Blade review – Wesley Snipes is back in excitingly macabre vampire horror

The first film in the Blade trilogy, made in 1998, is getting a re-release: Wesley Snipes is the implacable and massively ripped daywalker marching around in his shades and leatherised protective armour, slaying the vampires with his cold steel implements and martial-arts skills. Part action hero, part superhero, Blade is a vampire-human halfbreed born from a pregnant woman, for whom labour was horribly induced by the trauma of being bitten. So he has vampire powers but is endowed with the ability to withstand daylight; he is forced to consume a certain serum to suppress his blood-thirst, a methadone substitute for the real thing.

As a homeless, friendless street kid, Blade came under the protection of Abraham Whistler (Kris Kristofferson), a tough old guy who instilled in Blade the vampire-hunting vocation. N’Bushe Wright plays Karen Jenson, the hospital doctor and haematologist who is bitten by a vampire and needs Blade’s help; sneery-pouty Stephen Dorff plays Deacon Front, the posturing vampire-villain who believes he can defeat Blade and achieve mastery of the entire vampire netherworld on earth, and Udo Kier is Dragonetti, the dead-eyed vampire elder who resents the upstart Frost, for upending Dragonetti’s centuries-old realpolitik accommodation with humankind. Frost jeers: “These people are our food, not our allies!”

Blade is of course derived from a Marvel Comics character (Snipes was once thought of as a possible Black Panther) and Stan Lee is duly credited as a producer here. But this is a pre-MCU Marvel movie, without what some might see as the MCU’s corporate-generic signature. It’s clearly more influenced by James Cameron’s Terminator and Snipes’ shades are very much like ones Arnie might wear. So it’s an interesting talking point as to whether or not this is therefore a “real” movie as opposed to the Marvel product.

It certainly has some startling scenes, particularly relating to Blade’s mother, played by Sanaa Lathan, who embarrasses our anti-hero by calling him “Eric” instead of “Blade”: in a modern-day Marvel film, this sort of thing would be the occasion for much ironic comedy. Not here. Blade is an entertainingly macabre and excitingly staged action horror, with a propulsive energy and a prototype “bullet time” sequence one year before the Wachowskis made it famous in The Matrix. There’s an extraordinary gross-out “blood-sprinkler” scene in the vampire disco at the very beginning and an outrageous finale in a bizarre occult setting, with blood dribbling down ornately carved walls like some sort of supercharged Hammer horror. Sadly, the succeeding two films didn’t have anything like the first Blade’s edge, but Snipes himself has charisma: the lost hero of action cinema.

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