Review: ‘Therapy for a Vampire’ (this is not normal)

An almost-sweet period vampire horror comedy set in Austria and spoken in German…with English subtitles.

It is September, 1932 in Vienna, Austria. Count Geza von Közsnöm (Tobias Moretti) seeks out Sigmund Freud (Karl Fischer) for help after making a generous donation. He’s a biteless and bored vampire who despises the undead wife he settled for, Countess Elsa (Jeanette Hain). The count pines after the centuries-lost vampire who turned him, Nadila, but his hope is renewed when he notices a painting in Freud’s office. The renowned therapist has been employing the services of Viktor (Dominic Oley) to illustrate the fervent dreams of other patients, but Viktor has also been substituting the woman in such drawings with a fantasy image of his headstrong girlfriend Lucy (Cornelia Ivancan). Lucy knows Viktor would like if she presented herself more femininely, but the Count has his own ideas about making over Lucy when he decides she must be he reincarnation of his precious Nadila…but first, he’ll have to distract both the countess and Lucy’s lover by pairing them up for a promised painting — capturing an image of a vampire that can never be captured. What could possibly go horribly wrong?

Wunderbar! With few exceptions, here’s a vampire films that nails the classic tropes first before allowing the comedy to flow organically from the botched situations. From a nosey neighbor listening in on the young lovers to an abused house servant who tries to muscle in on the count’s action, the film takes its time setting up and executing the plot. The effects are subtle but amazing, from blink-and-you’ll-miss-it movements to flight, wall crawling, fangs, claws, pupils widening at the sight of blood, and missing reflections. While the count becomes a bat to get about and is susceptible to obsessive counting, the countess prefers her wolf form and is distracted by her vanity, giving each vampire a unique presentation. It’s a game of husbands and wives, boyfriends and girlfriends, and mortals and vampires; everyone wants something different but no one is willing to compromise. Oh, and there’s lots of blood and people dying…because VAMPIRES.

The movie was filmed on location, rewarding viewers with rich, beautiful backdrops and gothic exteriors. Anger, assumption, and jealousy are the order of the day, so emotions are running high throughout the story, and the players are suited to their roles. Tobias Moretti’s Count always knows what to do but stays on the edge of a full-on monster rage that never comes. Cornelia Ivancan’s plays Lucy as the prize everyone wants that doesn’t want to be won, especially not the way they see her; she’s the firecracker they long for as long as they can control her…and she’s having none of it. Jeanette Hain’s Countess brings the stoic bitch-bangs-bob hair style, never accepting second banana but preferring to hurt rather than abandon the man who’s already abandoned her. Dominic Oley’s Viktor looks like a young Luke Perry circa The Fifth Element, the guy who trusts that his artist’s eye and boyish charms will keep Lucy on the hook before the Count makes him work for her affection.

If there’s one complaint to be had, it’s the “therapy” premise has little to do with the story other than getting things started. Freud’s chance to psychoanalyze the count doesn’t really come to fruition; it mostly provides a common location for characters to come across one another before the story gets going. Unlike too-silly vampire comedies like Dracula: Dead and Loving It or the Twilight spoof Vampires Suck; in only a couple of places does the comedic portion of the film stoop to the ridiculous. Running in-line with the fun of What We Do In the Shadows, Therapy takes the path of a serious three-act teleplay with horror and comedy elements instead of the loose sketch-to-sketch mockumentary style of the former film. It’s both sad and presumptuous that Count Geza pines over a former lover who left him explicit and imposing instructions for them to be together again; by the end, the difference between Lucy’s would-be suitors is who stops trying to change her. There’s even a little wiggle room for a sequel, but for now, just sing along with me: “You can’t always get what you want…”

(a three skull recommendation out of four)

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