We’ve already had one uproarious vampire send-up this year, What We Do in the Shadows. Do we really need another one? Oh hell yes. And its name is Therapy for a Vampire. Anything that stokes the burning stake of whiney teen vamp drivel should be welcomed with open arms, but it also helps that this Austrian offering from director David Rühm is a seductive and hilarious take on vampire lore with a script and cast that nails the coffin tight.
In 1930s Vienna, the thrill is gone for centuries old vampire Count Geza von Közsnöm. As his existence drags its feet, so does his marriage to the Countess Elsa. He finds no pleasure in feeding on the innocent anymore, so he swigs from a blood-filled flask when his wife isn’t looking – like some hapless alcoholic. He seeks the assistant of Dr. Sigmund Freud, who’s not at all alarmed when the Count insists their session happen at night. “What do you do during the day?” Freud asks.
During one of their sessions, the Count sees a vision of Nadila, his long-deceased true love. But it’s really a painting of Lucy, the girlfriend of Freud’s assistant Viktor, an amateur artist. Regardless, the Count is determined to make Lucy his bride by any vampiric means necessary. While he woos Lucy, Elsa hires Viktor to paint her portrait. Decades of not being able to see her own reflection is driving the vain Countess mad and if Viktor can’t deliver on a painting, there’ll be hell to pay.
The script, also written by Rühm, is very clever and crackling with intelligent humor and subtlety. His approach to vampire parody feels fresh – he’s not just playing on tired gags we’ve seen before. A vampire’s obsession with counting, for example, leads to some great moments. Many of the jokes start out small and suggestive, only to lead to even bigger punch lines later on.
The lush production design and costumes are a big part of the fun and go a long way in adding weight to the atmosphere. There’s a ton of small details everywhere – from the Count’s cemetery to Viktor’s cluttered studio apartment. Putting this great group of vibrant actors in this rich environment leads to one hugely entertaining dance in the dark. Tobias Moretti brings deep sophistication and astute comedic timing to the Count. His constant sparring with the seductive Jeanette Hain (Elsa) is hilarious to watch. As Lucy, Cornelia Ivancan truly steals the show. She’s warm and strong and radiates leading woman whiz-bang charisma. Here’s hoping she gets a chance to break out internationally soon.
Therapy for a Vampire (or, Der Vampir auf der Couch) takes relentless jabs at vampire lore and, most piercing of all, relationships and the vicissitudes of marriage. It does so in an invigorating way with heaps of wit to spare. But don’t worry, it’s not all top hats and snappy quips. There is enough blood splashed around to paint the walls.