Learning Day: Van-Pires 🌭

You may recall that the previously-discussed Snailiens at some point came under the ownership of a company called Abrams Gentile Entertainment. Founded in 1986 by John Gentile, Anthony Gentile, and Marty Abrams, AGE was a toy and media company that was the successor to the Mego Corporation. They created the Power Glove, the Visionaries, and a number of other children’s properties throughout the ’90s and 2000s. But one of these properties was uniquely deranged: Van-Pires. The brainchild of founders John and Anthony Gentile, Van-Pires is more than just a shitty pun tossed out during a late-night office coke sesh that became a live action/CGI hybrid Power Rangers cash-in. Van-Pires intertwines a tale of rock music tragedy, some challenging intergenerational/interspecies romance, and a mystery that remains unsolved to this day.

So what the fuck is Van-Pires? It’s a tale as old as time, really. Four car-obsessed teens who hang out in a junkyard run by a British hippie witness a meteor crash into a pile of trash, from which rise living cars who feast on the gasoline of innocent vehicles. Those teens are transformed into similar creatures themselves, looking kind of like a child made it halfway through converting an Optimus Prime and got bored. Our heroes devote themselves to waging war against the automotive forces of evil, which include a maniacal ice cream truck and a killer lady ambulance. Straightforward stuff.

Our main cast is composed of Axle, The Leader; Nuke, The Dork; Rev, The Girl; and Snap (yes, he’s called Snap), the Black One. Their mentor, the aforementioned British hippie, is named Van He’ll Sing. Why? Because, uh, it’s kind of a car thing, but also kind of a Dracula thing? In the first episode, Van explains that he got his name when he was a roadie for The Rolling Stones and Mick Jagger fell ill, leading Mick to point to him and say “he’ll sing,” which is an insanely tortured explanation for a joke that barely qualifies as comedy. Van hates MTV because “you don’t watch music, man” and in the first episode tells the teenage children he hangs out with, “I’ve got everything you need in the van, man!” He almost certainly moved to the US because he was on the sex offenders list in England.

If you thought they exhausted their car puns on the main cast, don’t worry, because— fuck, I started doing it now! Exhaust is a car thing! Fuck!

As I was saying, the title “Van-Pires” doesn’t refer to the protagonists. It in fact describes their foes, the mythical car mutants who live at the center of an underground network of highways. They are led by Tracula, a bargain bin Megabyte whose goons are named things like “Cardaver” and “Automaniac.” At one point he even creates a son named “Alucart,” which I am begrudgingly forced to admit is actually a pretty good bit.

Tracula’s motivation is to take over the world or something, but in the meantime he and his coven of NOSferatu roam about at night, biting and sucking the gas out of cars and kind of making them deflate in the process. It looks extremely weird, and it’s framed as a serious threat to humanity. Like their bloodsucking namesakes, the Van-Pires also can’t go out during the day.

Among Tracula’s minions are an animate toaster and toilet, who the meteor apparently also brought to life. In any other show, these would be the comic relief characters, saying things like “you nincom-poop!” and “stop loafing around!” And those remarks might approach something like funny if literally every character in the show didn’t talk like this. I’m not kidding. This is a show where no one gives a second thought to a faceless toilet crawling out of a junk pile and joining a conversation.

Listening to the dialogue in Van-Pires is like getting beaten in the head with a socket wrench. The car puns are almost literally every line. Characters say things like “Snap’s got the roadmap,” and “we can’t just idle forever!” At one point, someone says “we got to keep it real” and another replies “you mean keep it wheel!” The people who wrote this dialogue had seemingly never met or even ever been a teen.

Speaking of the teens, what’s kind of interesting about Van-Pires is that the protagonists are effectively Van-Pires themselves. However, they can transform to and from their mutant car forms by leaping into their “carfins.” And if you were hoping for any kind of tortured drama over their need to drink the blood of other vehicles in order to fuel their fight against evil, well, you’re asking for a lot from a show that was created by two business majors with the express intention of getting some of that Saban-Levy money. The “Motor-Vaters,” as they’re dubbed by Van He’ll Sing in the first episode, actually go to gas stations, fill themselves up at a pump, and then leave cash behind. They won’t even steal gas, that’s how lame these kids are.

You might think that these teens would be horrified by the prospect of becoming deformed automotive gas-guzzlers, but in fact they’re pretty jazzed about it. See, despite their obsession with motor vehicles, none of them are old enough to have a car of their own — but there’s no law that says a teen transmogrified into a car monster by a magic meteor can’t drive! Van He’ll Sing, too, is fucking stoked out of his weed-addled mind that the kids he spends every evening hanging out with are freakish superheroes now.

Anyway, in the first episode the Motor-Vaters meet and do battle with the Van-Pires, and the limits of the cut-rate CGI become apparent immediately. You know how when you go back and watch a show like ReBoot or play an old video game, it looks way worse than you remember? That’s how Van-Pires looked when it aired.

But not to be outdone by the visuals, the writing really pushes the envelope too. Tracula confronts Axle and does what any reasonable ’90s villain would do: gives him a “we’re not so different” speech and asks him and his fellow teens to join his army of mutant car freaks. I reproduce the dialogue that follows here for posterity:

AXLE: Sorry, motor-mouth! No drinking while driving!

TRACULA: Says who?

AXLE: Says me!

[they fight while flying, which is apparently a thing that godless car vampires created by a magical meteor can do]

TRACULA [about to smash Axle into the ground]: If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.

