Martha’s had a bad day. A dead sorceress has hauled her out of her coffin, one of her offspring left behind a dismembered corpse, and she passed out unexpectedly. But it’s now nighttime, and nighttime is the right time when you’re a sorceress-vampire, eh? Well, maybe some nights, but not tonight. Martha’s bad day continues to deliver ugly surprises in chapter 27 of Martha’s Children, as she tries to get a handle on the sorcerers’ war.
If you’re not already reading Martha’s Children, my serialized story of vampires and cops in 1969 Chicago, you can start here. And a new chapter goes up every Friday.
There have been vampire cops before in books and movies long before I conceived of Martha’s Children. I’ve just been reading the first of the Sookie Stackhouse/Southern Vampire series, Dead Until Dark (2001), which mentions vampire cops in passing. And so because it’s Rick Springfield’s birthday (he’s 64), I thought I’d review the earliest movie I know of to feature a vampire cop as the main character, Nick Knight.
Australian-born Rick Springfield had been one of those rare celebrities who was successful as a singer, actor, and heartthrob simultaneously. His biggest hit, “Jesse’s Girl,” was in 1981, at the same time he began playing Dr. Noah Drake on the soap opera General Hospital. But by 1989, his career had faded.
The TV movie Nick Knight was an attempt to recover his fame. He would play a handsome brooding Los Angeles cop who also happened to be a vampire tormented by his murderous nature. The soundtrack would feature contemporary pop hits, maybe even some by Springfield himself. (That last did not pan out.) And it would serve as a pilot for a TV series.
If all this sounds a bit familiar, it’s because it did get made into a TV series, Forever Knight. But that would be three years later, set in Toronto, and using an almost entirely new cast. Springfield’s movie would be recycled as the opening episodes of the series, but otherwise he did not appear in it. Geraint Wyn Davies would take on the Nick Knight role.
But what about Springfield’s movie itself?
First of all, it’s a TV movie from 1989. Production values aren’t bad, but they aren’t great. Springfield is about the biggest name here, playing protagonist Nick Knight. Laura Johnson, who had been on the nighttime soap Falcon Crest a few years before, plays the romantic interest, an archaeologist who eventually figures out what Nick is. Nick’s residence is impressive, indeed, far too impressive. I think whoever devised it has seen Connor MacLeod’s New York lair in Highlander and decided to go one better.
On the up side, the movie has an intriguing start, with a confusing set of crimes and some great video work. Springfield gets to play Nick Knight as a vampire trying to “mainstream,” get himself away from his vampire nature back to being more human. While this is often played for humor, the script deserves credit for showing how this would not be an easy process. The murder mystery turns out to be more complicated than one might think. Johnson actually gets to use her brain a few times as an archaeologist with a connection to the Mesoamerican ritual on which one subplot turns.
On the other hand, it’s a Springfield movie. We are not allowed to forget that Springfield is a rock musician and heartthrob. (Hence the scene in the TV movie’s trailer, seen here on YouTube.) He gets quite a bit of time with his shirt off, which should make feminists happy that this time it’s a guy who’s being sexually exploited. On the other hand, they’ll be furious that all the women under 60 seem instantly ready to fall in bed with Nick Knight. This includes Laura Johnson’s archaeologist character, setting up one of the least convincing instant attractions and romances I’ve seen. As I said, Johnson gets to use her brain a few times. But not when Nick is around; then she’s all hormones.
There are other problems with this picture. The movie is coy about revealing that Nick is a vampire: the definite revelation scene is about halfway through the film. Instead, the dialogue constantly hints at Nick’s nature. At first, these hints come across as sly jokes. But after the 2,384th such joke, they have all the subtlety of the Three Stooges. The subplot of the vampire parent come to chastise his wayward offspring seems hackneyed now. And the ending is simply hokey. Nick’s had his ass whipped by his evil parent vampire repeatedly, but at the sight of his girlfriend (Johnson’s archaeologist) dead at the fangs of his parent vampire, his rage gives him the strength to defeat the cur.
Nick Knight did not prove to be a career restarter for Rick Springfield. Yet he’s still around, singing and acting. He even reprised his role as Dr. Noah Drake on General Hospital this year. So give the man a tip of your hat on his 64th birthday!
Anyone know of any earlier vampire cops on TV or in the movies? Anyone who saw the TV series Forever Knight (1992 – 1996) who can offer some thoughts and maybe even comparisons?