Therapy for a Vampire’s Shakespearan groundwork makes for a fun time, even if it’s a bit too stuck in the routine trappings of the vampire genre.
A vampire’s life is a difficult one, between blood drinking and the night-owl hours, after a few centuries there’s little left to surprise. It’s the same with the vampire movie. After all the Draculas, Nosferatus and interviews with vampires, audiences have consumed an overflow of the vampire’s lifeblood. Where do you go from here? Director David Rühm’s German language vamp-com Therapy for a Vampire gives the vampire film a much needed transfusion, and though it remains reliant on the techniques of the genre, the acting and effects work do enough to give some added bite to the vampire comedy.
It’s Vienna, 1932. Vampire Count Geza von Közsnöm (Tobias Moretti) has decided to seek the help of psychotherapist Sigmund Freud (Karl Fischer) to deal with the pressing ennui of his life; squabbles with his wife, Elsa (Jeanette Hain), also cause Geza to seek something to make life worth living again. Enter Viktor (Dominic Oley), a painter, and his girlfriend, Lucy (Cornelia Ivancan), the latter of whom appears to be Geza’s past love reincarnated, which leads to a series of love triangles that could get bloody.
The lack of anything particularly sharp keeps Therapy for a Vampire from approaching anywhere near a classic, but its adroit look at the lack of satisfaction in relationships—and our tendency to envision a fantasy lover that reality never provides us—gives audiences something new. Geza and Viktor have dream girls swimming in their heads, neither of whom is lived to up by their mutual object of affection, Lucy (one of the more spot-on connections to Dracula). To Viktor, Lucy’s tomboyish independence rankles him, while Geza literally sees her as nothing more than the embodiment of his deceased lover Nadila.
We’ve watched the reincarnated lover return in countless horror films. Therapy actually does something new with it in this case, giving Lucy a chance to criticize the men in her life, and the horror genre in general, about female idealization. The vampire lifestyle gives Lucy added confidence and an ability to fly away (quite literally) from her problems, but she wants agency. “I want to fly as Lucy, not someone else,” she declares.
Hain’s Elsa is our other leading lady, a cruel beauty in contrast to Lucy’s mortal babe in the woods. Her Marlene Dietrich cheekbones and Louise Brooks bob present Hain as the portrait of Old Hollywood glamour. Splashes of blood and body parts are left in her wake, and though her desire to see her face belies a particularly vigorous strain of vanity, the character captivates nonetheless.
This isn’t to say our males—Oley, Moretti and Fischer—are bad, but they’re what we’ve watched in countless vampire films, with the exception of Fischer’s Freud. Moretti is the perfect droll Count while Oley is our skeptical Jonathan Harker. The latter’s dissatisfied treatment of Lucy, becomes a bit annoying, but that’s a script flaw.
Rühm’s script seems inspired by Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream with its multiple couples and side figures drawn into Geza’s vampiric search for identity and purpose. Each of the characters have parallel plotlines to string a tangled web of love, anger and revenge, with Geza’s trips to Freud acting as a MacGuffin to get the two disparate couples together. Once everyone is united the characters splinter off into various schemes—whether it’s Lucy and the Count’s attempts at reincaration, Lucy and Geza’s poor servant tackling romantic miscommunications, Elsa having her portrait painted by Viktor, etc.—Lucy’s arc remains the highlight, but the overall wackiness never becomes cartoonish.Therapy for a Vampire’s Shakespearan groundwork makes for a fun time, even if it’s a bit too stuck in the routine trappings of the vampire genre.