Later in the first episode, Van He’ll Sing repeats this last line to the teens when he dubs them the Motor-Vaters. Was this intentional? Did the writers just not notice? It’s impossible to know.

There were thirteen episodes in all of Van-Pires, and I have to be honest here: I only made it through three of them before I wanted to join Tracula’s crusade against humanity. In episode two, the Motor-Vaters encounter their musical idols, the real-life hair metal band “Starr.” Remember, this was 1997. It would have made more sense for these kids to be obsessed with a grunge band or a rapper, but the creators of Van-Pires were probably too coked out to notice it wasn’t the 1980s anymore.

But Starr was not the only musical act associated with Van-Pires. None other than John Entwistle, bassist for The Who, composed much of the show’s soundtrack. Yes, The Ox himself was involved in this trainwreck. How did this happen? I’m not sure. Maybe the Gentiles had some dirt on him, or maybe he just needed the money.

Apparently, in order to fulfill his contract to write thirteen tracks and a theme song for the show, he resorted to digging into his old demos. One of those songs, “Bogey Man,” was originally penned for the 1978 The Who album Who Are You, but the band thought its kazoo solo was “too silly.” There’s a lesson here — never throw away your shitty first drafts, because you might be able to recycle them twenty years later for a TV show about teenage car vampires.

Do you want to know the really tragic thing about all of this, though? Entwistle released an album called Music from Van-Pires in 2000, featuring “Bogey Man” and the other songs he produced for the show. It was the last album he ever released, as he died in 2002 from a cocaine-induced heart attack after going to bed with a stripper at the Hard Rock Hotel in Paradise, Nevada. He was only 57 years old, but already had severe heart disease from smoking 20 cigarettes a day.

Entwistle’s involvement in Van-Pires may have gone beyond recording the show’s soundtrack. See, there’s a weird little mystery connected to this unassuming and terrible kids’ show. The opening credits tell us who plays each of the Motor-Vators — and fun fact here, the guy who played Snap is apparently friends with Uwe Boll and has been in a couple of his movies — but one character gets a different treatment. Van He’ll Sing is billed as being played by “himself.” This is a deranged choice for a character who is ostensibly a human man rather than like, a talking dinosaur or something, and it’s spawned a number of theories about the identity of the car-loving druggie Brit.

For a time, some Van-Pires fans (Fan-Pires?) seemed to believe that Van was played by the prolific Gary Oldman. And while they do kind of look similar, the theory doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. Why would Oldman be cast in such a lemon, and if he were, why wouldn’t they advertise his involvement? I suppose it’s possible that he threatened to sue when he saw how bad the final product looked, but I have another theory.

I propose that Van He’ll Sing was in fact played by John Entwistle. Perhaps in a desperate bid to buy more time to put together the soundtrack he drunkenly agreed to compose, he volunteered to don the gag wig and glasses of the Motor-Vaters’ mentor. He demanded, however, that the producers not name him in the credits, and faked a terrible English accent in order to throw viewers off the scent. The perfect crime!

Sadly, we may never know who played Van He’ll Sing, because in all likelihood, I am the only person who actually cares. I emailed Van-Pires creator John Gentile, inquiring as to the identity of the actor, but my email was never delivered. John Gentile may no longer even be alive. It’s in fact possible that anyone who knows the truth may have taken it to the grave.

And the grave is, of course, where Van-Pires belongs. Did I mention there’s an episode where Tracula hypnotizes and attempts to marry the 15 year old girl car monster? She calls him “master” and he replies “that’s a good girl” and it made me want to crawl out of my skin. At that moment, I wished to shed my fleshy mortal form and become a pure machine of steel and oil, one who roams the streets night after night in pursuit of the fuel of the innocent, caring nothing for the works of man. In conclusion, Van-Pires sucks and it gave me gas. Did I mention that the Motor-Vaters literally get gas when they turn back into humans? I have to go.

This article was brought to you by our fine sponsor and Hot Dog Supreme: Sarcophski, who was not provably the Van-Pire called Chryslayer.

7 replies on “Learning Day: Van-Pires 🌭”

I was first introduced to the concept of Van-pires through watching a Phelous Christmas special review. As always, my interest in the opinions of people with extensive collections of Garfield memorabilia has lead me to tragedy. Woe betide!

Considering how dogged and deranged some of the hotdoggers are, I’m expecting the Case of the Vaguely English Junkyard Hippie Were-Truck-Vampire-Teen Mentor to be solved in a couple weeks, tops. Currently, neither Entwistle’s nor Van-Pires’ IMDB pages even have his musical contribution to the show; imagine what a coup it would be to get him listed as an actor as well.

Is no one else going to mention that “Motor-Vators” kind of sounds like “masturbators”? Great. Now I look like a pervert.

I like to think of Van He’ll Sing as the Hamlet of our era. If this gets a reboot at some point, they better hire a classically trained actor to play the part. Being in a Van-Pires reboot is (almost) on the same level of humiliating as your average quick paycheck and a new castle if you want me to show up in your superhero cinematic universe, Mr. Joe Tomato.

Lol! My first and only TV animator credit. We were so excited to work on an actual CG animated production – Reboot was the only show on with CG at the time on Saturday mornings. It’s hilarious in hindsight- yup I animated a toilet and toaster! A lot of Bay Area video game animator friends got their start on that job as silly as it was.

I’m convinced you’re right about John Entwistle. Compare his nose and Van He’ll Sing’s; they’re identical and it’s a pretty distinctive shape.

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