'Blood Ties': the vampire strikes back

May 27, 1991|By John J. O'Connor | John J. O'Connor,New York Times News Service /

Wake up, blond and blue-eyed America! Those swarthy types living down the street, the ones with the dark hair and smoldering eyes, they're very likely to be vampires. Or so Richard and Esther Shapiro would have you believe.

Back in the 1980s, the Shapiros created "Dynasty," the perfect packaging of the glitz and greed that would define the Reagan era. Now, for the presumably more hard-bitten 1990s, the bloodsucking turns quite literal in "Blood Ties," tonight's "Fox Night at the Movies" presentation at 8 (channels 5, 45.

These particular dark-complected citizens, living in Long Beach, Calif., prefer to be called Carpathians. Like many other ethnic groups they stick to themselves but there are increasing pressures for assimilation.

Harry Martin (Harley Venton) is a 30-ish newspaper reporter who keeps telling his fellow Carpathians that "we're Americans and it's time we came out of the coffin."

But the old ways die hard, especially when a group of religious fanatics called the Southern Coalition Against Vampires resumes its ritual killings. As one Carpathian elder puts it, "We're all trying to get civilized; it's just that some of us have a little trouble getting the hang of it."

Poor Harry is caught in the middle. On one side there is a violent Carpathian biker gang led by his decidedly unbalanced distant cousin, Butch Vlad (Salvator Xeureb). Butch fancies himself to be a shrike, an unpleasant little bird that impales its victims on thorn bushes.

On the other side is Amy Lawrence (Kim Johnston-Ulrich), a beautiful prosecuting attorney who is, of course, blond and blue-eyed. "She's not for you," warns Celia, a sultry Carpathian with a yen of her own for Harry. "She's a twinkie."

Amy keeps wondering why Harry won't go to bed with her, unaware that Carpathians have a tradition of sinking their teeth into the necks of lovers. They also have a taste for the melodramatic, Harry says, which probably comes from too much inbreeding, not to mention the fertile imaginations of the Shapiros.

Into this odd picture wanders Cody (Jason London), a teen-age Donny Osmond look-alike whose parents have been killed in Texas, wooden stakes driven through their hearts. Now Harry and Butch will compete for Cody's innocent soul.

The boy allows that "I guess I always did know that my folks were a little strange." But Harry argues that the "old ways" were not what Cody's parents wanted for him and that's why they moved away. The youngster is understandably confused, especially about this business of biting one another. "It's an acquired taste," Harry explains sheepishly.

This being a Fox movie, there are ingeniously contrived opportunities for steamy sex scenes and showing characters in various stages of undress. Male displays seem to depend on the character's age.

Young Cody gets to parade around in briefs, but the more discreet Harry wears shorts. Fox apparently has its rigid dress codes. David Lynch fans won't fail to notice the presence in a few small scenes of Grace Zabriskie, a favorite in that director's repertory company ("Wild at Heart," "Twin Peaks").

Ratings willing, "Blood Ties" easily could be developed into a weekly series. Now more than ever, it seems, Fox will try anything.

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