In Therapy for a Vampire, David Rühm’s two-fanged curio sinks its droll teeth in deep for creeps and comedy while folding in an eclectic olio of WTFs, including the father of psycho-therapy, Sigmund Freud. It may sound silly, that a bloodsucking Count (no, not Dracula) requires the services of Herr Freud (Karl Fischer), but Count Geza von Kozsnom (Tobias Moretti) can’t stand his voracious wife (Jeanette Hain), he’s ceased preying on humans (“I no longer have a thirst for life”), and he’s bored from roaming the earth for centuries, which brings us to the shrink of much notoriety.
Because of the factual anchor we’re tethered to 1930’s Vienna, which also happens to be Rühm’s hometown — and the director’s love for all things Austrian and the period shines through radiantly in the opulent sets, further embossed by Martin Gschlacht’s scrumptious cinematography. Rühm also tackles script duty, pressing hard to weave together Dracula lore, Love at First Bite kitsch, and those therapy sessions implied by the film’s title.
The latter strand unfortunately fades like an ephemeral wisp in the night after a promising opening scene in which the Count lays his eternal ennui on the good doctor. The telltale sign to Freud — the sign that he’s dealing with no ordinary depressed client — comes when a jar of candy is spilled and the night walker scoops them up, one at a time, within a nanosecond, placing the (insert exact number here) back in the jar. Much is understood in that moment and we learn that the Count has been wearily searching for the reincarnation of his first love, Nadila, who he thinks he may have recently discovered in the form of a local restaurant worker by the name of, wait for it, Lucy (Cornelia Ivancan). The catch is that the Count can only have Lucy and her heart if she willingly surrenders her neck to him.
The love quest becomes further complicated by the fact that Lucy is in a relationship with a pompously arrogant painter named Viktor (Dominic Oley), and about every mortal and immortal in Vienna trips over their feet for her. Odd too however, as Lucy doesn’t amount to much more than an affable plain-Jane and she’s the least robust of the four principal characters. The love triangle gets uncomfortably tighter as the Count’s wife engages Viktor to paint her portrait.
As the fulcrum of the rom-com cum macabre, much is asked of Moretti and he carries it off admirably, pulling in Lugosi and George Hamilton as needs be. His Count bears the common earthly burdens of the lovelorn and depressed, and also possesses a cutting sense of humor which adds a wicked layer of endearment — plus he’s not ripping us humans limb from limb with an oceanic splash of blood as his wife frequently does.
Hain, sporting a dark cropped bob, a celestial superiority, and pent-up sexuality adds much to the background, as does Oley’s self-centered nebbish, ever a finger cut away from becoming dinner. Fischer in countenance is a dead ringer for Freud, but like Ivancan, his role is more a means to an end. Overall, Therapy for a Vampire carries off its mission of blending art-house, hijinks, and horror. It’s sprite in tone and cadence, and knows not to take itself too seriously like What We Do in the Shadows did in 2014, scoring a minor coup for low-budg, highbrow camp.
The crossover challenge here is that Therapy is in German. Rühm, who doesn’t possess a particularly broad CV, shows maturity behind the lens, and on paper he knows how to work a pun and plumb a personal crisis with seamless effort, but not nearly to the degree that Jim Jarmusch tapped in Only Lovers Left Alive. The biggest bleeding point for Therapy however becomes the stark contrast that some of its characters receive a more soulful infusion of being, while others linger at the side, as thick and palpable as the desiccated rare steak remnants the Count sheds at Lucy’s fine dining establishment.
Therapy will most definitely require a certain taste, but for those who it’s concocted for, it should be drunk up with rapacious glee.