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The Nostalgic Attic: My Best Friend is a Vampire (1987)

19 May 2014

My Best Friend is a Vampire (1987)

"She sucked your what??!"


As if dealing with being a teenager wasn't quite bad enough, American filmmakers decided to throw a whole bunch of other problems into the mix, just to make things that little bit more awkward. It was no surprise that they turned to a few classic horror tropes to mingle with the laughs, resulting in the likes of Teen Wolf and, erm, Teen Witch hitting the screens and causing a ruckus. Comedy horror hybrids were big business in those days, thanks to the likes of American Werewolf in London, Return of the Living Dead and Gremlins, and it made plenty of sense to appeal to the younger market with teen-led films in the sub-genre. My Best Friend is a Vampire is a bit of an odd one then, in that, despite the premise, it nearly entirely eschews the horror elements in favour of out-and-out comedy. 
Gawky teenager Jeremy (Robert Sean Leonard; Dead poets Society, Married to It) is having an unusual dilemma: a cheerleader has the hots for him, but has his eye on socially awkward musician, Darla (Cheryl Pollak; Pump Up the Volume). In fact, he is dreaming about her every night, and unfortunately for him, his dreams keep getting invaded by a sexy, older babe hellbent on seducing him.


While out doing a grocery delivery for the store he works in part-time, Jeremy makes a shocking discovery. The sexy, dream invading woman has moved into his neighbourhood, and she makes no bones about trying to seduce him straight away. Inviting him back later that night to the seemingly run-down house, she drags him into the sack and sinks her pointed teeth into his neck. At this point a pair of vampire hunters bust in, lead by Professor McCarthy (David Warner; Waxwork, Time Bandits) and they burn the house down. Jeremy escapes with the help of his obnoxious friend, Ralph (Evan Mirand), but being dopey teenagers, don't think anything of the obvious fang marks in Jeremy's neck.

Soon the vampiric ways begin to take a grip on Jeremy. An old vampire shows up and teaches him to get along with the world, and not to get bogged down in killing victims. Why bother when there are 24 hour pigs-blood salesmen around? But the vampire hunters are out to get them, Ralph included. Can Jeremy get rid of them for good? Will he be stuck as a vampire forever? And will he finally get it on with Darla?


There are no points in My Best Friend is a Vampire where the film ever takes itself too seriously, and that's a good thing. By sidestepping any attempts at horror (bar the initial 'love bite', there isn't even any blood in the film) the focus is instead given to making a fun 90 minutes that doesn't try and waste time on badly done atmosphere or effects that the budget couldn't afford. What you get is a (mostly) decent cast doing their best with a humorous script, and the film works for the most part. The jokes are quite funny in places (when Jeremy can't see his reflection in the mirror, his response is, "Huh, this mirror stopped working!") and some of the running gags (his parents thinking he has turned gay, for example) are handled much better than you would expect. Other slightly semi surreal moments work too, such as the montage of Jeremy accepting he is a vampire. Que the dry ice, the 'Future's so Bright I Gotta Wear Shades' on the soundtrack, and Jeremy opening a can of pigs blood from a mini fridge. Head scratching, for sure, but somehow it works in terms of comedy.

As mentioned above, the film looks quite low budget. Despite this though, the camera work is consistently stylish throughout, and they definitely made the best of what they had. We even get two semi car chases to liven the action up. The cast is what really holds it together, though.Robert Sean Leonard makes an unusual leading man; he is thin, geeky, almost feminine. But, it's casting like this that can make a film, and despite a shaky first few minutes, he delivers a likable performance. David Warner is great, but that's no surprise. His oafish sidekick is played by Paul Wilson, who does a good line in moronic comedy. Evan Mirand as the best friend actually gets some of the better lines, and does a decent job as the slobbish-but-lovable Ralph. Rene Auberjonois is excellent as the older, wiser vampire who shows Jeremy the ropes. The one weak link is the love interest; Cheryl Pollack. The romance aspect of the film is handled nicely, and you genuinely want the characters to get together. Sadly though, Pollack's performance lets it down a bit, as she has some terrible delivery (I cringed on her "Oh, no problem; I'm carrying a can of invisible hairspray!" line. Sure, it's hardly Yeats she's quoting, but was that the best take she gave?), and her awful costumes don't help her cause either.


The soundtrack is worth mentioning, as it features a few key tunes from Blondie, Oingo Boingo, Tim Kelly and Timbuk 3. The film is directed by Jimmy Huston, who also directed the classic B slasher, Final Exam. For the most part he keeps things together. The opening sequence where Jeremy is recounting his dream via voice over is not a great start to the film, and I could imagine many writing it off straight away. The delivery, tone and pacing just feels wrong, and I was worried the whole film was going to be a disaster. Luckily it finds its feet around the 15 minute mark, and after that the running time breezes by. The climax is fairly tension free, but that's the price paid for sacrificing the horror for laughs. Still, it feels in key with the gentle tone established throughout, and one of the rare films I've seen with a 'horror' tag that has a zero body count.

