The cinematic vampire is no longer in retreat.
Popular in cycles, vampires in horror have been presented as everything from the romantic to the repugnant. With as many forms of vampire as there are it’s not remarkable to note that the films featuring them have explored, stylistically, everything from the sublimely subtle to the supremely silly. This year the bloodsucker pendulum is swinging from the plasma-thin pop horror of “Twilight” to strangely beautiful “Let The Right One In”. Jim Spanos’s “Maidenhead” falls somewhere between the beautiful and the silly. It’s a humorous and unique take on the genre, featuring several striking performances and a stylishly retro look that immediately sets it apart.
Starring AJ Bowen (“The Signal”) as Martin, a young man with a unique disposition. A quiet, awkward man who attends bible study, enjoys the library and a quiet first date over a cup of coffee. He is leading a curious life, because his bedridden father (Michael Parks) kind of just happens to be a vampire. Martin is both caring for him and holding him captive, tied to a bed upstairs to protect the population at large, or perhaps just to avoid embarrassment. And of course, he’s there to help fulfill Dad’s unconventional dietary requirement for fresh virgin blood (god forbid it’s not virgin, Dad is particular). Bottle-feeding has never been…quiet so disturbingly upsetting. Of course, all Martin really needs, all he really wants, is a girlfriend. But you know how it goes when your Dad is a incomprehensible immortal invalid. It complicates things considerably.
One of the most salient aspects of this film is the peculiar mood and feel, accented by the rich and commanding black and white photography of David Olive. Olive’s cinematography vividly underlines the strangeness of the story, showing off crisp edges, slightly overexposed exteriors, and the occasional odd angle. It’s look is off-beat without being too avant-garde as to be off-putting or distracting. Just weird enough to catch our attention, it looks like a lost episode of “The Twilight Zone”. We have to say it, it’s unusual in low-budget horror today to see director and cinematographer care so much about how their film looks. In an age when even a sloppy $25,000 DV backyard zombie pictures can get a major DVD push, it’s nice to see that there’s a team of people crafting something that’s as interesting to look at as their story is to follow.
Layered between the unique look and weird story are some truly notable performances. With AJ Bowen, we’re certain from his work in this and in “The Signal”, that this actor is going to quietly make a name for himself. When presented without much dialogue to work with actors have a tendency to overplay it. Bowen manages to find his balance, and plays it weird, funny, and awkward without crossing that fine line into camp. Michael Parks, on the other hand, has plenty to say, except we can’t understand more than a few words of it. He plays the bed-ridden vampire as a pathetically whiny child with a seemingly swollen tongue. Parks would need subtitles to be understood. At first it seems an odd acting choice, but as the film progresses Parks performance really becomes the core of “Maidenhead”’s distinctive humor. I mean, are we looking at the the first mumblecore vampire film? Possibly.
When compared to a straight-up, conventional vampire film “Maidenhead” will seem bizarre and experimental, but it’s not so as to be inaccessible. The entire creative team on this film have really put together the kind of horror that’s rare today: Quietly creepy, witty, and refreshingly entertaining.
Watch the trailer for MAIDENHEAD HERE!