If you think you know who this is at left; if you’re thinking this is Max Schreck as Nosferatu—or even Klaus Kinski in the remake (Nosferatu the Vampyre), you’re wrong. Yes, this looks a lot like him/it/them (?!), but that’s very deliberate. You’re looking instead at a character named Petyr (pronounced “Peter”), in a spoof vampire film from New Zealand, called What We Do In the Shadows (2014).
How did I find out about this film, and why should you care (besides the fact that you’re an sf/f fan, and vampires—even “vampyres” are part of our genre)? Well, that’s an odd thing.
I have an Australian friend I’ve never met—her name is Trudy—but we’ve been friends via email and phone for, I’d say, a decade or so. Last week I got an email from Tru, who said something like “We don’t normally go for this sort of stuff [genre stuff], but we’ve been watching this TV series called Wellington Paranormal, and enjoying it, so we watched the movie that it’s a spinoff of, and really liked it!” One thing led to another, and I watched first the movie, and now the first episode—but it won’t be the last—of Wellington Paranormal.
Figure 2 shows Mike Minogue (left) as Officer Kyle Minogue (really!) and Karen O’Leary (right) as Officer O’Leary (first name not given). They, along with Sergeant Maaka (not shown), are Wellington’s “top-secret paranormal squad.” Episode 1, “Demon Girl,” (left, Figure 3) shows the kind of person they deal with on a normal basis. According to Minogue (not the brightest bulb in the pack), they’re like Mulder and Scully of The X-Files. “She’s like Scully, because she’s analytical, she’s got the brains,” he says, “and I’m a man with brown hair.” They have their own show because they appeared in the movie that’s the main subject of this column: What We Do In the Shadows.
Is your head spinning yet? (Well if it does, please don’t vomit green stuff like the young lady [Bazu’aal of the Unholy Realm] in Figure 3.) What We Do… is non-fiction, right? Well, it has to be, because it’s a product of the New Zealand Documentary Board*. Ostensibly about a documentary crew following a small group that is part of an annual underground ball held for the undead and others of New Zealand—don’t worry, the crew are wearing crucifixes and the vampires are sworn not to “eat them.” (Must be a NZ thing; they never refer to “sucking blood,” only to “eating” their victims.)
*By the way, the NZ Documentary Board really doesn’t exist.
Because this is the first documentary crew to follow a group of vampire “flatmates”, the four main cast members—Petyr (Ben Fransham), 8 thousand years old; Viago (Taika Waititi), 17th century; Vladislav (Jemaine Clement), who’s the same age as a certain “impaler” you may have heard of; and Deacon (Jonny Brugh), who’s the youngest at something like 185 years.
Above, you can see the poster for this movie: top from left Vlad, Viago and Stu (human); bottom from left Deacon, Petyr, Nick and Jackie (background). This movie takes every vampire trope we know of and makes fun of them all; it’s not “laugh out loud” Mel Brooks-type comedy; it’s more low-key “you’ve got to pay attention” comedy. And it springs from the fertile minds of Waititi and Clement, whom you may have heard of before. (Does Flight of the Conchords ring a bell? Clement was one of the actors, and Waititi wrote and directed several episodes. They’re both better-known in NZ than here in North America, but they’re getting better known here. Waititi most recently played Korg (the guy made out of rocks) in Thor: Ragnarok, and Clement plays Oliver Bird in the TV series Legion.
I’ll try to do this without major spoilers; but I will, of necessity, give some minor plot points and jokes away.
We’re given a rare glimpse into the hidden lives of four vampires who live together in a house in Wellington, NZ; starting with their daily lives. The one we see and hear the most is Viago (Waititi), who takes the camera crew around with him more than do the others. Viago’s day begins at 6:30 p.m., when his alarm goes off, and he has to reach out from under his coffin lid to turn it off; then he cautiously checks the curtain to see that the daylight is gone. In this case, he must wake the others because he has scheduled a flat meeting because one of the vampires is not doing his flat chores. He wakes Deacon, who’s asleep hanging in a closet; Vlad—well, we’re not sure what Vlad is doing; it appears to involve women and velvet, but Viago hastily closes the door he had opened a crack to “wake” Vlad. Taking a live chicken in a burlap bag, Viago goes down to the basement to wake Petyr in his stone sarcophagus. The chicken is to distract Petyr, who wakes up grumpy.
The meeting does not go well; although he hasn’t done the dishes (the chore wheel has been unchanged for five years) and the kitchen is full of bloody dishes, Deacon insists that vampires don’t do dishes. Eventually, we’re treated to a shot of all vampires (except Petyr—he’s 8,000 years old and not terribly sociable—besides, he has skeletal pieces lying around (all over) the basement, so Viago offers to bring him a broom—doing chores. Flying is a great way to vacuum cobwebs off the ceiling, by the way.
Later, the three younger vampires go out to “do the town.” There are 80 or 90 vampires in Wellington; we meet a few of them. The festivities are somewhat hampered by the vamps not being able to go into clubs because they have to be invited, and no bouncers are willing to ask them in. Even vamp hypnotism seems ineffectual. There’s one place they’re allowed in, the most “happening” vampire nightclub in Wellington. (It’s not exactly crowded.) Primping to go out (Figure 5) is hampered by the fact that they don’t show up in mirrors. They have to draw each other so they can see whether they look good. Eventually they get out and about, but they have to make sure they don’t draw attention to themselves.
That is made harder when the newest vampire, Nick (Cori Gonzalez-Macuer) (Figure 4), wants to run around town telling people he’s either the lead guy in Twilight, or he’s Dracula. That will have consequences I won’t mention here, but it leads to the introduction of Minogue and O’Leary (Figure 2). Nick has a best mate (a term similar to, but stronger than, BFF), Stu (Stu Rutherford)(Figure 4), but has sworn not to eat him. (The other vamps like Stu better than they like Nick, actually).
While tooling around town, the vamps run across a pack of werewolves, whom they challenge with various snide remarks about fleas, and hackles and chasing sticks. One of the werewolves swears at the vamps and wants to change, and fight them; but Anton, the Alpha Male (Rhys Darby), calms him down by pointing out it’s not yet the full moon. “And watch your language,” Anton says. “We’re werewolves, not swearwolves.”
If I tried to tell you all the genre jokes in this movie, this column would be three times as long as usual—not to mention, full of spoilers!
Oddly enough, when I told my friend Spider Robinson about this movie a couple of days ago, he said “Incredible! That movie was on TV yesterday and I couldn’t decide whether to watch it, so I didn’t!”
Here’s why you should care. The movie has spawned, as noted before, a New Zealand TV series, and now FX, the American TV company, has decided to make a TV series out of it. Naturally, because American TV always does that, they’ve moved it to New York. Also naturally, they’ve changed the cast and the characters. A full season of eight or ten episodes has been ordered and will air in 2019 on FX. All I can find out about the cast is: Kayvan Novak as Nandor; Matt Berry as Lazslo; Natasia Demetriou as Nadja; Harvey Guillen as Guillermo; and Doug Jones will have a recurring role. As to plot, who knows?
And there’s word that Anton, the werewolf (Figure 6), will be getting his own sequel movie. Can’t wait to see what Waititi and Clement do with that!
By the way, the original movie is, I believe, available on iTunes. At first, I wasn’t sure whether I liked it or not; after a while, I caught on. And by the time the movie had ended, I was sure it was a very funny and kind of low-key take on the whole vampire genre. I’d give it a very strong four-minus flibbets! ¤¤¤¤-
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