REVIEW: “What We Do in the Shadows”

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These days good comedies are a rarity which makes finding one all the more special. The genre’s landscape is overloaded with obnoxious raunchy comedies and shallow Sandler-esque toilet humor. If you aren’t a fan of those two brands finding an enjoyable modern comedy may be a chore. But “What We Do in the Shadows” is one of the rare exceptions – a highly original comedy that is also smart in its open embrace of absurdity.

Calling the film “smart” may be stretch for some, but I think the filmmakers are devilishly perceptive. Co-writers, co-directors, and co-stars Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement are very well aware of the type of humor they are employing. The Wellington, New Zealand duo create a concept so ridiculous on the surface yet pulsing with focused energy and a satiric edge. It shows smarts in its concept, smarts in its execution, smarts in its structure, and perhaps most importantly smarts in its ability to maintain a genuinely funny premise from start to finish.

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While pondering a way to describe the film I kept coming back to ‘a vampire mockumemtary meets “The Real World”. It presents itself as a found-footage reality show and/or documentary. The first thing we see is a cheap, grainy production graphic from “The New Zealand Documentary Board”. From there we are immediately injected into the world of four vampires living together in a Wellington flat. Our perspective is through the lens of a documentarian’s camera.

First we are introduced to the four vampires. The 379 year-old Viago (Waititi) is a good-hearted 16th century neat-freak. Vladislov (Clement) is an 862 year-old medieval fashionista. Deacon (Jonathan Brugh) is the youngster of the bunch – 183 years-old and a bit of a rebel. And then there is 8,000 year-old Petyr (Ben Fransham) who hisses more than speaks and has an uncanny resemblance to Count Orlok from “Nosferatu”. All four are uniquely funny which makes their quirky camaraderie a real treat.

It doesn’t take long to recognize the vibe Waititi and Clement are shooting for. The dry, deadpan humor. The constant awareness and conversations with the camera. The straight-faced approaches by the actors regardless of a scene’s nuttiness. All of it contributes to a movie which genuinely feels like a reality show or a documentary. It just happens to be spotlighting vampire roommates from different eras with very limited connections to the modern world outside their doors.

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Occasionally they go out to enjoy a socially awkward night on the town. Other times we see them having a “flat meeting” to discuss house duties. There are an assortment of camera confessionals talking about everything from lost loves to frustrations with roommates to favorite torture practices. And there are several funny bits after the boys are introduced to the wonders of YouTube, eBay, and Skype. Most of these scenes are given to us in pinches which are the perfect portions. They also toss in a very small handful of side characters who serve the story nicely.

“What We Do in the Shadows” is such a breath of fresh air. It’s a comedy that consistently delivers laughs without clinging to unfunny cliches or the hot current genre trends. Rarely does the movie miss a beat and its cleverness shows itself in a host of ways. It is subtly subversive, subtly satirical, and openly absurd. Waititi and Clement craft one very funny movie that clearly isn’t a film for the movie masses. I can see some people rolling their eyes and some people dismissing it altogether. I found it to be a hysterical reminder that there are comedies willing to do their own thing and do it very well.

VERDICT – 4.5 STARS

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5 PHENOMENAL VAMPIRE MOVIES

Vampires has seen a rise in popularity over the past several years. Both television and movie theaters have experienced an influx of vampire movies and shows. Now I have to admit that none of the current vampire stuff have impressed me, but there have been some really great movies about these blood-sucking creatures of the night in the past. Going all the way back to the silent movie era, vampires have been a part of cinema history. So with such a vast number of movies to choose from, I decided to pick five of the best vampire flicks. Now as always, I wouldn’t call this the definitive list, but there’s no denying that these five vampire movies are most certainly phenomenal.

#5 – “UNDERWORLD” (2003)

Underworld” isn’t a typical vampire picture. It’s a full-blown action horror movie about a boiling conflict between vampires and lycans (also known as werewolves). Kate Beckinsale stars as undoubtedly the prettiest vampire in movie history and Scott Speedman is her hybrid lycan/vampire boyfriend. The dark, gloomy gothic tone of the movie is quite effective and the grisly action that takes the place of the normal vampire horror gives the movie its own special uniqueness. Several sequels have followed but none have matched the first film.

#4 – “DRACULA” (1931)

The images of Bela Lugosi’s Count Dracula were the first I ever had of a vampire. Tod Browning’s 1931 horror classic was based on Bram Stoker’s chilling novel and Lugosi portrayed the character that would become one of the famous Universal movie monsters. The movie maintains a creepy vibe from the moment we enter Dracula’s castle in Transylvania until Van Helsing puts the stake through the heart. It’s a pure Hollywood classic.

#3 – “FRIGHT NIGHT” (1985)

Sure, 1985’s “Fright Night” has some issues but it’s one of those films that holds a special place in my heart. It’s the story of Charlie Brewster, a teenager who’s convinced that a vampire has moved in next door. He spies on and later goes too far in investigating his new neighbor and soon finds himself and the people he loves in some serious vampire-styled trouble. He teams up with a low-budget horror movie actor (played by the great Roddy McDowall) in hopes of ridding his town of the blood-sucking threat. It’s a fun mix of scares, gory special effects, and fantastic humor and I still love watching it.

#2- “THE LOST BOYS” (1987)

A truly funny and sometimes creepy teenaged horror tale about a vampire problem in a small California coastal town. This is hands down the best movie of “The Two Coreys” collaborations and it was certainly different from any other vampire film I had seen at the time. It features good work from Jason Patric, Dianne Wiest, Edward Herrmann, and especially Kiefer Sutherland who I felt stole the show. The movie has a great soundtrack and a cool 80’s vibe to it, but mainly it’s just incredibly fun and features more memorable lines than any other vampire film you’ll see.

#1- “NOSFERATU” (1922)

While it was a completely unauthorized adaptation of Bram Stoker’s novel “Dracula”, I still feel it’s the greatest version of the vampire classic ever put on film. While the names have been changed, the story is very much the same and the incredible vision of German director F.W. Murnau brings it to life in a genuinely eerie way. And Murnau’s ability to maintain such a level of creepiness through a silent movie is another testament to his incredible skill at visual storytelling. Max Schreck’s Count Orlok is both sinister and unnerving and I will always remember the scene of him rising from his coffin. This is an incredible film that should be seen not only by horror fans but also by fans of movies period.

Alrighty, there they are. And no, it’s not a mistake, no “Twilight” movies even came close to making this list. So what do you think? What did I miss? Be sure to take time to leave your favorite vampire movie below.