Sometimes you really can judge a movie by its cover, and I Bought A Vampire Motorcycle is everything that you can expect from such a high-concept title. It’s a campy horror-comedy about someone buying a motorcycle, finding out that it’s a vampire, and then dealing with the fallout from that. It’s got blood, it’s got gore, it’s got actors that any British audience of the time would have recognised as “oooh, it’s them off of the telly!” and it’s got Anthony Daniels to make the rest of the world go “oooh, it’s them off of Star Wars!”. If you want something serious, either in concept or delivery, then you only have yourself to blame for your disappointment, and if you want to spend 101 minutes really ugly-laughing at a film then read on.
To recap the plot: Noddy (Neil Morrissey) buys a motorcycle and then finds out it’s a vampiric motorcycle. This is explained through a series of events including the bike not running during the day time, his mate Buzzer (Daniel Peacock) being found decapitated in a room with bloody tyre tracks on the walls, and his girlfriend Kim (Amanda Noar) being hijacked by it and driven around town. At the same time, Noddy is being terrorised by the local Hells Angels (who are responsible for the death of the Satanist that turned the bike into a vampire) and investigated by Inspector Cleaver (Michael Elphick) for all the murders that have been going on. He finds the Priest (Anthony Daniels) and tries to get the bike exorcised, and then the rest of the film is them chasing it, whilst it’s off doing a lot of murders, or being chased by it.
Will the good guys win? Will the evil Norton triumph? You already know the answers to that, which is why what you really want to know is, “can you laugh along to those murders?”. Yes, yes you can. Partly because the creators took the very sensible path of making a lot of the death scenes follow classic vampire cliches, just with a motorcycle rather than someone in a cloak, and partly because the bike is incredibly well animated so as it feels like it has personality and agency. It’s performance is only comparable to the killer car tyre in Rubber on that front, although the bike’s ability to transform its shape helps get across a lot of its emotion. No dumb-but-logical gag about the premise is missed, but also none are overused or done ineffectively. The killing maintains a brisk level of inventiveness, never becoming bogged down in showing off or overplaying its hand.
As for the gore, there is a satisfyingly liberal amount of body fluids and parts thrown around to keep you chuckling evilly. This is mostly in the two-thirds of the film, once the “is it or isn’t it a vampire motorcycle?” set up finally naffs off and lets the blood run free. Technically it’s incredibly violent, with bodily mutilations and dismemberments going on hither and thither, but the comedic timing and hyper-earnestness of a patently ridiculous situation keeps it on the amusing rather than the horrific side of things. The BBFC advise that it contains “strong bloody violence” and “gory injury detail” but also gave it a 15 at its original release, if that helps give you the level of it.
About the most unsettling thing in the movie isn’t gory at all, but is a talking turd that attacks Noddy. This kind of surreal and juvenile humour is peppered throughout, with a delightfully straight face, along with nods to British society at the end of the 80s as a whole. It’s also possibly saying something about the then-contemporary social and economic situation in Birmingham, which is where it was filmed. But, with every actor sounding like they’ve just walked off central casting for the Generic London Drama Hour and almost no mention of the setting in the script, it’s pretty hard to pick anything up about that. Still, at least they tried. A bit.
The comedy further is mixed up with a number of Carry-On-worthy sex gags, dashes of period-accurate misogynistic banter, the inevitable stupidity of the Hells Angels, incidences of people just being amusingly silly, and non-violent riffs on vampire mythos and story expectations. Also, a parking ticket officer gets eaten alive, and if you think you won’t laugh at that you’re lying to yourself.
The only two bits that don’t really work is the first act and the main character, and that these aren’t major concerns should give you an idea of how awesome the rest of the film is. The opening third of the film manages to be a bit plodding and dull, mostly because the audience already knows what the situation is. We get gradually introduced to the key characters, which is fine, but then we get to see them try and work out what’s happening with the bike for way too long. Obviously, the groundwork needs to be set, but it only avoids being tedious through a series of violent jolts, rather than the steady and consistent action in the other two acts.
What doesn’t stop being tedious is Noddy, who is both a waster and a jerk towards Kim. His life is bikes, booze, and sparking up a joint with zero ambition to do anything else. Meanwhile, Kim is running the company office, is clearly pretty smart, and just puts up with his bullshit. I don’t need every character to be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, and having an “everyman” character is always acceptable, but I shouldn’t be taking time out from a bloodbath to ask what the hell she’s doing with such a loser. His authentic period sexism also doesn’t help, as it makes him look even more of a petulant, but just about likable enough for the film, child.
Other than those two small issues, this is a 100% Treasure to watch. It’s realistically fantastical, it plays with it’s concept without overstaying its welcome, and it’s filled with the kind of silliness and audacity that’ll make you laugh like a drain should you be so inclined. That it’s not more well known is a shame, as it’s one of the greatest genre-twisting horrors going, and I can only recommend you find it and give it a try.