By Drew Taylor | The Playlist April 17, 2014 at 7:30PM
Vampires have been just about everywhere: outer space, the distant future, Detroit. But it’s been a while since they’ve been to Brooklyn. The last time this particular borough was the subject of bloodsucking freaks was the failed Eddie Murphy/Wes Craven venture “Vampire in Brooklyn,” which put a stake through the heart of vampires in Brooklyn for a little while. But it seems like a good time for vampires to return to New York’s hippest borough, what with the thriving nightlife perfect for snacking, an abundance of dilapidated buildings to occupy (until they become condos), and the general acceptance, in Brooklyn, of sleeping till noon and looking like you’ve been touring with Phish for the last half decade. Tribeca spotlight opener “Summer of Blood” attempts to reposition vampires in Brooklyn, and the results are simultaneously satisfying and insufferably smug.
Writer-director Onur Tukel stars as Eric, a lazy Brooklyn douchebag who, in the opening sequence, is proposed to by his adorable girlfriend Jody (Anna Margaret Hollyman). Of course he has an intense fear of commitment and closes the case on the wedding ring while mumbling something about her “attempt to be post-feminist.” On the way home from the restaurant, they stumble into one of Jody’s college buddies and she ends up leaving with him… Eric is left to head back to his apartment, alone with his thoughts (or so it seems).
Eric soon spots a man who seems to be having trouble breathing. Upon closer inspection, the stranger has a large gash on his neck and is bleeding profusely. Of course, considering how self-centered he is, Eric’s first words to the stranger are “Oh I thought I was having a bad day.” Eric leaves to get help (he’s such a loser that he doesn’t own a cell phone), but instead runs into a couple of hipsters and starts discussing where they all went to high school and how Eric looks like Jerry Garcia (he does). The man, meanwhile, bleeds to death.
It’s good that this sequence pops up so early in “Summer of Blood” because it’s a very clear indication of what kind of movie this is and what kind of ground it’s going to cover, tonally. You can tell that it wants to be a super-arch horror comedy, with the emphasis being placed on comedy and a main character that seems to come from the roly poly Judd Apatow school of lovable schlubs. The problem, of course, is that things might be a little too ironic and Eric, as a character, seems too detached from humanity, even from the get go (forget the fact that he’s soon turned into a vampire). No Apatow hero has ever been this cynical and cruel. Death is turned into something with quotation marks around it.
The next half hour or so of “Summer of Blood” is devoted to Eric attempting to find another girlfriend, which involves a series of excruciatingly painful dates and, occasionally, just-as-excruciatingly painful jokes (“I’m an optimist.” “I’ve never dated an eye doctor before.” Groan!) Finally Eric is turned into a vampire, by the same hideous monster that killed the man that Eric stumbled upon earlier in the movie. When the vampire asks Eric what he fears the most, Eric starts to ramble neurotically. Again: when death appears, all he can do is talk about himself.
For the rest of the shambolic 90-minute run time, “Summer of Blood” plays like Dracula rides the L train. Eric picks up the same women he had the disastrous first dates with, only this time, enlivened by his new superpowers (including mesmeric vampire eyes that allows him to get out of paying his rent), he comes across as a smoothly sensual dynamo. But even when he’s locked in his crummy apartment with a harem of vampire babes, he can’t stop talking about his girlfriend.
Essentially, it’s a one-joke movie (even after being transformed into an immortal creature of mythic power he’s still an insecure dweeb), but it’s a pretty good joke (at least for a while). Tukel is a gifted comedic performer, and some of the best sequences just involve him riffing in some uncomfortable situation, whether it’s his attempt at workplace flirtation or trying to break it to a girl that he’s just had sex with that he’s turned her into an undead monster (something that’s treated, like David Cronenberg’s “Rabid,” in the context of an STD). The problem is that, as a filmmaker, Tukel is less proficient. The fuzzy nighttime photography sometimes becomes blurry and out-of-focus; it’s an attempt at you-are-there realism that instead comes across as sloppy and amateurish. Additionally, the musical score sounds like a cat walking across an eighties-era Casio keyboard (in moments of tension, the cat pounces on all the keys at once). It would have been nice if the formal aspects of the movie were more refined so that it at least looked like the types of movies that it was obviously emulating.
Instead, “Summer of Blood” comes across as something unfinished and ill formed. Yes, it’s funny and charming and sometimes deeply amusing. But at the same time it lacks any kind of emotional resonance. It’s hard to root for someone when you wish they would get a stake through the heart even before they become a vampire. And while, on a conceptual level, the movie should be applauded (“Girls” meets “Evil Dead” must have sounded great on paper), it doesn’t materialize like it should. “Summer of Love” seems especially slight when it’s standing in the shadow of a trio of genuinely excellent, much more ambitious deconstructions of the vampire mythos that have been making the festival rounds (Jim Jarmusch’s similarly hip but much less eager-to-please “Only Lovers Left Alive,” New Zealand faux documentary “What We Do in the Shadows” and bizarro feminist western “A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night”). Like many of Brooklyn’s hipper inhabitants, “Summer of Blood” tries very hard to be cool, but instead comes off as strained and aloof, with a number of satiric targets it could have aimed for but just bypasses altogether. Oh well. Can’t bite them all. [C+]