A spinal tap is a way of extracting fluid from the body. So perhaps it’s appropriate that the “mockumentary” approach of “This Is Spinal Tap” was an influence on “AS:VS — At Stake: Vampire Solutions,” a locally produced comedy-drama inspired by the public’s unquenchable thirst for stories of horror cinema’s most unsinkable body-fluid extractors.
A rebuttal to the hot and sexy if clammy and pale vampires of “Twilight” and “True Blood,” “AS:VS” imagines a world infested by gross, animalistic bloodsuckers that are not so much a threat to the human race as a potentially deadly nuisance — sort of like a man-size mosquito, or a flesh-eating raccoon in the attic. To this end, the focus is on the title business, a small vamp-control company that bills itself as “North Mississippi’s #1 Choice for Vampire Extermination!”
Directed by Jim Weter from a clever script by Duane P. Craig (who also created the ghoulish makeup, which unfortunately gets too little screen time), “AS:VS” rises from the grave of its recent film-festival run to renew its undead life this week on home video. A release party celebrating the movie’s availability as a two-disc DVD set will take place from 7 to 9 p.m. Tuesday at the Bayou Bar & Grill, 2094 Madison. DVDs will be sold, and a Blu-ray edition of the film is expected to be available later, through the website CellardoorCinema.com.
Arriving on disc some four months after another Memphis-area vampire movie, the glossier “Daylight Fades,” “AS:VS” establishes its vampire world with an opening montage of clips from newscasts (a report of “first responders” to a vampire attack in Cordova), TV commercials, educational films, cable programs (“World Wildest Vampire Hunts”) and so on. The movie is presented as a single-camera, first-person video documentary, made as a thesis project by film student Evan Shandling (Jimmy Patterson), who wants to tell the behind-the-scenes story of “one of the most dangerous and often thankless jobs there really is: vampire remover.” The documentary premise justifies the film’s low-budget appearance. “It was supposed to look like a student film,” Weter said.
Evan essentially embeds himself with the AS:VS team, a ragtag group of licensed vampire slayers who include gruff bossman Carl (University of Memphis English professor Carl Pfeiffer), dim Everydude Eddie (Michael Goff), urban commando Kevin (Jerry Kimble), crass, tobacco-chewing rube Roy (Joshua Brunson), and tough but beautiful Amy (Anastasia Gale).
The shaky-camera visuals of the team’s night raids on vampires in cemeteries and barns gives “AS:VS” a sort of modern-horror “Blair Witch” vibe, even if the story borrows from a genre classic, Richard Matheson’s 1954 novel “I Am Legend.” As in that book, vampirism in “AS:VS” is blamed on a virus rather than on supernatural evil. Myths are debunked: These vampires have not fangs but “broken or chipped teeth,” from chewing on bones. They have “no sense of hygiene ... no sense of fashion,” Amy complains. The sluggish economy has helped vampires survive: Foreclosures have left many homes empty, making them perfect hangouts for “nesting” vampire squatters.
Produced by Weter’s Cellardoor Cinema company, “AS:VS” was shot in late 2010 and early 2011 in DeSoto County, and debuted in a sneak preview on July 10, 2011, at Midtown’s Evergreen Theatre. It was re-edited somewhat for later screenings at festivals and events, both national (Chicago Fear Fest, North Carolina’s Mad Monster Party) and local (the Memphis Comic and Fantasy Convention, the On Location: Memphis International Film & Music Fest).
Weter — who owns Memphis Legal Video, a company that specializes in recording depositions and providing other video services for trials, lawsuits and so on — says audiences that watch “AS:VS” seem to embrace its loose comic irreverence, even if its somewhat dark ending is nothing to laugh about. He said he tried to keep his balance on the fine line between humor and horror.
“I was really close to having a ‘Twilight’ calendar hanging in the back of the AS:VS office, with some darts sticking into it,” he said. “But we decided not to do that.”