Nobody says the word "vampire" in Onur Tukel's hilarious satire "Summer of Blood," even though the movie obviously deals with just that in pretty explicit terms: disgruntled Brooklynite Erik Sparrow (Tukel, also the writer-director) whose life increases in excitement after he’s changed into a fanged bloodsucker only capable of going out at night. Over the centuries, vampires have provided a potent metaphor for various maladies, but the absence of the word in Tukel's freewheeling comedy makes its target especially clear because there’s no symbolic detective work necessary. Running his mouth for everyone around him—and sometimes just yelling at the world—Erik suffers from the disease of urban cynicism even before he’s cornered in an alley and transformed by supernatural powers. His vampiric abilities only make his recklessness more absurdly pronounced.
Erik’s contemptible goofiness will essentially dominate the movie from its earliest scenes and never stops. Over dinner with his longtime girlfriend Jody (Anna Margaret Hollyman, last seen in the 2013 dark comedy "White Reindeer"), he wiggles out of her wedding proposal and promptly sets the character in motion. "I know this is your attempt at being post-modern or post-feminist or whatever," spouts the portly, bearded character—who looks like a homeless, jittery version of Jerry Garcia—and promptly turns her down. He's immediately contemptible, which makes it hard to believe that anyone would ever want to spend a lifetime with him in the first place. But if "Summer of Blood" is initially hard to take, the endlessly chatty Erik eventually becomes a walking gag in his own right, and its one-note charm takes hold.
When not hitting on a fellow office worker, Erik wastes the ensuing days whining about his job and making sloven advances on a co-worker, then taking a shot at a series of dates that quickly turn sour. Suggesting the broke, post-9/11 version of an early Woody Allen character, Tukel allows his contemptible performance to dominate each scene until even the Erik grows sick of his relentless smarminess, confessing to a stranger on the street one night that death "would alleviate a lot of responsibilities."
That offhand confession convinces the vampiric man to sink his fangs in Erik’s neck, establishing a terrific sight gag when he awakes soaked in blood at his desk the next morning. Allergic to sunlight and suddenly a monster in the sack, Erik's forced to live under far more decrepit conditions than he endured before—and loves every moment of it. "Summer of Blood" amusingly sets aside much traditional exposition involving the character’s confusion over his state, and instead allows him to relish in the opportunity to live out a fantasy of lazy, hedonistic behavior that he’s been chasing along.
Quitting his job, sleeping around, and hypnotizing his landlord to avoid the pressures of paying rent, Erik has a more contemporary cinematic reference point than Woody—he's like the cartoon extreme of the lackadaisical, privileged hipster played by Tim Heidecker in Rick Alverson’s "The Comedy," a more confrontational indictment of the city’s least tenable drifters. Tukel doesn’t bother to infuse his character study with nearly as much sophistication, instead relying on a series of wacky vignettes to get the point across about the pratfalls of inner city malaise, which he only escapes through his own relentless sarcasm. "You are fundamentally incapable of taking anything seriously," he's told, a statement that extends to the movie itself.
While less accomplished than Tukel's last feature, the ensemble comedy "Richard’s Wedding," the narrative of "Summer of Blood" has a shaggy quality that gives the impression of watching a particularly ascorbic standup comedy routine. As far as vampire tropes go, "Summer of Blood" delivers—make no mistake, despite the rampant silliness, there's plenty of blood-letting and weird sex scenes—while foregrounding Erik's crass outlook at every turn. (One bit finds him choreographing a threesome with a trio of fellow vampires in ridiculously awkward terms; elsewhere, he makes an ill-timed attempt at small talk with a college kid while draining his life away.) The project is put in context by a handful of cameos by other New York filmmakers who have used humor to deal with similar issues of masochism through the filter of aggressive male comedy (Zach Clark, Alex Karpovsky, and Dustin Guy Defa, who memorably portrays a vampire even more ambivalent about life than Erik). Tukel’s perspective on existential boredom is never an especially sophisticated statement, but the punchlines are hit hard and fast.
In its closing act, "Summer of Blood" attempts to develop a rickety plot surrounding Erik’s desire to win back his ex. The problem with the makings of this thin and rather predictable arc is that the character has become too radically unlikable to generate any real sense of sympathy. But his wit transcends the boundaries of the capricious plot. Like the bite that sets the story in motion, his self-involved demeanor is horrifically infectious.
Criticwire Grade: B+
HOW WILL IT PLAY? While not poised for much of a theatrical release, “Summer of Blood” could reap some solid returns on VOD if it manages to hook fans of horror and comedy alike, but its overall commercial prospects are limited.