Vienna, 1932. Sigmund Freud (Karl Fischer) takes on a new patient, Graf Geza von Közsnöm (Tobias Moretti), a vampire who has lost his zest for undeath … and is bored with his wife of several hundred years, Elsa (Jeanette Hain). Geza married Elsa in the first place on the rebound after the destruction (by dervishes) of Nadila, his first love and the vampire who turned him.
As is often the case, modern girl Lucy (Cornelia Ivancan) happens to look exactly like Nadila’s portrait and Geza sets out to do a full Vertigo on her (in vampire terms, several months of Dark Shadows had Barnabas Collins trying to brainwash one woman or another into becoming his lost love). Lucy is already fed up because her boyfriend Viktor (Dominic Oley), an artist whose side-gig is making sketches of the dreams described by Freud’s patients, wants her to change her clothes and hairstyle, though she’s even less keen on becoming another woman completely. Half-turned into a vampire, she’s happy to be able to fly and do other tricks – but wants to be a vampire as Lucy not a retread of Nadila. Also not exactly well balanced is the vain Elsa, who aches because she’s not been able to see her face in centuries – she sits before a mirror she doesn’t reflect in, puffing powder that doesn’t form a face. Throw in minion Radul (David Bennent, from The Tin Drum) and chef Oscar (Lars Rudolph), who has their own designs on Lucy, and there’s a farcical plot to be worked out with this knot of comical neurotics.
Written and directed by David Rühm, this German vampire comedy is wry rather than laugh-out-loud funny. It has a nicely expressionist look, with empty streets and striking lighting, and the performances are pitched to match – not struggling for laughs (in the way that sinks Dracula Dead and Loving It, for instance) but sometimes not really getting them either (also true of Dance of the Vampires). At first, I thought it was an issue that everyone, with the marginal exception of Freud, was a horrible person even if they weren’t a vampire. A few scenes where the heroine plays off rival suitors manage to show all the characters present in a poor light – manipulative minx, domineering egomaniac, presumptive creep. However, the penny eventually drops that this is the point, though that means Ivancan – who is terrific – has to work hard to get the audience on her side. Her Lucy is not particularly admirable, but she is right.
The idea of a vampire being psychoanalysed has been around for a while – you can find lots of singelton cartoons on the idea – but this picks up on some less familiar bits of folklore … here, that business about being compelled to count spilled dried peas or coins is viewed as an OCD tic. It’s the first film I’ve come across that uses an idea Bram Stoker set out in his notes for Dracula but didn’t use in the book – that vampires can’t be painted because mystic forces prevent artists from rendering them on canvas. A neat development is that the Countess commissions Viktor to do her portrait, but he can’t fill in her face – so he paints in Lucy’s instead, which briefly fools Elsa until she clocks the substitute Nadila her husband is running after. Some of the gags are groaners (Elsa staggering home tipsy after draining a couple of drunks) but a few are newish variants (a vampire swallowing an engorged tick as a snack).