My Best Friend is a Vampire isn't a Fright Night or Lost Boys. It's not even a Teen Wolf, to be honest. But it is enjoyable, and with the right group of people I can see it being a fun experience. The jokes are funny and the characters are likable. If your copy of Saturday the 14th is wearing out and you need something goofy to fill in for it, give it a shot.


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4 Comments:

At 20 May 2014 at 01:49 , Blogger Wes M said...

John, this one is absolutely new to me. After I finished the post, I immediately went off to search for a pic of the UK VHS thinking I might know this by another sleeve, but it seems this went out with the US poster at the top of this review. Hmm, I missed this one ! Horror comedies are a tricky proposition, and I must admit the comedy part of the mixture has always been a deal breaker for me, not being a big comedy guy. Still this looks kinda watchable and it’s always a draw with David Warner’s on board - he’s one of those actors who’s likely to turn up in anything from Straw Dogs to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II. I’m a Star Trek The Next Generation guy so I’m especially fond of his guest appearance as an alien interrogator taking sadistic delight extracting information from Patrick Stewart’s captured Enterprise captain – 45mins of incredible television… I’ve been lax on my 80’s vampires films and I must admit I’ve never seen Fright Night or to a lesser degree Vamp. I remember being on a forum last year and someone had asked people to choose sides - Lost Boys or Near Dark ? I like Lost Boys, I have it on DVD and I wheel it out every few years (which magically takes me back to where and when I first saw it, and who with) but I’m easily a Near Dark guy – it’s one of the best films of the 80’s, vampires or no. I watched The Hitcher two weekends back and I really had the urge to see Near Dark again... Nice to see a ghoulish looking René Auberjonois in the third pic, another great actor, and a great face, as well as another Star Trek alumnus – I actually watched him quite recently in Robert Altman’s Bergmanesque film Images, playing a harassed husband dealing with a schizoid Susannah York – an incredible film. He also appeared in Altman’s Brewster McCloud, delivering what must be one of the nuttiest performances I’ve ever seen in an American film…

 
At 20 May 2014 at 02:56 , Blogger JP Mulvanetti said...

Wes, I agree on the difficulty of horror comedy, and to me, the golden age for it was the 80's, when generally there was an attempt to do both right. Whether they were successful or not... well, that's personal taste I guess! I went off comedy completely for years, and it was mainly to do with how American comedy had changed over the last ten years or so. I found myself being more disgusted by some of the characters than anything else... and I think a lot of it has to do with the current mentality of casting the most unobtainable, gorgeous looking people in these films. Even watching TED recently, which is fairly harmless, I got very irritated that even bit parts were filled with ridiculously hot women (all the leads co-workers, for example). I mean, the likes of Molly Ringwald and Demi Moore (before her surgery) were attractive, but realistic, leading ladies. As a teen I felt I could relate to them, and found the comedy worked better for it. Nowadays, everyone looks like a preppy douche bag or cheerleader, even the allegedly 'unattractive' characters. The closest we get to an Anthony Micheal Hall these days is the likes of Jonah Hill and Micahel Cera... and unsurprisingly, I find them quite good to watch.

I think you should really dive into some of these flicks - Fright Night and Vamp are no brainers to be honest. Fright Night is one of my favorites from that decade, and Vamp is an unusual one, even if you don't 'love' the film I think you will really dig the cinematography. I too really enjoy Lost Boys, but yeah, Near Dark is in a league of its own.

You know, I struggled with Rene Auberjonois (and not just with the spelling or pronounciation of his name!) as he was great in this film, but I couldn't figure out if I had seen him in anything or not. Turns out he has done a heap of VO work, but I've never seen him in anything myself. It might seem strange, but I'm not very well versed in Star Trek! But I'll definitely check out the Altman flick. Thanks for the heads up!

 
At 20 July 2014 at 19:43 , Blogger Craig Edwards said...

I've not seen this one - but the nostalgia factor alone would draw me in now. Rene Auberjonois was in the original movie M*A*S*H* and several other 70's movies, but first became well known in America as the saucy Clayton Endicott III on the long running sitcom Benson. He did have a run on Star Trek Deep Space Nine in the 90's, and was recently a fine supporting regular on the James Spader/William Shatner legal series Boston Legal. Great actor - and a nice man - met him briefly when he came to town before Deep Space Nine to guest on a Matlock episode here. And I'm with both of you - Near Dark FTW!

 
At 22 July 2014 at 04:44 , Blogger JP Mulvanetti said...

Craig, I've a feeling you would get a chuckle out of this one. I used to watch Benson quite a bit (it ran on lunch time tv over here for yonks, so I used to see it on break from school) but I just don'r recall Auberjonois at all. Which is a shame, he really brings a great tone to this film. Will be keeping an eye out for him in the future.

 

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