A man walks into a bar while filming a documentary and walks out with a feature film. Sounds like a joke, but that’s what actually happened in the case of Vampiro: A Canadian Vampire in Mexico, where a friendship between the subject and the filmmakers led to the just-finished flick, The Dead Sleep Easy.
To hear those Ottawa filmmakers tell the story, it was one happy accident.
Sitting around a bar in Guadalajara, Mexico, the home of Vampiro (Ian Hodgkinson originally of Thunder Bay, Ontario) one night, during the filming of the documentary on Vamp’s life, ideas started flowing for a feature film.
The Dead Sleep Easy follows a character known only as The Champ (Vampiro), a washed-up wrestler who once made a fatal mistake and is now working for a mob boss, Tlaloc (Dave Courtney). When a pollero (human smuggling) run goes disastrously wrong, The Champ is set on a collision course with powerful forces on both sides of the border as he seeks justice for a group of migrants, and redemption for himself.
The film wasn’t planned, it just happened, swears director Lee Demarbre, whose already had Jesus Christ, Vampire Hunter, and Harry Knuckles and the Pearl Necklace under his belt. Demarbre and Vampiro are credited with the story, and Ian Driscoll was given the duty of molding their ideas into a movie script.
“I have thought for years that Vampiro’s life story would be good for the big screen, however I never thought of him as an actor. I began to make a documentary on his life entitled Vampiro: Angel, Devil, Hero,” Demarbre explained to SLAM! Wrestling. “While in Guadalajara, Mexico shooting the doc, Vamp and I began cooking up this story about an ex-wrestling champ and his connections to the mob, which eventually became The Dead Sleep Easy. I hope we can agree that wrestling is an art form, and that acting is a big part of becoming a successful wrestler. All Vamp had to do is translate his acting abilities in and out of the ring onto the big screen, and I think he does that well in this movie.”
The producer of The Dead Sleep Easy, Rob Menzies, explained that the documentary and film are really “companion pieces.”
Demarbre agreed. “The Dead Sleep Easy would not of happened if we didn’t start filming the doc. There are major plot points in The Dead Sleep Easy that are lifted from Vamp’s life story that came out of the doc.” Those experiences from Vamp include everything from shifty promoters to battles with addiction to being mistaken continually for an American in Mexico.
The Dead Sleep Easy is truly an independent film. It was shot in Guadalajara in just 30 days from January-February 2007 for just $20,000, featuring a few names to compliment Vampiro: Mexican recording star Ana Sidel; action / thriller regular Martin Kove (The Karate Kid, Rambo: First Blood Part II); and British celebrity gangster and author Dave Courtney (The Krays). Also included is Phil Caracas, who was the star of Demarbre’s previous efforts, Jesus Christ, Vampire Hunter and the Harry Knuckles series.
Like with the script, Vampiro had an impact on the cast, said Demarbre. “Vampiro is a huge celebrity in Mexico — people would opens their doors to us. Getting locations in Mexico was a breeze,” he said. “Vamp also had interesting casting suggestions; both Ana Sidel (our female lead) and Dave Courtney (our villain) came from Vampiro. Most of all Vampiro had an amazing ability to choreograph action scenes. The most fun I had making the movie was directing the action sequences that were entirely choreographed by Vampiro.”
The final fight scene of the film, with Vampiro facing Aaron “Jesús” Aguilera, is shot at a real wrestling show in town. However, the promoter only allowed the crew 15 minutes to film, so it’s a one-take effort that could only be pulled off by two veterans of the squared circle.
Demarbre is used to the pressures of being an independent filmmaker. The Dead Sleep Easy is a small step up for the 35-year-old graduate of Carleton University’s Film Studies program. “We’re an overnight success story ten years in the making,” Demarbre said in a press release. “We’ve been working independently in Ottawa for a decade, funding our own films, making and distributing them ourselves. So making a movie with someone else’s money is something new for us.”
Having played some of the festival circuit (Calgary International Film Festival, 2007, Victoria International Film Festival, 2008, Guadalajara International Film Festival, 2008, Fantasia Film Festival, 2008), The Dead Sleep Easy is just starting to make the rounds for screenings in Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal (see sidebar below), and Shoreline Entertainment of Beverly Hills is representing the film for worldwide distribution.
In between appearing at the screenings, Demarbre is back at work finishing the edit of the original project — the documentary on Vampiro, which he hopes will have its world premiere in April, ideally as a part of the Hot Docs documentary film festival in Toronto.