This past Friday, I went to see Therapy for a Vampire at St Anthony Main Theatre as part of the Minneapolis-St Paul International Film Festival (MSPIFF). My friends Adam and Jeff accompanied me, as they were intrigued by the film description. I anticipated that the film would have several themes related to concepts we’ve discussed in class, including representation, voyeurism, and scopophilia. Therapy for a Vampire is a horror-comedy written and directed by David Rühm. The film successfully employs themes of scopophilia, the male gaze, and agency to successfully create a story about vanity and choice.
The film begins with Count von Közsnöm, a vampire who despises his wife, and decides to seek out the leading psychiatrist of the time, Sigmund Freud. The Count explains that his wife is pestering him about her appearance because she cannot see her reflection in the mirror. Freud refers the Count to a painter, Viktor, that he commissions to illustrate scenes from the dreams of Freud’s patients. The Count sees an illustration of Viktor’s girlfriend, Lucy, and is struck by her likeness to his lost love, Nadila, a vampire from the Byzantine era. The Count believes that Lucy is the reincarnation of Nadila and that, if he bites her, Nadila’s spirit will manifest within Lucy; however, Lucy must willingly choose to become a vampire in order for it to work.
While Lucy is on her way to the von Közsnöm estate, the Count convinces his wife that he has finally found a painter who can capture her likeness; the Countess hesitantly agrees. Viktor is enamoured by the Countess’ beauty, and enthusiastically agrees to paint her. The Count attempts to seduce Lucy, but is interrupted by his bumbling servant, Radul. The Countess later becomes jealous of Lucy and bites her, turning her into a vampire. Lucy is excited about her newfound capabilities and wishes to stay in vampire form. However, she couldn’t care less about the Count’s plan to turn her into his “Nadila”, and resists Viktor, Radul, and the Count’s attempts to change her.
Therapy handled matters of gender and agency more directly than I anticipated. While the film begins with its focus on the men of the film, Viktor and the Count, it transitions its focus to the Countess and Lucy by the end. In terms of the Bechdel test? I don’t believe the movie passes. However, I find this test ultimately flawed as it fails to identify many films with strong women. Moreover, I believe that the majority of the five, central characters’ (except, perhaps Freud) dialogue is about a romantic interest. While Lucy is first established as basically nothing more than eye candy; a woman without many other characteristics than dissatisfaction with her current relationship, her agency and sense-of-self are built up and demonstrated more fully as the movie progresses. While her dissatisfaction is initially dismissed by Viktor at the film’s beginning, she confronts him in a way that demands his attention when, after turning into a vampire, she declares, “You wanted me to change, and I’ve changed now that you don’t want me to change.”
The Countess is quite literally obsessed with knowing how she looks. As her character is first introduced, she smashes a shop’s window display out of frustration because she cannot see her reflection in the glass. She is constantly asking her husband what she looks like, and often applies makeup in a reflectionless vanity mirror. While she gains pleasure from being admired by men, she is pointedly uninterested in men or relationships. Her need for validation from others is a constant source of frustration for her, as her real desire is to admire herself, instead of relying on others to do so for her.
Therapy for a Vampire heavily relies on the concept of scopophilia, in the sense that watching and admiring are assumed sources of innate pleasure (Mulvey, 835). Viktor paints women all the same; as the woman he desires. He cannot stop seeing this woman (who happens to bear a striking resemblance to Nadila) in every woman he depicts. He is enamored by this image of an unattainable woman. Viktor can’t stop “seeing” the image of this woman; the Count is constantly observing Lucy (unbeknownst to her) in situations that are extremely voyeuristic; and the Countess is obsessed with seeing her likeness.
Lucy is the only character who isn’t preoccupied with “looking”, but that is largely because she is the character which everyone wants to behold. Lucy, instead acts as the object by which everyone projects their fantasies or fears (McCabe, 19). Viktor projects the image of his “dream woman” onto her, the Count projects Nadila’s likeness onto her, and the Countess ends up believing that she looks like Lucy (thanks to Viktor’s obsession with painting the same idealized woman over and over).
Therapy for a Vampire was screened for one night at St Anthony Main at 10 pm, so the attendees of the film were largely adults and adolescents accompanying their parents. Because the event was part of a larger film festival, the audience was fully engaged with the film and did not inhibit their reactions. Therapy is certainly a niche/cult classic kind of film, and integrated over-the-top comedy in the form of oddly-placed horror genre conventions. For instance, the opening scene shows an thief intruding on the von Közsnöm estate, where he finds a doll that blinks of its own volition (this sparked a round of laughter). Moments later, a large spurt of blood splashes from off screen, prompting several chuckles.
The space was very comfortable and clean; it had stadium seating and the chairs reclined back slightly. St Anthony Main Theatre is located in a Minneapolis marketplace of the same name which is largely made up of restaurants, bars, and entertainment. Finding parking was easy and the walk from the ramp to the theatre was very short. Advance tickets cost $13 but tickets can also be purchased at the theatre box office for a student discount. There was very little advertising displayed, save for MSPIFF and its sponsors.
My friends and I adored this film. I have a place in my heart for goofy vampire flicks, and Therapy fulfilled all my expectations. I didn’t feel that the female characters were props, as is often the case in film (McCabe, 46). I was surprised by how invested I became in Lucy’s resistance to the others and her desire to remain independent. Perhaps it was the energy of the audience around me, but I found myself wanting to literally get up and cheer her on at the end, when she chooses to remain a vampire. Typically female protagonist’s are expected to be fulfilled by a relationship with someone, by “getting the guy” or something dependent on another character; instead Lucy is fulfilled by valuing her own desires over that of everyone else, and in the end each character allows her to exercise that agency despite their wishes.
Mcabe, Janet. “Structuring a Language of Theory.” Feminist Films Studies: Writing the Woman Into Cinema. New York: Wallflower Press. 2004. 14-36. Print.
McCabe, Janet. “Textual Negotiations: Female Spectatorship and Cultural Studies.” Feminist Films Studies: Writing the Woman Into Cinema. New York: Wallflower Press. 2004. 37-64. Print.
Mulvey, Laura. “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema.” Film Theory and Criticism: Introductory Readings. New York: Oxford UP, 1999. 833-44. Print.