and plotting departments, with stylish design and a sizzling lead, in the form of scream queen Eileen Daley, sure to draw blood from the latenight crowd before opening up a healthy video vein.

Cheesiness is its own reward in “Razor Blade Smile,” an over-the-top vampire romp sure to have Bela Lugosi rolling in his grave. Pic’s canny combo of omnisexual romping and campy violence makes up for any debits in the acting and plotting departments, with stylish design and a sizzling lead, in the form of scream queen Eileen Daley, sure to draw blood from the latenight crowd before opening up a healthy video vein.

In a black-and-white (and red all over) preamble, pic shows how buxom 19 th-century gal Lilith Silver (Daley) became one of the undead. After Lilith loses a loved one in a duel with the cruel Sir Sethane Blake (Christopher Adamson), Blake also shoots her and then revives the lass with his patented canine-incisors method.

Flash forward to decadent modern London, where leather-clad Lilith — an Emma Peel for the self-absorbed ’90s — barely stands out. Her durability, cunning and carnal needs make her chosen career of hit woman an apt fit. She also has a soft spot for the mysterious man (Kevin Howarth), who delivers her marching orders but doesn’t engage in any violence himself.

Story, such as it is, involves a conspiratorial group that has infiltrated the highest levels of business and government. But now, somebody’s bumping off the so-called Illuminati, and black-haired Lilith seems to be doing a lot of the bumping. Sir Sethane turns out to be the force behind the gang, a kind of Freemasons with teeth; he’s upset about this apparent “conspiracy against the conspiracy” and enlists gormless Scotland Yard detective Ray Price (Jonathan Coote) to track down his wayward creation.

The guy doesn’t stand a chance, and neither do the other hapless creatures who cross paths with Lilith, who likes a good bedtime romp before sampling the house red. True to the genre, she enjoys both AC and DC blood types, as is discovered by the similarly attired Auriana (Heidi James), a Goth girl who thinks she knows everything about vampires.

Clearly, none of this is meant to be taken seriously, even by horror standards — a point driven home by a variably talented cast united by almost everyone’s tendency to do a lot of hissing, creeping down halls and generally making like Nosferatu. Nifty, on-the-cheap production design goes for baroque at every turn, and there are plenty of wide-angle shots and other distortions to heighten dream scenes, flashbacks and other essentially pointless diversions. Title credit sequence is particularly inventive, and drew applause at Vancouver midnight screening.

Helmer Jake West makes it clear that he wants to have fun above all else and does a good job of yoking together disparate elements — only a long outdoor seg in a rocky field drags. Thesps and script show Yank influences that are turning up with increasing frequency in Brit productions, with body language and even pronunciation sometimes reflecting U.S. actioners more than more obvious forebears, Hammer Films and Barbara Steele pics. It hardly matters, given the riotous blend on offer; a delicious twist at the end helps.

West, incidentally, has a contractual deal with U.K. exhibs not to show his “Smile” at matinees. Everyone knows that vampire movies shouldn’t be seen in daylight.

Razor Blade Smile

(HORROR -- BRITISH)

Production

A Palm Pictures/Manga Live presentation of an Eye Deal Image Prods. (London) production, in association with Beatnik Pictures. (International sales: Palm Pictures, New York.) Produced by Jake West, Robert Mercer. Executive producers, Jake West, David West, Rob Mercer, Marvin Gleicher, Laurence Guinness. Directed, written, edited by Jake West.

Crew

Camera (color, B&W), James Solan; music, Richard Wells; production designer, Neil Jenkins; costume stylist, Dena Costello; sound, Chris Pye; associate producers, Suzanne Lee-Barnes, Will Jeffery. Reviewed at Vancouver Film Festival, Oct. 4, 1998. Running time: 101 MIN.

With

Lilith Silver ..... Eileen Daley Sethane Blake ..... Christopher Adamson Platinum ..... Kevin Howarth Ray Price ..... Jonathan Coote Horror Movie Man ..... David Warbeck Ariauna ..... Heidi James
With: Jennifer Guy, Louisa Moore, Isabel Brook, Glenn Wrage.
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