Thursday, March 23, 2006

The Little Vampire - review

Release Date (2000)

Director: Uli Edel

Contains Spoilers

The film begins with a group of vampires performing a ritual on a cliff top. The ritual is interrupted by a vampire hunter, who tries to steal the stone from the amulet that is the centre of the ritual. The stone flies over the cliff edge, followed by a vampire. He plummets towards Tony Thompson (Jonathan Lipnicki), a young boy whose bed is floating in the sea. Tony is having a nightmare.

Tony is a young American boy, moved to Scotland whilst his father builds a golf course. He has no friends and is bullied, his despairing parents believe his obsession with vampires is a form of escapism.

Tony’s parents go to a ball, leaving Tony drawing pictures from his dream. He even makes himself a set of paper fangs.

Rudolph Sackville-Bagg (Rollo Weeks) is a vampire, when we first see him in bat form, being pursued by vampire hunter Rookery (Jim Carter). Injured by the sun lights from Rookery’s truck, Rudolph flies into Tony’s room having mistaken the dress up game for seeing another of his kind. Tony helps Rudolph by taking him to feed on nearby cows and they become friends.

The rest of the story is fairly basic. Rudolph and his family want to become mortal. This can happen through the ritual Tony dreamt of, at the time when the comet of lost souls passes the moon, with the use of the missing stone. Rookery wants the stone as he can use it to destroy all the vampires. They eventually discover that the stone is hidden in Tony’s room, hence the dreams he has been having. After several adventures they succeed in gaining the stone and it is Tony’s wish that lifts the vampire curse. The coda of the film sees Tony meeting the now mortal Sackville-Baggs.

This is, obviously, a kid’s film; based on a series of books by Angela Sommer-Bodenberg. As such the lead roles are played by child actors and this can, often, be problematic. However in “the Little Vampire” the kids do a good job. Lipnicki can be annoying, though he was obviously very young. That said Rollo Weeks and Anna Popplewell, as Rudolph’s overly romantic sister Anna, both are excellent.

Of the adult actors the stand-out performances are by Jim Carter as Rookery and Richard E. Grant as Frederick Sackville-Bagg, the head of the vampire clan. Grant was born to play a vampire and it would be marvellous to see him play one in an adult level film.

The film also contains some marvellous comedy moments. The vampires drink cow’s blood by choice and there is a recurring theme of a farmer attending his fields to see the number of his herd dwindling. He goes to the cow shed to discover those that have been bitten sheltering from the sun, their eyes glowing red and, eventually, roosting like bats. This running joke reaches its conclusion when the cows fly to Tony’s rescue at the climax of the movie, dive bombing Rookery’s truck and hitting the windshield with a well aimed cowpat. Incidentally the official website has a downloadable game in which you take the role of Rookery, blasting vampire cows with your sun lamp.

Equally amusing, though terribly under-used, is the cemetery’s caretaker, who is used as bait by Rookery and bitten by Gregory (Dean Cook), the rebellious oldest son of the vampires.

The film has its moments of action and does its best to build an atmosphere, though it is constrained due to the target audience. The very end is also incredibly “feel good”. That said if you fancy something undemanding or, like me, you have a son who wants to watch a film with vampires, this is worthwhile. 6.5 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

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