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Oops! You're a Vampire - Movie Poster

Oops! You’re a Vampire is 3 Year Labor of Love for Eclectic Filmmaker 

Oops! You’re a Vampire – Breathing life into the undead

The 2022 indie film Oops! You’re A Vampire is a microbudget masterwork of black comedy about a dysfunctional family whose bonds grow strong after a tragic case of vampirism. 

Originally titled Thicker Than Water: The Vampire Diaries Part 1, writer/director Phil Messerer’s debut film is a three-year labor of love. Released in 2022, the movie is free to watch on ad-supported streaming service Tubi. 

“I had dreamed of becoming a filmmaker my whole life,” Messerer says in an exclusive interview with MalevolentDark.com. “Then some college kids moved in next door. One of them was Dustin Leddy, a film student. I helped him make a short film for school. In the process, I said to myself, ‘I can do this!’ So, I took a whack at it. Oops! You’re A Vampire became my very own film school. You can actually see my evolution as a filmmaker from scene to scene. Some of the earlier stuff is very raw. I really had no idea what I was doing. I planned to shoot half the film in the first week. After four days, I had one scene in the can – the notorious Mormon scene. There’s a play on words there because it’s actually a tribute to the coffee cup scene from Hitchcock’s Notorious. 

“Anyway, that was when I realized I bit off a lot more than I could chew,” Messerer continues. “And that I wasn’t that kind of filmmaker. I was a ridiculous perfectionist. I was Stanley Kubrick. With no budget. So, I let the cast know, this was going to be more of a marathon than a sprint. And lucky for me, they agreed. So, we would shoot whenever we could. Every couple of months. I would put all my effort into creating the next set and not even think about what came later. One foot in front of the other. Just this tiny crew. One of the actors usually held the boom mic. The running joke was that I was Mark Borchardt from American Movie. Making my version of Coven. Not far from the truth. I even had my own Mike Shank – Randall Leddy, who tirelessly did everything from storyboards and set construction to makeup – lots of makeup! But gradually it started to come together. I would cut it as I shot it, filling holes in the film like a frustrating jigsaw puzzle. But it was working. Every scene I shot was better than the last. I was getting better. I was slowly coming into my own. I was becoming a filmmaker. So, yeah, it’s a special film. A journey. For everyone involved.” 

Oddly enough, Messerer is not the biggest fan of vampire films

“Most of them are too sleek and sexy and seem too preoccupied with the seductive aspects of vampirism,” he says. “Then there’s the Dracula camp – the whole I want to suck your blood!’ approach. Even Francis Ford Coppola’s version felt way too operatic to me. Then I read Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles. The first three books, anyway. Now, don’t get me wrong, Lestat is one sexy dude but the realism, the sophistication, the seriousness with which Anne Rice treats the subject – that was what got me into vampires.   

“So, when I first Made ‘Oops! You’re a Vampire,’ there really weren’t too many inspirations cinematically. It was one of the reasons I decided to tackle the genre. Because I felt I could do something new and different. Since then, there have been a few very decent cinematic adaptations. ‘Let The Right One In’ is a good example. ‘Thirst’ by Chan Wook Park is another. There’s a great found-footage flick called ‘Affliction.’  Recently there was Mike Flanagan’s limited series ‘Midnight Mass,’ which a lot of people believe contains a little homage to my film at the end. And somebody finally got Dracula right with the three-part Netflix series. Very creepy stuff.” 

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A film with vampires rather than a film about vampires

The plot of Oops! You’re a Vampire centers on the Baxter family. An Anne Rice goth named Lara jealously casts a spell on her twin sister Helen, who then succumbs to a mysterious disease and dies. When Helen returns alive with a thirst for human blood, her family decides to band together to support Helen, which includes feeding her.

Messerer effectively uses the unstable family dynamic by infusing the relationships with an organic depth of feeling. The talented cast is led by the late Jo Jo Hristova, Eilis Cahill, Devon Dionne, and Michael Strelow.

