Vampires have been lurking in the shadows of our scary stories for thousands of years, finding their way into several different cultures and eventually turning into movie stars. With so many variations of these legends, its only natural that some of the specifics behind this classic monster often seem silly when judged by modern standards. If you think about it, from crippling garlic allergies to needing an invitation every time you want to enter a building, being a vampire might not be as fun as it sounds. Of course, leave it to Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement to turn the less-appealing aspects of Vampiric immortality into the basis for one of the best horror-comedies of all time.
2014s What We Do in The Shadows isnt just hilarious, its also an expertly crafted love-letter to gothic horror, and now that FXs television spin-off is currently airing its third season, I thought that it might be fun to take a look back at the origins of this franchise and how it evolved into a comedic powerhouse.
Before they were Oscar/Emmy winning legends, Clement and Waititi were just a couple of comedians from New Zealand experimenting with film and music. After working in the comedy groups So Youre a Man and The Humourbeasts, the duo eventually decided to channel their love of vampire media into a half-hour mockumentary titled What We Do in The Shadows: Interviews with Some Vampires. While the 2005 short didnt gain much international attention, it would pave the way for bigger and bloodier laughs.
Using the same setup of a documentary crew attempting to capture the more mundane aspects of undead life in New Zealand, the short works a lot like its eventual feature adaptation, only on a smaller scale. Not only was the budget tighter, leading to silly-looking fangs and costume design reminiscent of a live-action session of Vampire: The Masquerade, but the whole experience was also originally condensed into a single night casually chatting with these vampire flat-mates. Fortunately, Waititi, Clement and Jonny Brugh were already excellent as these early versions of Viago, Vladislav (here called Vulvus) and Deacon, obviously taking inspiration from characters popularized by writers like Stoker and Anne Rice.
Interviews with Some Vampires even features quite a few prototypes of some of the later films now-iconic jokes, boasting that same tongue-in-cheek energy as the vampires discuss why they prefer virgin blood and bicker over cleaning duties. Id also argue that the cheaper presentation actually makes the documentary aspect more convincing, especially when the gang dresses up for a night on the town and we get to see real reactions from the locals. Curiously, the short also feels remarkably like a scrapped pilot for a TV series rather than an attempt at selling an idea for a feature film, which makes a lot of sense when you consider the franchises future.
Ive lost friends because of how often I quote dead but delicious.
Despite the shorts overall quality, it took years to secure financing in order to expand it into a feature. Luckily, the mid-2000s saw an inexplicable boom in vampire media, with everything from Twilight to True Blood and even 30 Days of Night doing their best to once again put these fanged creatures in the spotlight. So, in 2012, Waititi and Clement dusted off their fangs and returned to the world of What We Do in The Shadows, this time backed by the New Zealand Film Commission and a respectable budget.
While the feature follows the same basic premise as the original short, it also expands on the mythology, featuring more supernatural monsters like zombies and swear-wolves as well as adding a time-sensitive plot device with the upcoming Unholy Masquerade. The film also introduces a new vampire archetype in the main cast through Petyr, a Count-Orlok-esque monster that lives in the flats basement. Even with a few recycled jokes, the added production value and better characterization make this a worthy successor to Interviews with Some Vampires, and a classic in its own right.
In an effort to keep the documentary spirit alive despite the larger budget and a couple of effects-heavy sequences, Waititi and Clement supposedly kept their 150-page screenplay a secret in order to encourage improvisation, resulting in hundreds of hours of comedic footage that were later edited into a 90-minute film. This also means that there are plenty of hilarious bonus videos out there for those who cant get enough of the gangs vampiric shenanigans, and Id recommend that fans check them out.
Theres no denying that the casts career-making performances helped to turn What We Do in The Shadows into a cult movie phenomenon (Clements Vladislav will always be my spirit animal), but Id argue that the film is successful because it doesnt look down at the material its parodying. Theres genuine passion for vampire stories here, and the film always finds a way to laugh with the characters, not necessarily at them, which I think makes all the difference.
The movies success even led to a highly underrated spin-off show thats only recently been gaining traction outside of New Zealand. Created and executive-produced by Waititi and Clement, 2017s Wellington Paranormal sees the two bumbling police officers that appear in the original film attempt to face other paranormal threats in the heart of New Zealand. Featuring the same mockumentary style as the movie, the show takes a little while to find its footing, but youll soon be begging for more Cops-styled antics as Officers OLeary and Minogue attempt to arrest everything from aliens to vengeful ghosts. While it appears that the shows upcoming fourth season will be its last, Id recommend it to anyone who likes their supernatural cop shows with a dash of Kiwi flavor.
Probably the best cop show on TV right now.
In 2019 wed also see FXs What We Do in The Shadows, another Television spin-off that I consider to be the best incarnation of the franchise so far. Still taking place in the same world as the original film (and featuring quite a few familiar faces), the show follows a new group of vampire roommates in Staten Island as they go about their day-to-day lives, once again shot as a mockumentary. One might assume that this formula would get old at this point, but the series (also produced by Waititi and Clement) manages to recapture lightning in a bottle with its incredible writing and casting.
Kayvan Novak, Matt Berry (channeling some of that seductive energy from his character in Darkplace), Natasia Demetriou and Mark Proksch are all fantastic as this new troupe of mal-adjusted creatures of the night, with their characters feeling like brand new additions to this world instead of made-for-TV analogues of the films ensemble. Demetrious Nadja and Prokschs Colin Robinson are my personal favorites, with Nadjas witty remarks and Robinsons energy-draining hijinks providing us with some of the shows best moments. Of course, everyone gets the chance to shine as the series goes on, with even the human familiar Guillermo (played to perfection by Harvey Guilln) becoming an unexpected standout, with his relationship with Novaks Nandor serving as the emotional core of the show.
While TV spin-offs have a reputation of watering down source material in order to produce enough content for a full season, the episodic format actually works in What We Do in The Shadowsfavor, allowing the show to turn tropes like vampiric orgies and possessed dolls into fully-fledged episodes with plenty of character development in between. Hell, we even get to see an unexpected reunion of some of our favorite cinematic bloodsuckers. Whats not to love?
The production value is also really impressive for a half-hour comedy, with the series overall design and effects being inspired by Francis Ford Coppolas adaptation of Bram Stokers Dracula. Theres plenty of practical movie magic and atmospheric photography on display here, and it all contributes to the spooky laughs. In all honesty, between the perfect casting and attention to detail behind the scenes, I wouldnt mind watching this show for another ten years, and I suspect (and hope) that other horror fans feel the same way.
It may have began as a quirky short made by a group of Kiwi comedians over a decade and a half ago, but What We Do in The Shadows somehow evolved into a huge franchise without losing any of the wit and charm that made the original idea so funny in the first place, and I respect that. With several iconic characters and highly quotable lines resulting in a respectable fan-base, theres no telling where Clement and Waititis brainchild will go next (Id personally love to see that long-awaited Were Wolves spin-off), but I know Ill be here to watch it with a crucifix and some holy water on hand. Just in case it was a real documentary all along.
One hell of an ensemble.
Read more from the original source:
From 'Interviews With Some Vampires' to 'Wellington Paranormal' - The Evolution of 'What We Do in the Shadows' - Bloody Disgusting
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Reviewed and Recommended by Erik Baquero