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THE LITTLE VAMPIRE

Bloodsuckers are people too!

By Steve Ryfle     October 26, 2000

It's probably inconceivable that anyone within this film's target audience (presumably, little kids 13 and under, mostly under) is going to read this. Children don't need or care to know what some pontificating, self-important reviewer thinks about Stuart Little or Pokemon: The Movie. And there's nothing I can tell a kid about the latest Rugrats flick that she or he doesn't already know. So, this one's for the parentsthe duty-bound masses who'll head to the multiplex this weekend, tykes in tow, to see The Little Vampire.

As kidpics go, this one's not so bad, but that's not saying much. It's not as mind-numbing as something like Ernest Scared Stupid, but it lacks the verve of other, better scary-movies-for-kids, like The Monster Squad and especially The Witches. Story-wise, it's sort of a carbon-copy of a bunch of other movies, like Stuart Little (a lonely little kid from a well-to-do family wishes for a new friend and gets stuck with a misfit) and even Godzilla's Revenge (little kid dreams about monsters, then makes friends with a monster, and learns a thing or two from the monster's family).

Jonathan Lipnicki, who looks like he's grown very little since Stuart Little or even Jerry Maguire, plays the lonely kid who's been transplanted with his parents from San Diego to Scotland. The kid saves the life of a hungry boy-vampire (Rollo Weeks), and they become friends, flying around the Scottish countryside by night and hanging out in cemeteries. The boy helps the vampire clan regain their mortality (yeah, that's right: they really don't want to bite humans; they want to become humansisn't that scary?) and protects them from a studs-and-leather-clad vampire hunter who drives around in a big truck that looks like it came out of the Mad Max movies, and who we old folks might recognize as a nod to Quint, the shark-hunter in Jaws.

There are a few other things that might prove momentarily interesting to adults, like when the little girl-vampire (who's madly in love with Lipnicki) gives the boy a dead rat as a good luck charm, and tells him that, whenever he's in trouble, all he need do is whistle for her to come to his aid. Then she becomes Lauren Bacall in To Have and Have Not: 'You know how to whistle, don't you? You just put your lips together and...blow.'

That's cute and all, but I was left wondering just how funny this movie might have been for kids and adults alike if it were made by someone with a more all-encompassing love of genre moviessomeone like, say, Joe Dante or Fred Dekker, neither of whom has made a big movie lately and may have enjoyed something like this. I was shocked to see that The Little Vampire was, in fact, directed by Uli Edel, whose body of work includes stuff like the brutal Last Exit to Brooklyn and episodes of shows like Twin Peaks, Homicide and Oz. Knowing this, it's sort of amazing how genuinely un-scary and middle-of-the-road this film is; the body count is unreasonably low (lots of cows get their blood sucked, but only one person, and all the neck-biting occurs off-screen), and the humor is sub-juvenile (like flying vampire-cows taking a crap on the vampire-hunter's windshield).

Not that I was expecting a bloodthirsty rampage, Christopher Lee-style, but couldn't this movie have been at least a little scary? Never once do the little kid or his parents get in harm's way (OK, the kid gets trapped in a tomb, but that last about a minute); instead, it's the vampires who are endangered throughout the film, and that just seems a little weird. Sure, the film's inherent message (if you can call it that)'be nice to outcasts,'is all good and fine, but are we so concerned about doing the right thing for our kids that we're reluctant to give them a good scare anymore? Halloween, scary movies, Dracula, werewolves, ghosts, Freddy Krueger, the bogeymanthese things are rites of passage for every child, and watering them down will only leave kids ill prepared for the things in life that are really scary. So there.

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