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Based in downtown Manhattan, the Tribeca Film Festival has a special section of its lineup dedicated to local filmmakers and movies shot within the five boroughs of New York City. Representing Brooklyn--more specifically the hipster haven of Bushwick--is Summer of Blood, a horror-comedy that's first trailer we shared earlier this week. Now, I am happy to report that this curious indie is as spirited as it is deeply twisted.
What do you get when you throw the comedic humor of insular NY comedies together with the willfully garish gore of B-movie horror? Something devilishly amusing and happily drenched in blood and biting dialogue.
Written, directed and starring Onur Tukel, Summer of Blood centers on Erik Sparrow (Tukel), a chubby, pseudo-intellectual goofball whose selfishness and total lack of ambition grates on his frustrated girlfriend and beleaguered co-workers. With a mop of gray and black hair and matching beard/mustache combo, he looks like what Adam Duritz of Counting Crows would if he completely let himself go. Erik is a loser, proven when his pretty, successful, career-oriented, baby-wanting girlfriend dumps him after he rejects her marriage proposal over a fear of commitment. But in New York, even losers have a shot at the extraordinary, and for Erik that means a chance encounter that turns him into a blood-sucking vampire.
His new powers are a game-changer for this screw-up. Neck biting ups his sexual game exponentially and makes for some of the movies most gory and silly moments. His glamor ability allows him to bend others to his will via Jedi mind trick. (This is not the rent you're looking for!) And he is instilled with a new sense of confidence, though--hilariously enough--no grander sense of ambition than bloody orgies. Initially, vampirism with all its sex and blood is a great distraction for Erik's broken heart, but eventually he just wants his old life and his would-be wife back, even if it means embracing the kind of commitment that used to scare him.
In Summer of Blood, Tukel offers an unconventional self-discovery narrative with an anti-hero who is compelling and relatable, even in his most awful moments. Erik speaks like a character out of Girls, talking in navel-gazing circles about his life and place in the world with an obliviousness that is irreverently funny and oddly endearing. For instance, when he first comes across a vampire victim whose neck is gushing blood, he gets his hands literally dirty giving the guy a tampon, then asks, "Are you HIV negative, I hope?"
Summer of Blood also boasts a brief appearance of Girls' co-star Alex Karpovsky as a sneering office mate. He and the rest of the cast offer solid support (though thinly sketched portrayals) to Tukel's crass clown. The film works best when it embraces Erik's shallowness and allows him to hang himself by talking too much about his ill-conceived notions, which are often misogynistic, racist, and neurotic. Even when he's called on these things, he dismisses them with a shrug to suggest that's not how he meant it, and the movie dutifully trots along, getting more disturbing each time. It's a great deal of fun to watch this socially awkward, emotionally stunted doofus deal with the fangs and generous blood sprays, but Summer of Blood begins to lose steam in its final act when Erik actually endeavors to change. It feels half-hearted, culminating in a climax that was amusing, but not satisfying.
Ultimately, Summer of Blood has a ton of DIY charm, fitting for a NY indie and a B-movie homage. Sometimes its low budget is painfully apparent, like in restaurant scenes all set in the same location, the same table, serving the same unconvincing excuse for an entrée (a slice of bread with some arugula draped on top). But Tukel knows when to go big when it counts, and that's in big blood sprays and wildly inappropriate humor. Though it's ultimately as ungainly as its anti-hero, Summer of Blood is a daringly funny and giddily gory sex-comedy with just a bit of bite.