THERAPY FOR A VAMPIRE is a droll and loving homage to those classic Universal horror films from the 1930s. This is not pastiche, though. The gothic castle awash in spectral moonlight vies with a dash of Hitchcock’s VERTIGO, and a feminist attitude that is the perfect foil for the king of Penis Envy himself, Sigmund Freud (Karl Fischer), who here is tasked with dispensing the eponymous treatment for the equally eponymous creature of the night.
It’s 1932 in Vienna, and struggling artist Viktor (Dominic Oley) is making ends meet by drawing illustrations of some of the more bizarre dreams that Dr. Freud’s patients have reported to him. That all the women in these macabre vignettes have the face of Viktor’s girlfriend, Lucy (Cornelia Ivancon) is probably something that he should discuss with his employer. That he also has a penchant for painting her portrait as his idealized Lucy, flowing blonde hair and flowing chiffon dress, rather than as she is, pant-wearing with brown hair rolled into a bun, is, in fact, something that comes up when Viktor gifts the doctor with his latest oil portrait of her, the one that provoked their latest quarrel.
The timing couldn’t be better. Or worse, depending on your point of view.
Freud’s latest patient is Count Geza von Közsnöm (Tobias Moretti), an elegant vampire engulfed in the ennui of immortality married to a woman (Jeneatte Hain) that has been getting on his nerves for decades. In the midst of explaining that his one true love has been dead for centuries, a fact that Freud accepts as a metaphor rather than fact, the Count spies the portrait tucked away in a corner of consulting room. And, of course, it is the image of his lost Nadila, the Byzantine who turned him and was then beheaded by dervishes.
Mayhem of French bedroom farce ensues, but played out with suitably Germanic restraint. Told with a visual vocabulary executed with a deliberately self-conscious melodrama, the actors maintain a perfect, ahem, deadpan approach. Between that, the dreamy special effects, grotesque flourishes of freshly severed ears (complete with flamboyant earring), the detailed examination of a mosquito’s demise, and syringes that are the stuff of nightmares all by themselves, the atmosphere is forbidding, but allows ample room for the sly wit that infuses every frame. Even the ones that involve impaling.
Indeed, being undead is a piece of cake compared to the pitfalls of love. Bliss is wholly absent, from Viktor’s inability to understand why Lucy doesn’t want to pluck her eyebrows and put on lipstick, to Lucy’s spirited angst at discovering that the Count has his own plans to make her over into his ideal, to the unrequited love the film’s supporting cast nurture for those they cannot hope to have, and the Countesses love affair with a face that she hasn’t seen in so long that she can’t remember what it looks like. And in the midst of a myriad of Freudian conditions, named and unnamed, Freud himself remains willfully ignorant of everything going on around him, hearing everything told him frankly, but with a resounding lack of imagination that does not permit him to grasp the truth. He even gets scopophobia not just wrong, but completely backwards.
As for the state of being undead, drawbacks of too much sunlight aside, and the need to count everything (Sesame Street was not making things up out of whole cloth), THERAPY FOR A VAMPIRE offers the breathless freedom of flight. Lucy taking wing is not just surrendering to the dark side, it’s breaking the chains of gender and class, but with such a child-like delight that it’s potentially inclusive for Viktor, not the end.
The cry of “that’s not normal” permeates the proceedings, and always as a reflection of the person, even those without a reflection, yelling it is dismay rather than objectivity. Is it really so wrong that Lucy wants to fly? That the Countess wants to see what she looks like? Or that the Count prefers his blood from a goblet rather than from a spurting blood vessel that will stain his decidedly theatrical suits? THERAPY FOR A VAMPIRE is meant to be fun, and it is, but if it makes you wonder about the whole concept of normalcy, too, or the wisdom of the Freudian approach, so much the better.