Running in the New Perspectives strand of the Edinburgh International Film Festival, as the programme notes point out, this is actually a return to an old perspective of one of the oldest strands of cinematic horror, but one which had fallen out of vogue. With the pendulum having swung over the last thirty years from the aristocratic vampire of yore in their crumbling mansions to the young hipsters of Fright Night (1985), The Lost Boys (1987) and – dare we utter its name – the Twilight saga (2008-12), Austrian writer/director David Rühm’s tenth feature is a delightfully retro confection for those whose wardrobe encompasses only shades of black.
Set “somewhere near Vienna” in 1932, it observes the gothic stylings made famous by the Universal and Hammer workings of the great horror classics but with a firmly modern twist. Beautifully filmed throughout, the luminous colour palette, delightful sets and playful performances remind of the best of Jean-Pierre Jeunet.
Where Louis de Pointe du Lac famously gave his interview and Viago, Vladislav, Deacon and Petyr chose to make a documentary on What We Do in the Shadows, Graf Geza von Közsnöm (Tobias Moretti) has chosen psychoanalysis. Five hundred years of marriage have taken their toll, and he seeks counsel from no less a person than the great Doctor Sigmund Freud (Karl Fischer), telling of the unhappiness of his marriage and his longing for the great love of his life Nadila, beheaded hundreds of years before in Constantinople.
His wife, Gräfin Elsa von Közsnöm (Jeanette Hain) is no better disposed to the eternal ennui of her nocturnal unlife; stunning and immaculate, she can never know it, the centuries having wiped from her memory all knowledge of her unchanging beauty. Flawlessly poised, an art deco monument come to deathly life, in her fury she smashes shop windows to destroy the taunting emptiness of the mirrors.
Yet into this situation comes the answer to both their answers from another of Freud’s patients, the young artist Viktor Huma (Dominic Oley) whom the Doctor himself has used to render his own dreamings and whose talent can capture the likeness of Elsa, and whose girlfriend Lucy (Cornelia Ivancan) so reminds him of his departed Nadila that Graf Közsnöm decides that on the next full moon he will become the reincarnation of his lost love, should she willingly give herself to him. The only obstacle is that his demanding wife is likely to object…
Inevitably, set in Eastern Europe in the early twentieth century there is a shroud of classic horror hanging over Therapy for a Vampire as surely as the classic cars prowl under arches of trees on the empty country roads, but in the quirky characterisations and sly winks at the audience there is also a feel of E Elias Merhige brilliant Shadow of the Vampire (2000).
The effects are for the most part simple and achieved practically, with digitals primarily used to enhance the scenes, the few times they are deployed extensively they intrude on the otherwise carefully crafted illusion of the film. Towards the end the narrative also seems to skip a full day; a simple line of dialogue explaining Viktor had slept through it would have covered the lapse, but instead there is an awkward bump as the dawn suspended storyline suddenly resumes at sunset.
With a final act already twice knocked off course, it does somewhat lose its way where previously it had proceeded with a masterly hand at the wheel, but it remains a charming and elegant comedy of sophisticated manners and a darkly entertaining fairy tale for adults, which despite the name contains neither a surfeit of deep analysis nor the tedium of existential angst.