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Vampires Suck: The Bite Me Edition

Director: Jason Friedberg, Aaron Seltzer
Cast: Ken Jeong, Matt Lanter, Anneliese van der Pol

(US DVD: 30 Nov 2010)

Vampires Suck aims at parody by nodding to various well-known franchises and throwing buckets of adolescent humor all over its mostly adolescent audience. It won’t surprise you that this is a catastrophically bad movie. What will surprise you (if, through some bizarre series of misfortunes, you find yourself watching it) will be just how bad it makes you feel, a combination of embarrassment for everyone involved and a bit of anger at the same people that they could care so little about their craft.

Of course, not much else can be expected from the infernal team-up of Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer. Responsible for refuse like Epic Movie, Disaster Movie and the utterly execrable Meet the Spartans, Friedberg and Seltzer have developed an assembly-line approach to making parodies of popular films. Some of their misshapen creations have actually appeared a few months after the films they spoof are in theaters.

Vampires Suck would appear to have slightly more promise than their earlier efforts. The vampire craze is not limited to Twilight and goes back at least to Anne Rice’s iteration of the vampire mythos in the ‘70s.  More a cultural discourse at this point than a film genre, vampire mania offers the precision satirist a number of possibilities.

Unfortunately, this duo has no concept of satire. Instead, Friedberg and Seltzer have made a movie that had a strong opening weekend due largely to Twi-hard fanaticism so dedicated that it will ingest anything that has the faintest whiff of vampire boys glittering in the sun and pre-pubescent fantasies of sex and romance. The film they made fails in part because too much of it is like the original, possibly raising the question of whether you can parody something that is already a sort of self-parody. True Blood and Buffy the Vampire Slayer are given only the briefest of visual representations.

They do successfully hit the gigantic, Macy parade balloon-sized targets in the Twilight phenomenon. The emo idiocy is skewed. The absurd virgins in love, painfully overwrought, silent stares are replicated. All of this is slightly amusing the very first time but the whole effort fails to blossom into humor. Vampires Suck cannot rise to the level of parody, in part because it makes its ridiculous source material seem like Seven Samurai in comparison.

Worst of all, it’s all just direly unfunny. There is plenty to satire in the Twilight  series, from the patriarchal mores to the unbearable histrionics. Friedberg and Seltzer go for fart jokes, inexplicable references to Alice in Wonderland and the Gossip Girls and, at one point, a vampire- squirrel. The most cogent, and ongoing, sight gag has to do with the Black Eyed Peas and is slightly humorous for exactly three seconds.

Watching a spoof movie like this, one so awful that it feels like an aggressive insult to the audience, raises the question of why this genre just doesn’t work so well, anymore. The much-deserved praise heaped on Leslie Nielsen after his recent passing begs the question of why the current tween and teen generation has not had its Police Squad and Naked Gun or even their very own Top Secret and Hot Shots(no, I dont think Tropic Thunder fits the bill).

Part of the answer has to do with the fundamental differences between these films. Airplane! is a true parody because it borrowed equal parts from an entire genre of films and various kinds of ‘70s angst and alchemized it into high absurdism. Its funny on more than a single level and, rather than depending on fart jokes, did its best to offend its audience sensibilities in outrageous ways.

Airplane! in particular got in its audience’s face by telling rather dark jokes about the joke of modern experience. Jill Whelan’s famous folk guitar scene seems in no way funny on paper, since at its heart is a gag about the health of a child, and yet its sublime in its daring, forcing audiences to laugh at the yawning gap between our reach and our grasp as a society. Its possible for us to get sentimental about heart-warming moments in a disaster film while horror encroaches. This works so well because, in a film like Airplane!, you don’t have to think about it, it just reaches out and punches you in the face and somehow makes you laugh rather than makes you angry.

Vampires Suck, and films like it, not only fail to parody elements of contemporary society, they barely spoof the genre they are trying to mock. Most of the alleged humor in the film is nothing more than pushing brand recognition on an audience eager to feel capable to recognize cultural images.

For example, the only real nod to True Blood  comes early in the movie, when we see a vampire drinking ‘Tru Blood’. The audience is supposed to sort of snicker and say, “Oh yeah, True Blood, I’ve seen/heard about that show.” And that’s it. That’s the joke, that the movie has used an image from another franchise in a not serious way and the audience will recognize it. I suppose the idea is to get some reaction by tapping into same reflex that causes the studio audiences of late night talk shows to applaud if their hometown is mentioned. Whatever it is, its not humor.

Vampires Suck includes some deleted scenes that are primarily longer versions of scenes that do not work in the film. Thankfully, they were edited out to keep this disaster to an 80-minute runtime. There is no director/writer/actor/producer commentary and thank the gods for that. It would be like listening in on teenagers as they reminisce about the time they torched a bag of crap on the neighbor’s porch.


Extras rating:

W. Scott Poole is a writer and an associate professor of history at the College of Charleston. He's the author of Vampira: Dark Goddess of Horror (Counterpoint/Soft Skull Press), a book about the life and strange times of America's first horror host. He is also the author of the award-winning Monsters in America (2011). Follow him on twitter @monstersamerica.

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