“There’s definitely a warts-and-all aspect to their dynamic,” he says. “Families are never perfect. It’s the imperfections that make them sympathetic. Most of us can relate to familial dysfunction. That’s what makes them human. Real. The fact that the cast remained in character for three years really comes across. In that time, they really did form a family dynamic. In the beginning we would get together for rehearsals, and sometimes I would just let them chat and laugh and hang out. Devon Dionne once complained to me that we didn’t do enough actual ‘rehearsing.’ I told her I had faith in her abilities as an actor. To me it was more important to see them become a real family. To trust each other. To become ‘familiar.’ There is a reason ‘family’ is at the root of that word. So, yeah, the familiarity is palpable.

“I should take a moment here to talk about Jo Jo Hristova who plays Mom. Her performance is mesmerizing. She was only 29 at the time but plays a woman in her fifties. In life, Jo Jo was the bubbliest, most charming human being you ever met. Before every shoot, she underwent two hours of makeup and then disappeared into a dark room by herself for another hour only to emerge as the lame, morose, middle-aged Bulgarian immigrant with nothing but her love for her children to fuel her own survival. In fact, Michael Strelow, who plays Raymond, her son, was 32 at the time. Sadly, Jo Jo passed away (brain tumor) after the film was shot. I’m glad she got a chance to exhibit her incredible talent in this small production. Unfortunately, we won’t be seeing it again.” 

oops mother 1

Grounding Vampires in Reality

“The trick is to make it believable,” he says. “Commonplace. Natural. As opposed to supernatural. Kind of how J.K. Rowling treats wizards and witches. If you read the novels, her universe comes alive through a never-ending focus on the trivial and mundane. The little things make all the difference. Vampires are larger than life to be sure, but the story doesn’t need to be. Make it relatable. Make vampirism almost incidental. If it has a story otherwise, if the characters can breathe beyond the generic elements, you might have something there. Vampires get old. Characters, good ones, never do. One of the veiled blessings of microbudget production is that you can’t rely on special effects. So, story and character take center stage. Horror filmmakers seem to take for granted that they are still making a ‘film.’ It’s as if the genre excuses them from making an effort otherwise. Horror films don’t have to be second-rate films. They can be great films that just happen to be scary. I love a good scare. I just don’t like cheap formula. And I get bored watching people creeping around dark hallways expecting a cat to be thrown at them by a production assistant. As a filmmaker, I recognize this as a cheap way to burn up screen time. But I think contemporary horror audiences expect more. We are immune to the same old bullshit. There are only so many times you can remake ‘Halloween.’ John Carpenter may have shown us how it’s done. But he never repeated it himself. I don’t think he realized he was making a blueprint for horror filmmakers to follow for decades to come. So, yeah. Vampires and horror in general has to evolve. We’re seeing it slowly. New, innovative ways to tell a story.” 

Messerer’s influences are an eclectic mix of unique storytellers 

“I love a good script,” he says. “By far my biggest influence are the Coen Brothers. Few people would say they’re horror filmmakers, but in my opinion Blood Simple is one of the greatest horror flicks ever made. They just make the film they want to make, and horror elements are present as need be. My favorite film of all time is The Big Lebowski. 

“Aside from that, Kubrick, of course, is a major influence.  He kind of stands alone at the tip of the cinematic totem pole. ‘The Shining’ is still one of the scariest fucking flicks I’ve ever seen. You can study that film with a microscope. He was messing with us subliminally. Lighting, set design, everything is slightly off in that film. True psychological horror.   

“David Lynch is a mindfuck master. I saw Dune at the theater when I was ten years old, and it literally changed my life. No other film impacted me quite as hard. It might not seem scary now, but when you’re ten years old…. 

“So yeah, I like a film that gets inside your head. That unnerves you. ‘Martyrs’ a few years back is probably my favorite recent horror flick. Kim Jee Woon’s ‘I Saw the Devil’ is another one. I do like a good monster movie now and then, but real horror to me is stuff that can actually happen to you on the way home from the theater.” 

For a microbudget horror film, the special effects are exceptional, especially the creative decapitation shot. How much did Randall Leddy add to the overall quality with his makeup effects? 

