We’re living in a time of uninspired movie titles. Part of that is because the major studios are so fixated on building franchises that they approach movie titles the same way McDonald’s approaches naming menu items. (“Jalapeno McChicken” vs. “Marvel’s Ant-Man,” for example.) Part of it is because streaming services’ recommendation algorithms do a lot of the studios’ marketing work these days. Part of it might also be because there’s just less creativity at work in the movies these days, although I hope that’s not the case. In any event, they don’t make movie titles or movies like “Bloodsucking Pharaohs in Pittsburgh” anymore.
Along with having a title that would sound natural coming out of the mouths of Art Fern or Troy McClure, “Bloodsucking Pharaohs in Pittsburgh” tries to walk the line between horror and comedy, to varying degrees of success. Two of Pittsburgh’s worst homicide detectives are struggling with the case of a serial killer who targets call girls and kills them with an assortment of power tools. The killer not only scoops out victims’ body parts in accordance with an ancient Egyptian ritual, but also leaves behind notes in hieroglyphics. One of the detectives, the dyspeptic Blocker, has a personal connection to the case. Not only did he catch another killer with a similar M.O. in Las Vegas years earlier, but he’s also a regular customer of all of the victims. Blocker and his dweeby partner Sweeney soon are joined by the daughter of Blocker’s old partner from Vegas, who went missing just as the Pittsburgh killings began. The plot is basically a Scooby Doo mystery – there’s a bunch of red herrings that get set up before the big reveal of the killer’s identity in the final act.
Without much in the way of plot, where “Bloodsucking Pharaohs in Pittsburgh” has to succeed is in how well it stacks up as a horror-comedy. The presence of Tom Savini saves the horror portion of the movie, which uses his legendary eye for gore to good but limited use. You don’t hire Tom Savini to spritz some corn syrup on the walls and call it a day, naturally. When you ask Tom Savini to give you a man tearing off his own face, Savini gives you a man tearing off his own face.
Tom Savini can do a lot of things, but he doesn’t write jokes. That’s too bad, because “Bloodsucking Pharaohs in Pittsburgh” leans heavier on the comedy side of horror-comedy, and its success rate is a lot lower there. Much of the humor comes in the form of Zucker-Abrahams-style gags that appear so infrequently and feel so bolted on that I wonder how many rewrites the script received after “The Naked Gun” made it big. Where the movie fares better is in the absurdist details that feel more organic, such as the fact that Pittsburgh has an Egyptian part of town complete with camels roaming the streets or the killer’s use of a portable generator in a wagon to power the implements of death. That stuff works pretty well. The running gag where Sweeney’s wife undergoes increasingly violent therapies to quit smoking doesn’t.
“Bloodsucking Pharaohs in Pittsburgh” doesn’t just lean on its crazy title, and I give it a lot of credit for that. But it doesn’t succeed well enough in any one respect to make it the lost classic of the VHS era its title suggests. I have to believe they were trying to make a gorier “Big Trouble In Little China.” That’s not a bad thing to shoot for, but it doesn’t play the material straight enough to work that way. If anything, it comes across as a pale imitation of “Blood Diner,” another tongue-in-cheek movie about serial killing and ancient pagan rituals that was brimming with go-for-broke humor.
Plenty of movies have tried to make up for their lack of anything interesting by going over the top with the title. “Bloodsucking Pharaohs in Pittsburgh,” refreshingly, isn’t trying to hide anything. If only it had a little bit more to show, it could have been a great coda to the era of 80s horror-comedy.