Release Date(s)2014 (September 27, 2022)
Studio(s)MPI Media Group (Factory 25/Vinegar Syndrome)
- Film/Program Grade: B-
- Video Grade: A-
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: A
Vampires have been the subject of countless feature films, beginning with the silent Nosferatu. Bela Lugosi, Christopher Lee, Frank Langella, Jack Palance, John Carradine, George Hamilton, Klaus Kinski, and Lon Chaney, Jr., among others, have played vampires. Summer of Blood, written, directed and starring Onur Tukel, is a spoof that combines the vampire theme with the tale of a sad-sack loser.
Forty-year-old Brooklyn slacker Erik Sparrow (Tukel) is cynical about many things—the state of the world, women, societal expectations, and workplace responsibility, to name a few. Looking like a homeless troll, with a head of rumpled hair and beard and sloppy clothing, he nonetheless has a girlfriend, Jody (Anna Margaret Hollyman). Tired of waiting for Erik to ask her to marry him, she proposes to him in a restaurant. He squirms out of a commitment with the excuse that he may not be “marriage material.” They leave, and encounter one of Jody’s old friends (Jason Selvig), the exact opposite of Erik—tall, good-looking, self-assured. Erik sees the attraction between the two and tries to reclaim Jody’s attention with lame comments, but is soon without a girlfriend.
At work, he hits on a fellow office worker and spends most of his time whining about his job. Three computer dates are disasters, and he confesses to a stranger (Dustin Guy Defa) he encounters on the street late one night that death would relieve him of a lot of responsibilities. Turns out, the stranger is a vampire who sinks his fangs into Erik’s neck. The next day, Erik recoils from sunlight, can’t keep regular food down, and becomes a wild maniac in bed, experiencing and giving pleasure to his partners like never before.
As director, Tukel shows as little restraint as his main character does. For a horror spoof, the film has an inordinate amount of dialogue, mostly spouted by Erik in extended monologues. Erik doesn’t know how to be tactful, so he says exactly what’s on his mind. The women he meets are initially pleasant but realize before the end of dinner that he’s an oddball. Unconvincingly, they give him a second chance (after he’s become a vampire) and find him a changed person and especially appreciate him in bed.
Tukel plays Erik with a weird sort of charm. This guy is exactly what he appears to be. Everything he says is unfiltered, and he isn’t shy about expressing potentially offensive opinions. That he perseveres in trying to meet women after losing Jody indicates he wants a relationship but is unwilling to see it through to the ultimate commitment—marriage. His immaturity undermines his libido.
Eventually, special effects come into play with such excessive amounts of stage blood that it becomes comical. There are some offbeat touches, such as Erik apologizing to one of his victims after draining most of his blood, walking through the streets with a blood-soaked shirt as pedestrians stare, hypnotizing his landlord into forgetting about collecting the rent, and chatting casually with a fellow vampire as a recent victim dies a slow death in the background.
Summer of Blood is not a great film but it’s different and, for that reason, fascinating. Less of Erik and greater emphasis on other characters would have made for a more balanced plot. We get tired of Erik’s ranting and self-pity pretty quickly but stay involved anyway. That’s quite an achievement. Many will simply be turned off by Erik, but it’s hard not to be intrigued by his clueless social awkwardness and self-involvement.
Summer of Blood was captured digitally by director of photography Jason Banker and presented in the widescreen aspect ratio of 1.78:1. On the new Blu-ray release from Factory 25, the picture tends to be dark in the interiors, though details do come through. Handheld cameras are used frequently, providing some elegant tracking shots and giving the film a classy look. The night scenes look especially good, with detail well pronounced. The stage blood flows by the gallon in the vampire attack scenes, glistening in the moonlight, but is so preposterously excessive that it aligns well with the spoofiness of the story. The women who date Erik are attractively attired and made up, contrasting with Erik’s ill-groomed, shaggy-dog look.
The soundtrack is English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio. Optional English subtitles are included. Dialogue is clear and distinct among all the characters, though Erik dominates it with his lengthy rants, whiny complaints, and unwelcome observations. In close-ups of vampires biting victims, there’s a subtle but clearly evident gurgling sound. In simulated sex scenes, there are screams of pleasure.
Bonus materials include the following:
- Audio Commentaries from 2014 and 2022 by Onur Tukel
- Larry Fessenden Interviewed by a Vampire (28:20)
- Lloyd Kaufman Interviewed by a Vampire (24:44)
- Behind the Scenes (4:40)
- Deleted Scenes (6:07)
- Trailer (3:12)
The 2014 commentary is traditional, concentrating on the genesis of Summer of Blood, anecdotes about the filming, and cast overviews. In the 2022 commentary, Tukel goes off into fascinating, bizarre tangents and talks more about himself and his hang-ups. Sometimes we feel like the unseen therapist listening to his stream-of consciousness ramblings. He opens by declaring that he lives a life without obligations to other people and confesses that he hasn’t been a success as a filmmaker. “Life has beaten me down.” He believes Covid has taken a toll on him psychologically and he often feels blue or angry. He’s been having an existential crisis. He likes commentaries because they express opinions at a particular point in time. He is proud of Summer of Blood and it cheered him up when he watched it recently. He believes the film is underrated and “cheerfully absurd.” Movies from the independent studio Troma were a major influence on Summer of Blood. Tukel discusses his childhood, his method of working on the set, and turning sex scene cliches “on their head.” He refers to the third act of the film as a “chamber piece.” He says seriously that he believes he’s mentally ill, then explains how he’s used this possible disability to manipulate people. One of his many opinions is that too many people suffer from the delusion that they’re not smart. One comment in particular sums up Tukel’s theory of moviemaking: “Let me be proof that you can be a complete idiot and make movies.”
Larry Fassenden Interviewed by a Vampire – Onur Tukel, wearing vampire fangs, interviews actor/writer Larry Fassenden (Habit). He enjoys metaphors to establish themes and loved monster movies as a kid. As writer, he reinvents monsters in terms of madness, loneliness, and sexual tension.
Lloyd Kaufman Interviewed by a Vampire – Once again wearing vampire fangs, Tukel speaks with prolific actor/director/producer Kaufman, who originally wanted to work in Broadway musicals. During his years at Yale University, he was introduced to B pictures and the films of Roger Corman. He worked on the studio films Rocky, Saturday Night Fever, and The Final Countdown. Woody Allen was an influence, as was the French auteur theory, which proposed that a film is the vision of one individual—the director. This theory was embraced by Alfred Hitchcock, Sam Fuller, and others. After reading an article that claimed horror movies were dead, he combined horror and comedy in The Toxic Avenger, which put independent studio Troma on the map.
Behind the Scenes – Upbeat music accompanies this un-narrated making-of short. It depicts night filming with handheld cameras and a skeleton crew. We see the staging of a vampire attack scene. The special effects team is shown applying gruesome neck bite gashes with huge amounts of stage blood.
Booklet – The 24-page booklet contains essays by Simon Bacon and Onur Tukel, 15 illustrations, and a cast and crew listing.
Summer of Blood is a vampire/sex comedy that challenges its audience with Erik’s abrasive character. The film can be very funny in parts but off-putting to those who are averse to graphic, bloody images. The best scenes are the conversations the main character has with his girlfriend and various dates, which veer from recognizable believability to off-the-wall weirdness. I found myself often shaking my head in disbelief at Tukel’s audacity but was completely absorbed in his eccentric world.
- Dennis Seuling