We just got our hands on a horror short titled Down and Out in Vampire Hills (2022) directed by Craig Railsback (Dark Classics) and written by Heather Joseph-Witham (Vampires in the Big Easy) This one is currently making the rounds (and clocking major awards) at several film festivals and we wanted to give it a look. To date, we have reviewed any shorts, in then in the span of a single weekend we got three of the in quick succession. The title says it all, this is a comedy horror film.
Down and Out in Vampire Hills
The film takes a spin on the standard fish out of water trope that it not only tried but true, but never seems to waver in its infinite potential as a plot device. Penelope, The Vampire Queen (Dawna Lee Heising) finds herself on skid-row living in a homeless encampment. Not one to settle for second class, she and her intellectual familiar Harold (Ken May) break out and see the world. Penelope, one for gaudy high-fashion, channels the spirt of Eva Gabor in Green acres as she embodies the international blood-thirsty debutant that finds herself living below her means.
It could happen to anyone, really. All it takes is an ill-advised investment in a Montana Alpaca farm or going long on Dogecoin.
Thanks to the wonders of modern technology, Penelope wears undead class sunscreen (SPF 2700?) that allows her to walk dogs, wash cars and pick trash. Little does she know that Ivan the Vampire Hunter (Bill Housekeeper – Sawyer Massacre).
Will Penelope and Harold survive in tent city? Can Vampire hold down a regular 9-5? Can Penelope stop eating long enough to keep a job?
Making the Grade
On a normal day, I like my horror comedy a bit more subversive, but I certainly understand the love for this type of horror fun. Growing up in the days of Saturday the 14th (1981) and Transylvania 6-5000 (1985), Down and out in Vampire Hills fills that little horror parody void that seems to have been abandoned by Hollywood. Railsback and Joseph-Witham sneak in enough humor with deep roots in horror lore. Subtle references to other Horror families (The Munsters) and even Bram Stokers work make their way into the film.
The film is shot beautifully on-location in Huntington Beach, California. Being one of my favorite haunts, it was lovely to see it unabashedly referenced on film. We especially loved the special effects. A keen eye will call out several digital tricks from spurting blood to refacing cellphones and store fronts. In grand the scheme, these tricks must have saved a ton of time and complexity that could be spent much better places. We love how technology enables modern indie horror.
Dawna Lee Heising embodies everything that Penelope is and her presence in the film evokes everything that a good fish out of water story needs. I also really enjoyed the performance of LeJon as Boris, former dog lover, reckless coffee drinker and recently converted vampire. Ken May provides the glue to hold all of the performances together with his conceited intellectual mannerisms and random facts and philosophies.
Finally, we would like to call out Bill Housekeeper. He recently played a young Drayton Sawyer in Steve Merlo’s Sawyer Massacre (2022). In this one he puts on his black cowboy hat, Yellowstone style, and hunts Penelope before getting mowed down by a really fashionable smart car.
Finally, no horror comedy should go without a bit of social commentary. The producers make the case that everything evolves. As opposed to the view from Blade that vampires are the superior race and in time will replace humanity, this one suggests that vampires struggle to find their place in the new world (and their hunters), and the modern world threatens them to extinction.
Down and Out in Vampire Hills fills an important niche in the horror community. Considering its current success on the film festival circuit, clearly it fills that niche extremely well. It provides ridiculous laughs set in a horror context and serves both the comedy and horror communities. It’s a cute little film that’s easy to watch. Considering the simplicity of the standard fish out of water trope, one can easily see this idea expanding to feature length or even a serial (Munsters, Mork and Mindy). We’ll see where it goes.