Let There Be Lesbians! Celebrate Easter with the Sinfully Sweet ‘Jesus Christ Vampire Hunter’

On Friday nights, IndieWire After Dark takes a feature-length beat to honor fringe cinema in the streaming age. 

First, the spoiler-free pitch for one editor’s midnight movie pick — something weird and wonderful from any age of film that deserves our memorializing. 

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Then, the spoiler-filled aftermath as experienced by the unwitting editor attacked by this week’s recommendation.

The Pitch: A Very Sapphic Second Coming

Given the choice to watch Jesus fight a pack of lesbian vampires or an honest-to-God homophobe, I will almost always choose the lesbian vampires. It’s not that I wouldn’t like to see an intolerant bigot get roundhouse-kicked by the Prince of Peace; in fact, that image is particularly tempting ahead of Easter weekend during an election year.

But as an ex-Catholic school girl born of the “Twilight” generation, my unquenchable thirst for horny vampires supersedes my taste for virtue signaling most of the time. Lucky for me, the very queer “Jesus Christ Vampire Hunter” is a slice of heavenly shlock that was made for having just that sort of LGBT cake — and eating it too.

Pitting a radically accepting Catholic Church and its resurrected Messiah against a dangerous horde of vampires killing lesbians in Ottawa, director Lee Demarbre and writer Ian Driscoll debuted this low-budget genre blend to a handful of delighted audiences in the summer of 2001. The surprisingly feel-good parody — which combines an action-spoof framework with gothic horror, a few songs, and some terribly, terribly produced girl-on-girl sexiness — made festival rounds and established its devoted cult fandom the following year.

Breaking out with this sapphic spin on the Second Coming, the Canadian filmmakers previously worked together on “Harry Knuckles.” That was a series of campy kung-fu shorts, which inspired the martial arts portion of Demarbre’s blood-sucking feature and assembled much of the talent needed to make it. Actor Phil Caracas — AKA Mr. Knuckles himself — stars this time as Jesus: a laidback Son of God, who is totally down with the lesbians and looks rad as hell in some barbell hoop earrings. He’s emerging from the sea in a bad wig. He’s leading a jazzy dance number completely off-key. He’s riding a skateboard, really, really badly! I don’t know, he’s Jesus!

Newly tasked with protecting these at-risk queer congregants, Ottawa’s Lord and Savior is going to need some muscle; enter Jeff Moffet in an unauthorized revival of the late Mexican luchador character, El Santo (originated by Rodolfo Guzmán Huerta). Jesus will also combine forces with investigative action star Mary Magnum (Maria Moulton) who loves to use her chunky laptop in a heated sauna (???), perpetually wears an ill-fitting red jumpsuit, and has been looking into this specific breed of the undead for quite some time. “Why can they walk in the sunlight?” everyone desperately wants to know for some ultimately pretty unimportant reason.

Our lady in red may also have a thing for the de facto sexiest vampire, Maxine Shreck (Murielle Varhelyi). Maxine used to be a lezzie concert organizer at the church. Now, she’s a demonic ringleader wearing black lipstick and… slides? Just go with it. She’s frequently seen with Johnny Golgotha (screenwriter Driscoll rocking a strong Christian Bale in “American Psycho” impression) and a few dozen weaponized atheists. Do the gays believe in God? Does God believe in the gays? Who is better in hand-to-hand combat?

From a high-hat backed recitation of the Bible’s books (“Matthew… tsst… tsst… tsst.. Mark… tsst… tsst…”) to the massacre at the Lesbian Drop-In Center complete with “But I’m a Cheerleader” poster, “Jesus Christ Vampire Hunter” is a spectacularly silly D-movie. It’s also an earnestly sweet exercise in unpacking religious homophobia that’s anchored in ridiculous dialogue (“If I’m not back in five minutes, call the Pope!”) and sincere sentiment (“Love isn’t deviant!”) Come for the promise of a film that’s blissfully blasphemous; come again for the queer cuties who found it first. —AF

The Aftermath: Jesus Died to Save Us from Our Cinema

Few predicaments require me to probe my overlapping identities as a Catholic and a free speech absolutist more intensely than the age old question of whether Jesus Christ is too sacred to appear in a schlocky lesbian vampire B-movie. But when I heard that we were tackling a movie called “Jesus Christ Vampire Hunter,” it became obvious that I’d have to face the very question that I had tried so hard to avoid for most of my adult life.

If you were to rank all eight billion humans currently inhabiting the earth by their piety, it’s unlikely that I would emerge in the top slot. But I’ve always been fascinated by artists who weave theology into their secular works. From Leonard Cohen to Julien Baker, there’s a storied tradition of Biblically-inclined poets juxtaposing the sacred and the profane to create intellectually challenging work. But not since Ecclesiastes has someone juxtaposed holiness and stupidity as much as “Jesus Christ Vampire Hunter.”

Which isn’t to say that I particularly liked the movie. I thought the storytelling and production value were too sloppy to be compelling and too self-aware to be enjoyed ironically. (Loyal readers of the column might remember that self-awareness is the silver bullet that instantly kills my enthusiasm for almost any midnight movie.) But as I worked through my own spiritual biases, I was relieved to find that my issues with the film were purely with its quality, not the fact that it exists.

As I got past the initial shock of what’s ultimately a harmlessly campy film, I began to think about what I consider to be one of the best traditions of Christianity: Churches portraying Jesus as whatever ethnicity dominates their congregation. While anyone who denies the historical reality that Jesus was Middle Eastern needs their head examined, I think it’s cool as hell when churches in Japan or Africa depict Him as Asian or Black. To me, the phenomenon is one of the most succinct ways to explain an esoteric Christian concept: the idea that Jesus is simultaneously a real human being and a symbol representing an undefinable divine presence. Different cultures create different life circumstances that require approaching organized religion in different ways, and taking artistic license with Jesus’ likeness is a small way of showing that Christianity belongs to everyone.

I think the same could be said about “Jesus Christ Vampire Hunter.” While this depiction of Jesus doesn’t speak to me the way “The Last Temptation of Christ” does, I have no doubt that there are some people who would be much more moved by this than any theologically rigorous film. Just like the historical Jesus is separate from the Christ of Faith, Jesus has also taken on a third identity as an artistic symbol that can fit into any culture. Looking at it from that perspective, I don’t see any reason why the horror movie community should be excluded from the fun. As we enter the holiest weekend on the Christian calendar, we should all take a moment to appreciate that there are less vampires and more lesbians on the streets tonight. —CZ

Those brave enough to join in on the fun can stream “Jesus Christ Vampire Hunter” free on Plex and Tubi. IndieWire After Dark publishes midnight movie recommendations at 11:59 p.m. ET every Friday. Read more of our deranged suggestions…

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