Another turn of the dial, another vampire tale for the folks at home; TV sure did like them bloodsuckers, and for good reason – it’s generally the same story that everyone knows, and you don’t really need more than some fake chompers. A few wrinkles to the tale certainly helps to be set apart, as does a strong creative presence; and when you do those things, you end up with something like I, Desire (1982), a fun little neck biter that’s different just enough to stand out.
Originally broadcast November 15th as part of The ABC Monday Night Movie, I, Desire (AKA Desire, The Vampire) had to use its wooden stakes on M*A*S*H and Newhart over on CBS, while NBC trotted out their Monday Night at the Movies. I’m pretty sure I would have begged my folks to watch the vampire flick over Hawkeye if I had been given the chance. (I mean, that war only lasted for 3 years; why was the series on for 10 anyway? Wrap it up!)
Let’s open our entombed TV GUIDE and see what bats are hiding in the belfry:
I, DESIRE (Monday, 9pm, ABC)
A law student runs afoul of a vampires masquerading as a prostitute. David Naughton, Dorian Harewood star.
We open on an L.A. street, as a middle-aged man propositions a shadowed streetwalker for a transaction. She hops in his car, and they proceed to the nearest seedy motel, where she proceeds to suck…the blood from his neck. Cut to the morgue, and full-time law student/part-time coroner’s assistant David Balsiger (Naughton – An American Werewolf in London) is doing some late night studying when the motel john is wheeled in, drained of blood. Shortly after, a sheepish priest (Brad Dourif – Body Parts) comes by asking to view the body on behalf of the family. David complies, and when he comes back a short time later, the priest is gone; which is good as the man’s rabbi had also come by.
On the hunt for the fake priest, David crosses paths with Detective Jerry Van Ness (Harewood – Looker), who’s trying to find out why middle-aged business men are showing up dead with bite marks and a lack of plasma; David soon finds out however, as he eventually crosses paths with Desire herself (Barbara Stock – Spenser: For Hire). Can he resist her deadly charms?
I, Desire is essentially a morality tale wrapped up in a well worn horror comforter. David is told by the defrocked priest Paul (in a wonderful scene with Dourif) that vampires cannot attack a “righteous” man; in other words, the guy who keeps it in his pants will keep his life. This is, of course, a total inversion of normal vampire lore – they usually like their blood untainted by sin. It makes complete sense to hide as a hooker; your meals are delivered right to you.
This morality comes into play with David and his girlfriend Cheryl (Marilyn Jones – V) as well; having just moved in together, she questions his fidelity as he becomes more involved in the deaths (I’m sure tracking down prostitutes for “clues” is not relationship affirming in any way). What I, Desire doesn’t do, quite encouragingly, is come down on sex workers; in fact, by making one a vampire, it imbues the profession with a strength not always afforded on the small screen (or big, for that matter).
These are intriguing questions in a telefilm; which is good, because it certainly isn’t plot driven. If anything it plays like a slight update on the Kolchak: The Night Stalker TV series, with Naughton’s everyday student replacing Darren McGavin’s everyday reporter. And the reason it has that same vibe can probably be attributed to director John Llewellyn Moxey, who directed the original The Night Stalker (1972) telefilm. He just had a knack for capturing a certain mood in a short amount of time; it’s hard enough as it is to convey that on the small screen with limited resources, but he does it with ease, through lighting, sharp editing, and getting effective performances from his cast.
Naughton was just coming off AAWIL, and he is so good at acting put upon that you can’t help but embrace his appealing nature (which comes in very handy during the third act, trust me); you can feel his confidence bubbling over. Harewood has always been a respectable supporting actor, and here he gets a chance to shine in something closer to a leading role, or at least the sane sounding board to David’s undead ramblings. Jones and Stock are solid as heroine and villainess, respectively, but of course when you have Dourif on board it’s hard to compete; his Paul is fairly restrained and wholly convincing as the vampire hunter whose grasp on reality grows more tenuous every day.
I, Desire doesn’t upend the vampire film by any stretch of the imagination, but sharpens the stake enough for horror fans to appreciate the effort. Sometimes subversion can be as simple as a little inversion.Next: It Came From The Tube: DEADLY MESSAGES (1985)