Vampires Anonymous (2003)

On Halloween, I was in the mood for a horror comedy and my choice fell randomly on a 2003 film called Vampires Anonymous. As the title suggests, Vampires Anonymous is built upon the premise that vampires attend AA-style meetings. I have seen a very similar idea in Vamps (2012). Vampires in the world of Vampires Anonymous have no problems with mirrors, garlic, or sunlight (in moderation), which is called “evolution” in the film. However, these vampires are apparently not very good at controlling their blood-thirst, often killing loved ones in the process. That’s where the self-help group comes in. The VA meetings are modelled on a scientific programme whereby each vampire is assigned an animal whose blood their metabolism will find acceptable as a substitute for human blood. Each new member is then assigned a “new life” in a new town, akin to a witness protection programme.

Early on in the film, Vic, the main character and at the same time the film’s narrator, tells us: “this is the story of my recovery”. As part of the programme, Vic is sent to Rock Creek, some hillbilly place in North Carolina, where he is trying to subsist on sheep blood. There is a RomCom element as well, but local rednecks and “corporate slayers” are threatening to make Vic’s new life difficult.

The comedy is full of redneck, hillbilly stereotypes and steeps as low as to employ bestiality jokes. Which is one reason why the humour in this film is mostly trite and boring. Not enough is made of the “fish-out-of-water” side of the story (which is there), and as a RomCom the film offers nothing really new.

The story itself is quite nicely written and narrated, but the arc of suspense is at times undermined by arbitrary editing choices. But that is also a writing and directing problem, as there are a lot of moments that do not fit into the flow and seem to have been only created in order to include a funny line (which more often than not does not even work). All this creates unmotivated actions, or narrative non-sequiturs, blocking the flow of the story. That is not as tragic in the first and second act, as the film rolls along nicely; but the third act feels disjointed and ultimately flat and disappointing.

While the first and second act are better than the third, the film still has a problem with its focus throughout: there is Vic’s new life, with the RomCom and fish-out-of water elements; but there is also his VA group. This group consists of various vampires who are all “damaged” in their own particular way. That could be a source of comedy, if the film’s main plot had anything to do with these people. But as this is merely a side show, giving each character time to have their place in the spotlight does not move the story along at all and merely distracts from the main plot. The same goes for many of the hillbilly characters. There are a number of little scenes which establish personal quirks or illustrate the relationship between two minor characters – and then nothing of it is ever used again, or does in any way feed back into the main plot.

Despite all these misgivings, it has to be said that the actors playing the VA group members as well as the actors portraying the hillbillies are doing a very fine job. Amongst those worthy of note are Judith Scott, Brent Hinkley, Steve Monroe, Eddie Kehler, and Red West. Their characters may often be two-dimensional, or simply stereotypes, but the actors deliver these performances on the spot. That also goes for our leading man, Paul Popowich, who does a good job as Vic. I was at no point invested in his character’s fate, but I blame the writers for this, not the actor. Nicole Forester does an excellent job as the love interest, and is the closest thing this film has to a three-dimensional supporting character. She also emanates a lot of warmth, which is definitely needed in this film to make the love story believable. Unlike Vic, her character is someone you do care about.

The cast list includes B-movie royalty in the form of Michael Madsen. It took me a minute or two to recognise him, because his character sports quite the beard. As always, Madsen is his affable self, but his character Geno does not amount to much. Geno is supposed to be Vic’s mentor, but the writers are unable to paint a convincing picture of this man. Everything he does is peculiar, but unfortunately not funny. Madsen is also mumbling a lot in this film, as is Popowich. Add to that the various levels of hillbilly accents in this film and you will find yourself longing for subtitles (which my DVD did not offer).

The one character that is a bit “off” is that of the “corporate slayer”, Taffeta. Given the name, the female slayer angle, and the year of the film’s release, I guess that this vampire hunter is a slight nod towards Buffy. Unfortunately, Taffeta is written in an exaggerated and unnatural way, and Michelle Stafford throws herself ham over heel into this caricature. It would have been the job of the director (and co-writer) Michael Keller to reign her in, but it seems he chose not to.

And this is probably where the root of many of this film’s problems lie. The writers Michael Keller and J. P. Srinivasan are at the same time the film’s producers, with Keller also occupying the director’s chair. In this production, there was probably no-one who told Keller and Srinivasan what to do, and – more importantly in this case – what not to do. Say what you will about studio interference, but some films profit from someone being able to face the writer/director and say “No.”

None of the shortcomings I have listed above are severe, with the possible exception of the weak ending and the at times crude humour. But combined, all these shortcomings bring the film down. It is still mildly entertaining in a mediocre sort of way; but with nearly all major elements (except for the acting) leaving something to be desired, the film trends heavily towards “meh”. At least the film has the decency not to run longer than 90 minutes, which is something that can turn mediocre films into unbearable films.

Vampires Anonymous is a “it’s raining and there is nothing else on the telly” kind of film. It can help you to while away some time and may occasionally manage to entertain you. Comparing it with similar vampire comedies, I think it is less polished than Vamps, and less intelligent than Netherbeast Incorporated. But it is not like these films are playing in a completely different league. They too have their problems, and Vampires Anonymous still falls roughly in the same ranking range. I guess 5.0 or 5.5 out of ten might be a fair assessment, but without the mostly solid acting performances this film would be a 4.

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