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Film review: Innocent Blood

John Landis, whose previous foray into horror-comedy was the funny, scary but excessively gory "An American Werewolf in London" some 11 years ago, tries the genre again with "Innocent Blood," which could be dubbed "A French Vampire in Pittsburgh."

Though it is even more gory than "Werewolf," "Blood" is not nearly as funny or scary. This anemic vampire tale boasts an interesting premise but suffers from lethargic pacing and an overdose of splatter special effects.

For fans of gorefests the latter may be enough, but most audiences are likely to feel cheated.

It's easy to imagine Landis pitching this movie, which is as high-concept as they come — Come on guys, think "Dracula Meets the Godfather."

Anne Parillaud, who scored with "La Femme Nikita" a few years ago, has the central role as a sad-eyed European vampire with a conscience who feeds off local mobsters — she gets her daily dose of blood while providing a service to the community.

But she meets her match in Robert Loggia, as a crime boss who manages to injure her before she can finish him off. The result, of course, is that he rises as one of the undead and eventually puts the bite on his gang so he can have the first vampire mob.

Meanwhile, Parillaud teams up with undercover cop Anthony La Paglia to stop Loggia and friends.

There are some interesting ideas here but most remain undeveloped as the film meanders from big moment to big moment, most laced with lavish, if disgusting, special effects and Landis' trademark in-jokes.

Never one to use subtlety when a sledgehammer approach will do, Landis consistently pushes the film over the top. Here, vampires don't simply bite into their victims' necks and leave little puncture wounds — they rip out huge hunks of flesh, covering everything in sight with blood.

Landis also can't resist setting up his gags by letting us know their true origins. Before we see a vampire's skin burn and disintegrate because he is exposed to the sun, we are shown on a TV screen the climax of the 1958 film "Horror of Dracula," which uses the same device. In fact, Landis uses so many old horror movie clips here that it begins to look like a Halloween episode of his HBO TV series "Dream On."

He also can't resist tossing aside some vampire conventions while celebrating others. Why is it that garlic makes them sick yet they have mirror reflections? What's more, these vampires can be killed with a bullet to the head (like George Romero's zombies in "Night of the Living Dead"), so there are no references to crosses or wooden stakes. It's OK to change the rules if there's some consistency — or if the audience is let in on the revisions — but it's apparent that "Innocent Blood" is more interested in shock value than storytelling.

As for the performances, Parillaud's interesting screen presence serves her well but she seems uncomfortable speaking English dialogue. But Loggia is energetic and unstoppable, making the most of his villainous role.

The film is rated a very hard R (sort of "Basic Instinct" as a horror film) with excessive violence and gore, quite a lot of sex and nudity and a good deal of profanity.