NOVEMBER 15, 2012
I'm not sure why so many indie filmmakers feel compelled to make horror comedies, since it's an area that even veterans with a lot of talent on both sides of the camera (and a good budget) struggle with. The two key components of a comedy are the actors' timing and the film's editing, both of which are problems in most movies with 5 digit budgets. Thus, it's not much of a surprise that My Step-Dad's A Freakin' Vampire! fails pretty miserably in the comedy department, as amateur actors fail to give a potentially decent one-liner or reaction the energy they would require to work, and the editor (also the director, if you didn't already guess) makes it worse by letting the shot hang there for a few frames (seconds?) more than necessary.
In fact the best joke is the title itself, because it's funny that it's actually a bit of a spoiler. For the first half of the movie, our "hero" assumes his step-dad is merely a serial killer, so we have to wait for him to catch up to us, which doesn't help the movie's pacing and timing issues. I mean, obviously he wasn't going to be screaming VAMPIRE! in the first scene, but I certainly shouldn't already be checking my watch before he gets to it, either. Another 5-10 minutes and people would be leveling the same complaint at this movie that they do toward Jason Takes Manhattan, except worse because at least Jason killed like 15 people in the meantime. Our vampire doesn't do a hell of a lot; he complains about the kid taking the car just as often as he kills random victims. In fact, I couldn't help but wonder if the movie would have been a lot funnier/better (even with the amateur actors) if he was upfront about being a vampire - like, that was part of the problem the kid was having. "My mom should be with a normal guy, not some vampire scum!" - that could be amusing.
Another issue is that the kid isn't much more likable than the vampire. He's not HATEFUL, but I just didn't find much reason to root for him, either - maybe it was because he somewhat resembled Eli Roth? At any rate he was just sort of bland, and since the vampire wasn't striking much fear into the hearts of men (me), I didn't feel compelled to root him on like I would for Van Helsing going up against Christopher Lee or Frank Langella. I did enjoy his chemistry with his buddies though; it was natural and amiable, with the right balance of ball-busting and genuine affection for one another. Since I have written "these 'friends' seem to hate each other" about 1000 times on this site, I am always happy to report when it's not the case.
Thankfully, the movie picks up in its final 30 minutes, when the step-dad raises a bunch of demon vamps, giving the movie something to do (kill them) until the final showdown between the kid and his would-be father figure. The makeup/costumes are pretty good, and there's a lot of goo flying around - the movie's big action highlight finds our heroes running a few over as they drive around town, with green slime splattering them, their car, other characters... good stuff, and impressive for a film that didn't have a lot of dough. In fact it's pretty obvious that the bulk of the budget probably went here (these sequences also involve some compositing and basic CGI effects), so it's a shame that they didn't spread this stuff out to give the movie more life throughout - by the time it really starts to get fun to watch, many of today's ADD-addled horror fans will probably have given up and put in their copy of Fright Night (either version). They could also go with Big Bad Wolf, which was similar but more of a straight horror film, and superior because it had better actors AND the best "let's prove what he is" scene in movie history.
It also had a primary female character or two, something this movie curiously lacks. David DeCoteau films have more ladies on hand; the only one of note is the mother who is out of town for all but about 10 minutes of the film. Then there's a lady who works at their school and another mom, and that's it. The rest of the movie is a few guys going after the vamp (guy) and his Reinfeld (guy), with the help of a janitor (guy) and the principal (girl - haha, kidding, another guy). I was starting to wonder if I had maybe missed a plot point that the vampire was only marrying his mom because she was the only female left in town. I mean, there's nothing wrong with an all male horror film - The Thing seemed to do OK without them, but there was a clear reason for it there. Where the hell are they in this little town?
It's a shame too, the production itself was more professional than expected, the FX were solid, and there's plenty of potential in the concept. But the attempts at humor all fall flat, and it just takes too long to get moving, giving the audience too much downtime to think about similar "I suspect vampire!" movies they could be watching instead. I think the filmmaker has promise, however, and am fully confident he will deliver a stronger film on his next go-round.
What say you?