Face-Off: Memoirs of an Invisible Man vs. Vampire in Brooklyn

Last week, one of director John Carpenter's least popular movies was released on Blu-ray, his 1992 film MEMOIRS OF AN INVISIBLE MAN (and if you'd like to pick up a copy of that Blu-ray, you can do so at THIS LINK). MEMOIRS was a collaboration between "master of horror" Carpenter and comedic actor Chevy Chase, a sort of pairing that happens on occasion - like when "master of horror" Wes Craven made 1995's VAMPIRE IN BROOKLYN with Eddie Murphy. With MEMOIRS having received a new release, it seemed like the right time to revisit that film, and also see how well the Carpenter/Chase film turned out when compared to the Craven/Murphy film.
Based on a 1986 novel by Harry F. Saint, MEMOIRS OF AN INVISIBLE MAN is a pretty simple tale about a stock analyst who is turned invisible by a lab accident and pursued by the CIA. So simple that a portion of the film is set at a beach house and focuses on the invisible man trying to figure out how to build a relationship with a younger woman. Unlike previous invisible cinematic characters, the guy isn't interested in committing crimes or solving them, he just wants to avoid being experimented on or being forced to become an invisible government agent. It's interesting enough, there's just not a lot going on.
Star Eddie Murphy crafted the story of VAMPIRE IN BROOKLYN with his brother Charles Q. Murphy and stepfather Vernon Lynch, with screenwriters Michael Lucker and Chris Parker then writing the script with Charles. The set-up is that vampires flourished for centuries on an island hidden in the Bermuda Triangle, but now they have been wiped out by vampire hunters, leaving the sole survivor to travel to Brooklyn to seek out the female offspring of a vampire and a human. With this woman, the vampire will rebuild the nosferatu race. It's not a great story, but it could have worked, if not for the messy execution.
MEMOIRS was a passion project for Chevy Chase, who wanted to step away from the comedy a bit with an adventure film that would explore "the loneliness of invisibility". That's not so clear in the finished film - his character Nick Halloway doesn't seem to be extremely lonely, since there's a major love story element here, and while he's not a Clark Griswold goofball, he does provide some amusing moments. Chase does a fine job in the role, though, and makes Nick a likeable character. It comes through that this was a movie he really wanted to make. He seems invested, he's not phoning it in.
Some say Eddie Murphy wanted to play this film straight, others say he just defaulted into being comedic. That confusion is reflected in the movie, where Murphy doesn't seem to know how he wants to play his roles. The vampire Maximillian isn't a particularly funny character (although the wig Murphy wears is laughable), but Murphy goes over-the-top when Maximillian takes on the appearances of an overweight preacher and a white thief. Even then, there's an edge that keeps the scenes from being too amusing. Neither the serious nor the comedic scenes are able to reach their full potential.
Daryl Hannah wasn't given much to work with as Nick's love interest Alice Monroe, who left a law career to become a documentary producer. It's almost love at first sight for Nick and Alice, and when Nick declares that he's nuts about her the viewer still doesn't know much about her. The main thing we know about her by the end of the film is that she's so crazy about Nick that she's willing to ditch her life, flee the country, and live in seclusion with him. Why? Good question.
Rita Veder is a New York detective whose recurring nightmares lead her to fear that she is going insane, like her paranormal researcher mother did after being impregnated by a vampire in the Caribbean. Rita is a strong character with emotional depth who has some very strange experiences while caught in a love triangle with her partner and the vampire, and the performance delivered by actress Angela Bassett makes it seem like she's in a better movie than she actually is.
Chevy Chase didn't intend for MEMOIRS to be a comedy, but there are still humorous situations, many of them involving Nick's invisibility, like a scene where Alice makes him visible again with a wig and some awful makeup. There's a sequence I loved in which Nick knocks out a drunk and uses the unconscious man to catch a cab, carrying him into the vehicle and moving his lips to make it look like he's talking. It's not a funny situation, but co-star Sam Neill also proves capable of physical comedy in a scene where Nick has a gun to his head.
VAMPIRE IN BROOKLYN feels like it should be a much funnier movie. Murphy is going for laughs as the preacher and the thief (and as Maximillian with some stray lines here and there), Kadeem Hardison is giving a comedic performance as the vampire's pet ghoul, John Witherspoon rants and ad libs his way through some scenes. Despite all this, there are only a few moments in the film that I found to be truly amusing. The movie just feels too awkward and scatterbrained to be funny.
MEMOIRS OF AN INVISIBLE MAN doesn't feel like a John Carpenter movie. This is him going generic, dropping his trademarks to make a studio-friendly film, and there's no noticeable trace of him in here. Before Carpenter, Ivan Reitman and Richard Donner were both attached to this movie at different times, and it could have been made by any of them. The lack of visual flair could be blamed on the complicated visual effects, and it is commendable that Carpenter put in the required time and patience for that process. But it would have been nice if the film had more of the style we expect from him.
Wes Craven wasn't as successful at making an Eddie Murphy comedy (sort of) as his fellow "master of horror" John Landis was, but he did make a Murphy movie that clearly has his visual stamp on it. If you were to include VAMPIRE IN BROOKLYN in a marathon of latter day Craven movies, this would fit right in - there's no question that this came from the same director as films like THE PEOPLE UNDER THE STAIRS, NEW NIGHTMARE, SCREAM and its sequels, etc. It doesn't seem like anyone involved really knew what this movie should be, but its director did know how he wanted it to look.
MEMOIRS OF AN INVISIBLE MAN has a bad rap, but while it feels like it's not all it could have been and it's disappointing that Carpenter didn't bring more of his personal style to it, it's actually not a bad movie. It's watchable and enjoyable. I can't say the same for VAMPIRE IN BROOKLYN, which is not an easy movie for me to sit through. Nothing it's trying to do really works, so the main thought in my mind while watching it is, "How did this happen?"

Do you agree, or do you think VAMPIRE is better than MEMOIRS? Share your thoughts on these films in the comments section below. If you would like to send in suggestions for future Face-Off articles, you can contact me at [email protected].



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