Alex Karpovsky, Anna Margaret Hollyman, awkward films, bad boyfriends, cinema, commitment issues, Dakota Goldhor, dark comedies, Dustin Guy Defa, film reviews, filmed in New York, films, hipsters, horror-comedies, independent films, indie films, indie horror film, Jason Banker, Jason Selvig, Jerry Raik, Juliette Fairley, Max Heller, Melodie Sisk, Movies, obnoxious people, Onur Tukel, rom-com, romances, set in New York City, sex comedies, Summer of Blood, unlikable protagonist, vampires, Vanna Pilgrim, Woody Allen, writer-director-actor-editor
On paper, multi-hypenate filmmaker (he writes, directs, produces, edits and stars) Onur Tukel’s Summer of Blood (2014) seems like a pretty winning idea: take the neurotic, relationship-based comedies of Woody Allen but insert a vampire protagonist. Et voila: instant horror-comedy goodness! There’s obviously a rich vein to be mined here: imagine one of Allen’s schlubby, lovable losers trying to navigate the choppy waters of not only a terrifying dating scene but also their newly acquired vampirism. If you think about it, the comedy almost writes itself.
In practice, however, Tukel’s Summer of Blood is actually quite a pain in the ass (or neck, if you prefer the punny version). This has less to do with the oftentimes awkward, amateurish performances from some of the cast than it does with the film’s one towering problem: not only is Tukel’s Erik a thoroughly obnoxious, odious jerk, he’s also a massively unlikable, irritating protagonist. As portrayed by S.O.B.’s resident auteur, Erik is a tone-deaf, ridiculously self-obsessed hipster nitwit, a constantly schticking human hemorrhoid who’s never funny, sympathetic or, for the most part, remotely interesting. While the film that surrounds him has its own issues, Tukel’s Erik is the super-massive black hole at the center that sucks the good stuff right into oblivion.
We first meet our hapless “hero” as he and long-suffering girlfriend, Jody (Anna Margaret Hollyman, much better than the film requires), are having one of their customarily awkward dinners at their favorite outdoor restaurant. Jody proposes to her schlubby, commitment-phobic beau only to be summarily rejected: not only is it “cliche” to propose at a restaurant, it’s too “post-feminist” for the woman to propose. Since this little routine has been going on for some time, Jody finally gets fed up and ends up leaving with an old friend, Jason (Jason Selvig). On their way out, Jason offers some pretty valuable advice: “Shave, button up your shirt and get a fucking job.” Well played, Jason…well played.
Turns out that Jason does have a job, although he applies himself as little as humanly possible. He works in an office of some kind where his one and only friend, Jamie (Alex Karpovsky, who’s always a breath of fresh air) tries to keep him on the right side of the boss, Carl (Max Heller). For the most part, Erik just uses his time in the office to hit on comely co-worker, Penelope (Dakota Goldhor, turning in a truly baffling performance). When she spurns his advances due to his age and “not being her type,” Erik swipes a photo from her desk and proceeds to jack off in the bathroom. If you thought romance was dead, you’d better think again, pardner.
After Jody breaks up with him, Erik goes on a trio of awkward, mostly unsuccessful blind dates (all at the same restaurant, natch), two of which end with him getting summarily rejected after saying some truly stupid things. He does manages to seal the deal with one young lady, however, although the thoroughly unspectacular sex (in the most bored way possible, she keeps imploring Erik to go “deeper,” “harder” and “faster,” none of which he’s capable of doing). She only does “great sex,” however, so our hero gets the heave-ho here, as well.
While wandering the streets of his hip, New York neighborhood (Bushwick, natch) one night, Erik happens to bump into the mysterious, debonair Gavin (Dustin Guy Defa). After another awkward, schtick-filled encounter, Gavin bites Erik on the neck, turning him into a child of the night. Rather than be overly concerned, however, Erik is actually kinda over-joyed: he feels great, he’s more confident, can hypnotize his stereotypical Jewish landlord into letting him stay for free and, most importantly, can now fuck like some kind of Roman god. Using his new “powers,” Erik returns to each of his previous “strike-outs” and proceeds to knock their socks off…and turn them into vampires, of course.
