Since Hammer Films originally shut up shop there haven’t been that many British vampire movies – with a few arty oddities like The Wisdom of Crocodiles and A Tale of a Vampire, under-the-radar pictures like Temptation and Blood & Roses and skits like Lesbian Vampire Killers keeping the UK in the Dracula business even as the sub-genre proliferates everywhere else in the world. So it might be significant that this year’s FrightFest offers three British vampire movies – Redwood, Eat Locals and Fanged Up. Premiering on successive nights, Fanged Up and Eat Locals have a similar laddish vibe, and don’t owe that much to regular vampire movies aside from the odd maundering about immortality and human cattle.
One of the better jokes here has the dimwit hero survive his first few encounters with monsters and whine that the staff of this prison are all zombies (‘close enough,’ says his girlfriend) before wondering whether they’re ‘Frankensteins’ before (right third time) diagnosing ‘a case of the Draculas’. The hook here is a prison run by vampires, with inmates selected by their rare blood type and invited to the office of the governor (Stephen Berkoff) for ‘sorbet’, though the big selling point is that this is a screen vehicle for stand-up comic Daniel O’Reilly (aka ‘Dapper Laughs’), whose chat-up patter act commingles obnoxiousness and self-deprecation – which sets up one of the film’s neater ideas in the climax, hinging on a revelation that takes the edge off his act and almost gets a bit of poignance into the film. It turns out that some people would literally rather die than have sex with Dapper Laughs … making this a companion piece to Double Date, another Brtish FrightFest choice in which laddishness invites a supernatural come-uppance. Michael Socha plays the dickhead character in Double Date, and his sister Lauren is the mad wardress Ms Renfield here – providing another connection. Maybe the pond is getting too small.
The script – by O’Reilly, Dan Palmer and Nick Nevern – shows some awareness of genre history, mostly by naming characters after actors and creatives who worked on ‘80s vampire movies like Fright Night, Vamp, Near Dark and The Lost Boys. Jimmy Ragsdale (O’Reilly) is the cause of an affray in a club and sent to spend the weekend in a gothic-looking prison before coming into court, though the penny drops that he’s in deeper trouble when the hardnut thug on the prison bus is dropped off at a less fearsome establishment and trembles at the thought of the facility the supposed minor offender is headed for. By coincidence, the prison doctor (Danielle Harold) is Jimmy’s still-annoyed ex-girlfriend … who, like the female leads in many post-Shaun of the Dead horror comedies, is required to fulfil the role of disapproving mum as well as love-interest. Like a lot of British comedies, this is all about blokes and how they feel about each other – with a simmer of warmth between Jimmy and his unlikely prison allies, a hulking Russian (Stu Bennett) who belabours a joke about killing people with his bear so much that it almost becomes endearing and Vas Blackwood as a cheery gay fixer who defuses almost all aggression by just being friendly. The monsters aren’t as interesting, with snarly fanged stuntmen who might as well be zombies and a few exploding folk to splash guts about in a seaside postcard/end-of-the-pier version of the Troma sensibility.
Director Christian James is coasting a bit after his smaller-scale zombie comedy Stalled, which was one of the fresher takes on the genre in recent years. Berkoff and Socha go wildly over the top, but ought to bring more menace to their roles for horror-comedy bite and skipping a major action scene with a jump cut and a throwaway ‘well, that was easier than we thought’ draws attention to limited resources rather than getting a quick laugh. Given that O’Reilly’s act is all about trying and failing to cop off with fit birds in clubs, it’s a surprise that this doesn’t feature Hammer Films-style fanged sirens in negligees coming on to him – though maybe after Lesbian Vampire Killers no British filmmaker will want to go there for a while.