Why So Few Good Vampire Comedies?
Over the years, many a comedy about the undead have popped up. Most end up forgettable, while others (Lesbian Vampire Killers for example) we rather long to forget. Only a very few end up almost universally accepted as good.
Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein for example seems a classic but really depends almost entirely upon context. The partners who created “Who’s On First?” had an extremely special chemistry, and including them amid the classic Universal Horror monsters worked on many levels. One is hard-pressed to imagine how something like that might work today.
Love At First Bite feels very dated today, and yet it still makes us laugh.
Most would probably agree that the funniest vampire stories out there are two television series–Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Young Dracula. The former proved a brilliant synthesis of many elements, not least its most simple premise that High School is indeed Hell. The latter built itself entirely around the situation–Dracula’s son, who longs to be simply human–and treating it seriously amid the jokes. One can also make the argument that True Blood is really a dark comedy. It certainly approaches its subject matter with a tongue firmly planted in cheek…sometimes.
What I think these have in common and what therefore remains lacking in such lackluster offerings as Dracula is Dead and Loving It or Transylvania Twist or Teen Vamp or Vampires Suck! or countless other laughterless comedies about the undead is pretty simple. Generally humorous stories come in a few forms. One–akin to the Airplane! flicks or the more recent Scary Movie franchise–essentially consists of a roller coaster ride of jokes. If effect they seem like comedy sketches writ large. This can certainly work, and has–look at A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum! (My background being theatre, expect theatrical examples!) However, such humor pales after a few viewings, at least in anyone whose taste goes beyond mere sight gags. Or, as often seems the case, the jokes are extremely topical.
Another form of humor is the parody. Of these, at least in terms of vampires, the reigning queens must surely be the Hillwood Sisters with their hilarious takes on Twilight as well as The Vampire Diaries. These also seriously depend upon your audience’s familiarity with the source material. Which leads to a conundrum–because to “get” the jokes one has to be a fan. And making fun of what someone genuinely enjoys seems like a recipe for failure. Often, that is precisely what happens. A good parody of vampire stories (or any genre really) almost has to be done with love, or at least affection.
But arguably the most successful form of comedy is to tell a story about foolish characters, highlighting their foolishness for humorous impact. Indeed, that remains the entire heart of the sitcom! Not surprisingly, it also ends up showing up in the best vampire comedies of one kind or another. Buffy would not be funny without Giles stuffiness expressed in cleaning his glasses, without Willow’s wild flights of fancy now and then or her verbal tongue twisters, without Buffy trying to put ancient eldritch evils into pop language. At its best, such humor arises from our own awareness of how silly we can be–we recognize ourselves and others, having a laugh in the process.
Just having your heroes crack jokes while pursued by pale corpses who want to use them as a slurpee really isn’t that funny. Likewise a cape and an accent coupled with a few double entendres doesn’t really work for longer than maybe a minute or two. That probably explains why commercials or the tiny little playlets from Rod Serling’s The Night Gallery were amusing, but Dracula Blows His Cool is a dreary film to experience.
In other words, the scarcity of good vampire comedies derives from the same source as the dearth in all good comedies–the lack of quality overall. For every Love Actually how many Friends With Benefits have hit the cinemas?
On the other hand, let us celebrate the good examples we do have–and cheer on anyone who does quality anything!