European Union Film Festival 2016: Therapy for a Vampire, by Aaron Pinkston
When looking at a horror comedy (and particularly a vampire comedy) in 2016, there are two major criteria which I will judge: 1) Is the film able to do something new? and 2) Even if the film isn’t necessarily scary, does it take the horror elements seriously? We have seen enough great examples of horror comedy recently that it is becoming a crowded field, hence the first criterion—What We Do in the Shadows alone exhausts every creative play on vampire lore. Austrian filmmaker David Rühm’s Therapy for a Vampire doesn’t pass the test with flying colors, but it is light enough and amusing enough to entertain for its 90 minute runtime. And as more of a comedy of manners than an all-out satire, it is distinguishable enough from most in the horror comedy genre to not feel like it is retreading jokes and ideas.
Therapy for a Vampire is set in Austria around the turn of the 20th Century and primarily involves two very different romantic couples. The first is a struggling artist and his girlfriend who have a rather peculiar relationship—whenever the girlfriend poses to be painted, the results are a strange approximation of the woman with slightly different features and a little more refined, which upsets her to no end. On the side, the painter works for a professor (billed as historical figure Sigmund Freud, though I don’t believe he is ever called by name in the film), sketching the erotic and terrifying dreams of patients. We also have Count Geza von Közsnöm and his wife, two vampires who have their own set of romantic problems. The Count hires the professor as a therapist to help him deal with no longer being in love with his wife, instead fawning over a lost love from years ago (to quote the Count: “I’m not good at self-reflection”). Through a number of coincidences, the two couples’ paths cross and comedy and horror ensue.
The interplay between the four main character is really where the enjoyment lies. As the plot becomes more ridiculous, their relationships only become more delightfully entangled. The Count begins to court the painter’s wife after he comes across her approximate portrait that shares a resemblance to the lost love. Simultaneously, the Count’s wife fears she is no longer beautiful and so, unable to see her reflection, hires the young painter to capture her on canvas. Once all of the character dynamics are buzzing at full force, there unfortunately isn’t much else to do, which leads to a fairly non-existent ending.
Because Therapy for a Vampire isn’t a spoof of the genre, it doesn’t overplay its jokes. For example, the Count could be really insufferable about his distaste for his wife, but his emotion never rises much above plainly annoyed even as he fantasizes driving a stake through her heart. There aren’t many high points of humor, but there is plenty of wordplay and slyly witty lines, such as the self-reflection bit I previously mentioned. As to the question of taking its horror elements seriously, Therapy for a Vampire for the most part does. It is far from a scary movie, but it balances the silliness and seriousness of the vampire characters well. The film sticks to most of the tried-and-true vampire lore, as well—the only addition I don’t recall seeing before is an OCD-like compulsion to collect and count things that have been spilled on the ground, which might only be a dumb joke related to the Sesame Street character.
Stylistically, there is definitely an old-school European flair to the film, but it’s more of an old-fashioned callback to Les Vampires than the harsh tones of Nosferatu. The most dynamic shot of the film, which repeats a few times throughout, is an outside shot of the paint’s apartment through large bay windows. The city environment in the background appears with the fuzziness of a matte painting, though I suspect it is computer generated. Many of the special effects, as as the floating sensation when a vampire walks into a room or quickly swooshes toward you, seem to be done practically and they work well.
Overall, Therapy for a Vampire is a solid B-level vampire flick that doesn’t achieve anything more than being a solid entertainment. It saves itself from not being too silly or trying match other recent vampire comedies joke-for-joke. The result is a strange one—it isn’t overly funny or creative in its horror tropes, but it hits a comfortable and pleasing sweet spot between the two.