Frightfest 2020 review: There's No Such Thing As Vampires
Logan Thomas' metacinematic monster movie sees hapless young lovers pursued by film history
Written by Anton Bitel
Sometimes titles are antiphrastic. Think Don Coscarelli's John Dies at the End (2012), Jafar Panahi and Mojtaba Mirtahmasb's This Is Not a Film (2011), or Ryuhei Kitamura's No One Lives (2012), all promising one thing and delivering, well, not quite that thing. To these we can now add Logan Thomas' There's No Such Thing As Vampires, which is a paradoxical advertisement of a film that will, for all its denials, feature the undead - even if the title does capture the scepticism of several incredulous characters encountered in the film. What is important, though, is that the title prompts the viewer to question the degree to which this film is - or indeed is not - a conventional vampire film. If there's no such thing as vampires, then what the hell are those monstrous bloodsuckers causing havoc in the film?
There's No Such Thing As Vampires is certainly self-conscious about its form and genre. It begins with our shirtless, blood-splashed hero Joshua (Josh Plasse) seeking panicky refuge from the night in - of all places - a cinema, where he engages in cat and mouse with a hooded pursuer (Aric Cushing, also Thomas' co-writer) as none other than F.W. Murnau's Nosfersatu: A Symphony of Horror (1922) is playing, so that the flickery projection of Max Schreck's shadowy vampire Orlok appears to be menacing Joshua on stage as much as Ellen on screen. Back on the road, Joshua will (literally) run into stranger Ariel (Emma Holzer), and they will find themselves trying to evade a relentless truck in the night. These nocturnal chase sequences recall Robert Harmon's The Hitcher (1986), James Cameron's Terminator films and above all Victor Salva's Jeepers Creepers (2001), especially when the action shifts to a police station. On their way, they will briefly stop at 'werewolf bar' The Silver Bullet and a creepy church built over a Native American sacrificial site, all on the night before, and then the night of, Halloween - which is to say that anyone trying to look for signs of what kind of film this is will find the map disorientingly overcoded.
At the centre of the film is a sequence where the fugitive pair drops in on Ariel's friend David (Will Haden), a cinephile whose grandparents were old Hollywood and whose inherited home is festooned with film posters and memorabilia. David despairs that his friend Peter (Scott Lindley) knows only the remakes of John Carpenter's Halloween (1977) and Sean S. Cunningham's Friday the 13th (1980), and has never even heard of Carpenter - but There's No Such Thing As Vampires is itself reconstituting the tropes and stylings of horror films past into its own thing - even as these characters are bring pursued by a figure from the film industry's very earliest days, and as Joshua and Ariel discover that they are themselves just recycled versions of folk from a previous age.
Much of There's No Such Thing As Vampires is cheesily sweet-natured supernatural mad (slash and) dash of a kind which we have seen many times before in numerous variations - but in a sense, that is the point. For amid this film's recurrences and reincarnations, its Eighties sensibilities and retro synth score, all knowingly unfolding in a cinematic hall of mirrors, ultimately it is the past itself that proves undead and unstoppable, and film history that is the real vampire here, revitalising and perpetuating itself by inescapably, irresistibly embedding its fangs in the present.
Director: Logan Thomas
Screenwriter: Aric Cushing, Logan Thomas
Cast: Emma Holzer, Josh Plasse, Aric Cushing, Meg Foster, Raphael Sbarge, Will Haden
Distributor: Ascent Releasing Entertainment
Running time: 81 mins