DVD Review: Vamperifica (2011)
Review by Keri O’Shea
I have to start this review with a bit of a mea culpa: I went into watching this screener with low expectations. I don’t pretend it’s fair of me, but then I cannot watch films in a vacuum, and I’ve got a lot of issues with the current state of play of our old friend, the vampire. Much as getting on the Twilight-loathing bandwagon is a horrible cliché, I think it marked a new point of cynicism for me: were the blood-drinking parasites of legend going to wind up just like us, only paler and even more socially awkward? I didn’t want it to be true. So perhaps it was a mix of morbid curiosity and masochism which drew me to choose to review Vamperifica, but regardless of that – I found this horror-comedy worked rather well. Yes, it does a few things which made me wince, but all in all Vamperifica is ambitious and fun.
If you hadn’t seen the trailer beforehand and worked out that there was more to come, you might find yourself wondering if you were about to get an Interview with the Vampire-style period piece, judging from the opening scenes and narration here. A voiceover explains to us that vampires were once a persecuted group, finally brought forth from their darkness by a leader, Raven. Raven’s death at the hands of a pesky priest stripped the unity out of the community, but, as Raven died, he prophesied that he would be reincarnated as a human. The vampires – especially his faithful Emily (Bonnie Swencionis) – have waited for two hundred years, but now the soul of their master is back. He will be found, turned back into a vampire, and restored as King! What could be simpler?
Yeah. Films like this always beg that particular question, because there are always plenty of reasons why the ‘chosen one’ doesn’t quite fit the bill. In this case, the legend didn’t bank on the fact of Carmen (Martin Yurkovic, who also wrote the story). Now, where do we start with Carmen?
Well, any nascent leadership abilities are being very well hidden, that’s for sure. Carmen doesn’t work, and confesses himself that he isn’t good at holding down the jobs he does get. He’d love to be an actor, and dreams of performing on stage, but no one will let him, because he’s terrible. He’s as camp as a row of tents, acerbic, snide, funny, and at his happiest in the company of his lifelong friends, Tracey (Dreama Walker) and Peter (Jeff Ward). So, when Emily and one of the other vampires, Campbell (Creighton James) try to convince him of his destiny, he isn’t very amenable to their message. Bitch, please. Still, after waiting for two hundred years, Emily and Campbell aren’t prepared to just give up. Perhaps there is something to this whole ‘fate’ thing. Thing is, Carmen is devotedly, exasperatingly attached to his old life – and to his friends, who are all he’s ever had. How to square the two?
This might all sound too vaguely familiar for the liking of many, I realise that: we’ve certainly seen vampires participating in the twentysomething sphere of college and suburbia, with all its friendship and relationship dramas refracted through sassy one-liners. In fact, Buffy the Vampire Slayer might be leaping to mind right now, and there’s lot of that Buffy vibe in Vamperifica. The filmmakers acknowledge that enough to give Buffy a mention in the script, mind you, so there’s definitely self-awareness here. Where Vamperifica really comes into its own, though, is in the believability of the friendships on offer, particularly between Carmen and Tracey, a pair of outcasts who take a delight in being mean to people who have hurt them in the past. Their conversation is fun to listen to and their laughter feels genuine, which makes a big difference in how this film carries across. Hell, they even seemed nice in a flashback to when they were kids! They’re an endearing pair – as long as you’re not on the receiving end of their commentary, anyway. Their friend Peter is very close to them too, and his supporting role comes more to the fore as the plot progresses, even opening the way perhaps for another instalment…
Of course, at the crux of all this is Carmen himself, how he deals with his new calling, and how much he’s able to continue relating to his friends - if at all. It’s probably still quite unusual to have a male lead who’s completely uninterested in such perks of vampirism as heaving bosoms and femmes fatales, but it’s refreshing. In a worst case scenario, the inclusion of such a flamboyant character would be to make a stooge of him – but happily, that isn’t the case. (The only time his sexuality figures whatsoever, actually, is when Emily confidently asserts that she’ll win him over to their cause by seducing him, which doesn’t go so well.)
Carmen is an engaging character to watch as he co-mingles his viciousness with cattiness, and a lot of the jokes in here are so lowest-common-denominator that you laugh in spite of yourself (see top), but it’s not all wisecracks. One of the nicest things about the movie is that it can be quite touching in places, and mixes its treatment of issues like empathy, trust and loyalty with its comedic sequences without the seams between the two showing too much. I don’t mean to imply that this is a serious and moving treatise on human friendships – it isn’t (see top again) – but there are elements of that present, which flesh out the plot rather well. And, if you don’t want to take any of that on board, the jokes are funny. Deeply silly, but funny.
At times this tendency towards ‘silly’ starts to push a little bit too far into the absurd for me though; that is one of the main weaknesses of Vamperifica. If you are watching this and aren’t convinced that the jokes are landing, someone bursting into song may well push you over the edge, especially when you remember that the plot also encompasses (and spends very little time worrying about) a serious crime against one of its characters. With these two examples in mind, it is possible to see how extremes in either direction can put a film on tenuous ground. However, the centre does hold: again, the characters have enough about them to maintain our interest, and the film has enough strengths to overshadow its weaknesses.
Twee in some places, sure, but Vamperifica is an entertaining spin on some very familiar themes. As a return to the business for director Bruce Ornstein for the first time since 1992, and as a project which comes very early in the career of writer/star Martin Yurkovic, I’d say there’s plenty of promise here. Films can be self aware without being jaded – and as a reviewer, it’s always nice to be pleasantly surprised.
Vamperifica is out on Region 2 DVD, Blu-Ray and 3D Blu-Ray on 20th August, from Los Banditos Films, and Region 1 on 1st August from Ascot Elite Home Entertainment.