As Erik adjusts to his new lifestyle, a lifestyle that includes vampire threesomes, feasting on stoners in the park and being an even bigger jerk at work, he finds himself constantly nagged by one little issue: turns out he really, really misses Jody. In fact, he might actually be in love with her, after all. With only Jason standing between him and presumed happiness, Erik must use all of his vamp skills to try to win Jody back. Can a vampire ever find true love? Only in New York, baby…only in New York.
For the most part, Summer of Blood is a pretty typical, low-budget horror comedy: the film looks okay (the frequent blood-letting is well-done), the camera-work is decent (cinematographer Jason Banker is actually the writer/director behind Toad Road (2012), one of the very best, most ingenious films I’ve seen in the last several years, although his work on S.O.B. certainly isn’t revelatory) and the actual storyline is kind of intriguing. The acting ranges from pretty good (Hollyman and Karpovsky are definitely the best of this bunch) to much less impressive (Goldhor brings such a weird energy to Penelope that I could never figure out if she was disgusted by Erik’s frequent advances or actually flirting with him and the two hipsters that Erik runs into are the very definition of non-actors), with most performances falling in the “decent” spectrum.
As mentioned earlier, the single biggest, critical issue with Summer of Blood ends up being our protagonist, Erik: to put it bluntly, any scene he’s in is a chore to sit through, which becomes a bit of an issue when he’s in every single scene. Erik is never anything more than an intolerable shitheels, a whining, obnoxious jerk who’s endless self-awareness and constant schtick gets old by the three-minute mark and then just keeps going and going, like some kind of Hell-spawned Energizer Bunny.
In any given scene, at any given moment, Tukel’s verbal diarrhea is so overwhelming that it’s impossible to ever focus on the content of any particular scene or moment. He finds a guy dying in the street from a slashed throat, he does a stand-up routine. He runs into a couple of hipsters, he riffs on how he looks like Jerry Garcia. He has an orgy with his three vampire ladies, we get schtick about how he’s not a misogynist because he genuinely likes having sex with multiple women at the same time. To make it classier, however, he lets one of the vamps read from Ginsberg’s “Howl.”
The entire film becomes one massive, never-ending bit of (largely unfunny) schtick, some of it so moldy that it’s practically vaudevillian. It’s pretty obvious that Tukel modeled the film after Woody Allen’s oeuvre and, as stated earlier, there’s nothing wrong with that idea whatsoever. There’s no denying that Woody can be a bit of a “schtick-up” guy, himself: he’s also pretty well-known for portraying the kinds of neurotic asses that most people wouldn’t willingly associate with in the real world. For all that, however, Allen is still able to make his characters at least somewhat likable: he’s a schlub but he’s our schlub, dammit.
The problem with Tukel’s performance is that Erik begins the film as an off-putting creep and finishes that way: there’s no arc, no “dark night of the soul,” no sort of internal change, no notion that anything that transpires has any sort of effect on him whatsoever. Oh, sure, he talks about how he’s a “changed” man at the end but the revelation is immediately given the raspberry by the film’s ridiculously flippant final moment. I’m not sure if Tukel actually meant Erik to come across as a lovably shaggy rogue or if he actually meant to portray him as a hatefully obnoxious dickhead: whatever the intent, the end result is a character that wears out his welcome in three minutes and then sticks around for another 83. Talk about the guest from hell!
The real disappointment with Summer of Blood is that the film isn’t devoid of good ideas. In fact, the ultimate observation about vampirism and commitment issues (Erik doesn’t want to turn Jody into a vampire because then he’d be “stuck” with her for all of eternity, rather than just her lifetime) is a really sharp one and could have been spun into something much more thought-provoking, even within the context of a silly sex comedy. There are moments during the film, such as the great scene where a dejected Erik tries to “comfort” strangers on the subway, that are genuinely funny: the key here, for the most part, is that they’re the ones where Tukel gives his motormouth a rest and just lets his filmmaking do the talking.
I didn’t hate Summer of Blood, although I won’t lie and say that I particularly liked it, either: I’ve seen plenty of worst films, both micro and mega-budget. For the most part, the constant, unfunny schtick just wore me down, like being trapped with an incredibly tedious observational comic in a stuck elevator. I still think that the idea of mashing together Woody Allenesque comedy and vampires is a good one, even if Summer of Blood makes it seem as natural as mixing oil and water. No need to wear your garlic necklaces for this one, folks: Onur Tukel’s Summer of Blood is all schtick, no bite.