Director/Screenplay/Production Design – Gerard Ciccoritti, Producers – Arnold H. Bruck & Stephen R. Flaks, Photography – Barry Stone, Music – Philip Stern, Special Effects – Special Effects Associates, Makeup Effects – Adrianne & Andrea Sicova. Production Company – Cinema Ventures Inc
Wendy Gazelle (Camilla Turner), Mark Soper (Matthew), Silvio Oliviero (Baisez), Ilsa von Glatz (Ash), Timothy Kelleher (Duke), Lesley Kelly (Martina), Carl Alacchi (Ramon)
Camilla Turner is the lead actress in a low-budget vampire movie set in a billiard hall. Her boyfriend Matthew, the film’s editor, asks her to marry him. At the same time, Camilla is visited by the vampire Baisez, who kills Ramon, the self-important actor who plays the vampire in the film, so that he might regain form. Baisez seduces and places the bite on Camilla. Baisez then auditions and obtains the role of the vampire in the film and starts bringing the entire production crew under his will.
Gerard Ciccoritti’s Graveyard Shift (1987), which concerned a romance between a dying woman film director and a world-weary vampire taxi driver, was a modest hit on the international video shelves. The Understudy: Graveyard Shift II is a sequel. Here Gerard Ciccoritti returns as director/writer, along with Silvio Oliviero, his chief vampire from the previous outing but this time playing a different vampire.
Graveyard Shift had a certain degree of stylish imagination, although it was a film where Gerard Ciccoritti was clearly in need of more discipline as a writer and director. To Ciccoritti’s credit, The Understudy shows that he has learned and improved. He has trimmed the loose subplots that were going on around the side of Graveyard Shift and the plot of The Understudy has much more of a linear clarity. There is also a lot less in the way of gratuitous sex scenes and gaudy lighting effects.
On the other hand, The Understudy is not entirely successful. Cicoritti experiments with a level of meta-fiction to the film – wherein the film within a film of a vampire conducting a showdown in a pool hall comes to reflect and echo the main plot about a real vampire becoming the actor who plays the fictional vampire. [It is quite possible that The Understudy with its concept of a real vampire substituting for an actor in a vampire film formed the inspiration for the later Shadow of the Vampire (2000)]. This alternates between a certain cleverness and a good deal of undeniable pretension. The plot, though appreciably more linear, is also vague. The vampire tends to exist as not much more than dark, magnetically sexy presence upon Silvio Oliviero’s part – nothing is explained about where he comes from, for instance. Exactly how he came to return and whether it is the heroine doing the killings or she is just innocent prey are matters that are not always clear.
There is the occasional amusing line: “What are you watching?” one character is asked. “Vampyr . They colourized it. It’s a sacrilege.” The heroine has an appealing monologue reflecting on how the vampire is the perfect movie star: “[It is a] shapechanger, it lives in the dark, feeds on us and vanishes in the light.” There is the odd imaginative moment, especially the vampire’s appearance to Wendy Gazelle and in an interesting metaphor telling her how it is like water, only having the form of that which it fills, and conducting some simple magic tricks like making a wineglass of water turn to blood.