What if all those serial killers who take the rap for leaving mutilated corpses in shallow graves across the U.S. were really being framed by roving bands of vampires? That notion lies at the heart of this hip, revisionist horror picture, which borrows liberally — and cannily — from NEAR DARK and THE HITCHER. Handsome Sean (Kerr Smith of TV’s Dawson’s Creek), who works as a trailer editor at an L.A.-based company that seems to have an exclusive contract with Troma, thinks he can’t afford to go to his sister’s Florida wedding. Then he has an idea: He’ll sign up to do a drive-away, and soon he’s tooling along a picturesque stretch of lost highway in a sleek Mercedes convertible. But fate has a detour in store: Sean picks up a hitchhiker, a scruffy young man named Nick (Brendan Fehr of TV’s Roswell). Nick, in turn, adds a lost girl named Megan (Izabella Miko, one of COYOTE UGLY’s hip-swinging bartenders) to their entourage, over Sean’s strenuous protests. Megan looks drug-addled and seriously strung-out, but the truth is far worse: She’s been bitten by a vampire, something Nick knows all about, because he’s been bitten, too. They’re both suffering the effects of a blood-born virus spread by the undead (yes, there’s a none-too-subtle AIDS metaphor lurking in there), and once bitten, the only way short of suicide to avoid joining their grim and grisly ranks is to kill vampire zero, the source of the plague. Two such ur-vampires prowl the U.S. — down from the eight who sold their souls to some demon named Abbadon 900 years ago — and each is the source of a unique strain of vampirism; Nick is hunting the one called Kit (Johnathon Schaech). After Megan bites Sean, he’s forced to join Nick’s crusade. But Kit and his minions, notably the ferocious Cym (Phina Oruche), aren’t going down without a fight. Written and directed by J.S. Cardone, this flashy fright flick doesn’t break any new ground, but puts an attractive gloss on genre conventions. The attractive cast is heavy on television-friendly faces, and the cruelly handsome Schaech has found the role he was born to play: His cheekbones alone could draw blood, and Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” never sounded scarier than when he hisses it at a would-be victim as he slinks up the stairs. — Maitland McDonagh
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