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Blood Thirst - Lucy Lawless Stars in "Vampire Bats"

New York Vue

30 October 2005

Scans contributed by Victoria

Rabid bats feast on the succulent jugulars of comely coeds in CBS' campy movie of the week "Vampire Bats," about a small Louisiana college town overrun with mutant mammals.
But the real-life drama during the shoot in New Orleans, as Hurricane Katrina was bearing down, was as scary as anything you're likely to see on-screen.

"I have never seen weather like that," said Lucy Lawless, who reprises her part as animal biologist Dr. Maddy Rierdon from last year's "Locusts."

"I have never seen clouds that size," she continued, "and that blackness before the hurricane came in." Lawless and the rest of the cast and crew evacuated New Orleans the weekend Katrina blew in. "It was very edgy getting out of there," she said. "We were just inching out of there with hundreds of thousands of other desperate people with their death faces already on. Just white-knuckling it."

All of the sets for "Vampire Bats" were destroyed. But Frank Von Zerneck, who produced both films, said the damage was confined to property.

"We didn't lose anyone," he said of the crew, many of whom were locals. "We managed to have everyone accounted for."
Lawless fell in love with New Orleans while working on "Locusts." And she said she was planning to get a house there along with one of the movie's producers.

"I was dying go to get down there with my kids," she said, "especially during alligator season. Certainly the tribulations on our production just paled in significance to the problems that everyone else was experiencing," she added. "We're just tremendously sorry for our friends and colleagues who lost so much."

"Vampire Bats" finished shooting in Nova Scotia, where the crew had to hang New Orleans' signature Spanish moss from the Canadian maples. The movie co-stars Brett Butler as Maddy's insufferably nosy sister-in-law. Timothy Bottoms plays the town mayor. "Late Late Show" host Craig Ferguson, in his heavy Scottish accent, has a cameo as a doomed fisherman. And Dylan Neal also reprises his "Locusts" role, returning as Maddy's husband, Dan.

A former U.S. Department of Agriculture voracious-insect specialist, Maddy moves with Dan and their two young children to Louisiana and a quiet life teaching at a small college. But their attempt to simplify things in the wake of their harrowing experience with the biblical bugs becomes unhinged when one of Maddy's students is found dead.

"I really was not able to turn this role down," joked Lawless. "To play in something called 'Vampire Bats'! Are you kidding [me]?"

"Vampire Bats" follows in the great tradition of horror camp.

"It was kind of a new way of doing one of these Oh-my-God-what-if disaster movies," said Von Zerneck. "And Lucy was just perfect casting, because she's a very, very strong woman with a sense of humor and a soft side."

Her tough side was on copious display during her six seasons on "Xena: Warrior Princess." Lawless who has two young sons, ages 3 and 5, and a teenage daughter enjoyed her stint as cult icon. But these days, she's finding fulfillment with quieter, more introspective roles.

"I've really moved into a much more naturalistic style of acting, which wasn't really possible on 'Xena,' " she explained.
And what about the next installment in the mutant insect/rodent catalogue?

"I think they're doing frogs and they're going to have to do it without me because frogs disgust me," she said, laughing. "Frogs are fun to look at, but they feel bad when they're being thrown at you."

"Vampire Bats" airs tonight at 9 on Ch. 2.