Some might find this hard to credit, but for a brief, shining moment in his somewhat miserable life, Bela Lugosi was a sex symbol. This was back in 1931, when he played Dracula. Of all movie monsters, the vampire is the most seductive, and vampirism is the favorite gothic metaphor for erotic abandon in the days of vampire chroniclers Bram Stoker and J.S. Le Fanu, considered an unmentionably bad thing. Their works posited a battle between debauched immortality (vampire) and uncorrupted mortality (victim). Hence the fairly simple equation: The hotter the vampire, the more white-throated and trembling the vampire's intended, the more discomfiting the saga.
One of the thornier contradictions inherent in this proposition is that discomfiture doesn't suffice to make a good movie. Consider the lesser, direct-to-video Embrace of the Vampire which plays the vampire/victim dynamic to the hilt and packs a substantial erotic punch. Embrace is almost totally occupied with the tossings and turnings of its virginal college-student heroine, who has been singled out by a vampire who is never even named.
Charlotte, the prey of Embrace's vampire, does not emerge as a full-fledged character. Still, as played by former teen cutie Alyssa Milano, she provides more than the requisite white-throatedness. As she begins to succumb explicitly to the blandishments of her vampire stalker (her hair actually starts to curl!), the movie begins to build a convincingly erotic atmosphere.
Director Anne Goursaud, one of the editors of Bram Stoker's Dracula, shines things up to as high a gloss as the film's (low) budget will allow. But for all the heat it generates, it's not a terribly good movie; the writing is stiff, the supporting characters cardboard cutouts. As the title creature, former rocker Martin Kemp (The Krays) seems more like a Bryan Ferry wannabe than the walking personification of lustful evil, but he's got a few tricks up his sleeve he can turn himself into Jennifer Tilly, which is something even I'd like to be able to do. Although it hews more closely to conventional vampire verities than Interview With the Vampire does, in abandoning almost every other consideration for the sake of the odd erotic jolt, Embrace ends up as glossy trash designed to get Milano out of her frock as often as possible and give her a vaguely legitimate excuse to do so. To those who shrug, ''What's wrong with that?'': Well, now you know which movie to rent. C-