“Goddamn, it, Leddy! I can’t stop talking about you! Stealing all my thunder,” Messerer says. “No, the Leddy brothers are both geniuses in their own right. I hope to see them become the next Coens. Randall’s makeup is superb. Mind you, it was all theoretic. He had dabbled a bit in high school, but this was his first opportunity to really apply it (bad pun). Remember that this is a microbudget venture, so the special effects are pretty household and presented with a hearty dose of camp in due deference to its B Movie pedigree.   We have a saying in the horror world – ‘If you don’t give the audience something to laugh at, they will find something.’ But that’s the best thing about our community.  All our greatest treasures were all made for a buck. No other audience is as receptive to indie production value as horror fandom. From Evil Dead to Halloween, Friday the 13th to Texas Chainsaw Massacre, to the one and only Return of the Living Dead – we have relied on our wits and ingenuity and a whole lotta Karo syrup from the moment we first tried to make you jump out of your seat. Oops! You’re A Vampire follows a very rich and time-honored tradition of rolling up one’s sleeves and taking a stab at greatness. Literally and figuratively.” 

The music in Oops! You’re a Vampire perfectly enhances the offbeat story

“Music makes cinema come to life,” Messerer says. “I’m an editor by trade, and I don’t think I’ve ever presided over a moment of screen time without an accompanying soundtrack. The original songs are from local bands I came across. The title song ‘Snakes’ is by Temple of Echoes, Randall Leddy’s band – yeah, he gets around. 

“But there is very little original score. In keeping with the DIY element of this film, most of the music is taken from Incompetech.com. And it’s free. I really wanted to get across that anyone can do this. We are in an age when there are no more excuses. Hollywood no longer holds the keys to the candy store. If you really have something to say, fucking say it! Stop sitting around waiting for someone to ‘greenlight’ you. Greenlight yourself! Write a script, hold some auditions and get busy filmmaking. I have a project coming out soon shot entirely on my iPhone. With one actor. I actually called it a Two Guys And A Phone Production. It’s called ‘American Hitman’ – a found footage mockumentary about a contact killer with a terminal illness who decides to tell and show all. Anything is possible. And with social media, and the help of people such as yourself, we now have a unique opportunity to engage our audience directly. There are no more middlemen. It’s up to you.  Make your flick, send it out to everybody under the sun!  Forget about selling units of product. Those days are over.  Branding! Become a household name! Everything else will take care of itself. And I do believe that short form content is the future of indie cinema. Web series, short films. The best way to get eyes on.”

Now, the film credits Philly The Kid as the director and not Phil Messerer. What’s the difference between the two? 

“I guess he’s the Superman to my Clark Kent,” Messerer says of Philly The Kid. “I wrote a book called ‘Rock Bottom And Roll’ about my battle with drug addiction which led to homelessness.  On the streets I was Philly The Kid and the name stuck. These days it’s kind of my stage name. I think it’s memorable. Branding. And it suits me. I’m not your average filmmaker. Most filmmakers are nerdy guys in the Spielberg/Lucas vein. I have an eight-inch fluorescent goatee. I’m more from the Sam Peckinpah/Rob Zombie class. Rock and roll filmmakers. So, there’s definitely an attitude to my cinema beyond sheer storytelling. A certain rebellion/irreverence that defines my counterculture mentality. You’ll feel my presence when you watch my films. Good filmmaking is like that. As long as it’s not overbearing. 

“I was born in Russia, grew up in New York, went to school in Sydney, Australia, and now live in the City of Angels. Lord knows I ain’t one. I live with my wife, who is half my age, the audacious and completely insane Lil Demon – TikTok star extraordinaire. We met on the street three years ago, got clean together, saved each other’s lives. We are not ashamed to tell our story. Maybe inspire others.  Recovery is possible. These days we are happy and healthy and live in a nice little apartment with our two scruffy terriers, Smokey and The Bandit. I edit professionally (reality shows mostly), and I write in my spare time. You might catch us at a rave occasionally. Holler at us on FB.” 

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