There’s some talent involved with this low budget horror comedy (including a very early, small role for Kathy Bates), but nobody remembers it. The movie is fun in a campy and somewhat stupid way. But it’s certainly not terrible enough to disappear into obscurity forever. The main reason for My Best Friend is a Vampire’s lack of recognition is Once Bitten.
That film was extremely successful with an A-list cast including Jim Carrey and Cleavon Little. My Best Friend is a Vampire had a nearly identical plot with a much smaller budget. That’s not a lot going for it right out of the gate. Though it does not have an all star cast and its brand of humor may be a bit of a stretch a bit at times, this picture is a bit more heartfelt than Once Bitten and it has a lot more charisma.
Robert Sean Leonard stars as our hero; meek, awkward and virginal Jeremy Capello. Leonard would gain a bit more recognition the very next year with a starring role in Dead Poets Society, and would gain a lot more recognition years later as Dr. Wilson in House, M.D. Jeremy is drawn toward a quiet girl named Darla Blake, despite his best friend trying to set him up with virtually every girl that moves and despite the fact that the head cheerleader has eyes for him.
At the start, Jeremy is a boy thinking normal teenage boy thoughts, but it surprises both himself and his best friend Ralph when he takes an interest in Darla. She’s aversive, independent and not the type that alpha male high school boys typically gravitate toward. Teenage male sexuality is a strong focus of the movie, and while it’s a bit clumsy, it still manages to get the point across.
Norah is a figure that comes on to Jeremy immediately and oozes sexuality, Ralph’s encouragement of this pairing borders on flat-out begging as he’s more desperate for Jeremy to lose his virginity than Jeremy is. At the beginning, Jeremy’s nervous nature overtakes him, he can barely talk to girls and fumbles through his first sexual experience (which ends with Norah getting staked just after Jeremy leaves). It’s not until the vampirism sets in and Jeremy starts developing his powers that he begins to come out of his shell a bit.
The movie doesn’t try to hide its tropes, it embraces its clichés, and it doesn’t even really try to hide its surprises, it just invites the audience to have fun with the whole thing. Norah lives in a gothic mansion and Jeremy’s vampire abilities are very traditional. There are a couple of classical references involving the vampires themselves, mostly in the shape shifting and the use of mind control. Norah turns into a black cat at will, a reference that is taken directly from the classic horror novel Carmilla.
Most of the comedy in the film comes from Jeremy adjusting to his new condition, which ranges from genuinely funny to eye-rollingly bad. The antagonists of the piece, two vampire hunters named Leopold McCarthy (David Warner) – played as a bigoted character, paranoid about all vampires and literally named McCarthy – and his oafish sidekick Grimsdyke.
More than anything else, it’s the blood drinking jokes that get old after a bit. Modoc gives Jeremy a handbook on vampirism very similar to the “Handbook for the Recently Deceased” in Beetlejuice. Some of it’s inventive and some just doesn’t work. Still, the film functions fairly well as a comedy and the sincerity of it is what carries it through to the end.
Jeremy’s parents try and piece together what’s been going on with their son, and from all the information they’ve been given, from everything that they’ve observed, and think it’s plain is day that what’s going on is that their son is gay. This is sort of the nail on the head with the movie’s focus on adolescent sexuality. Vampire stories have always focused on outsiders and people who are misunderstood. This comic plot is actually a nice bit of commentary and not unwelcome. The bigotry of the vampire hunters is also an easy source of humor, even it’s a little too on-the-nose, especially when they nearly kill Ralph believing him to be the vampire.
The movie sometimes lacks in common sense and production value, but it is a fun watch that definitely doesn’t deserve to be completely forgotten. It has a lot of heart and is kind of sweet. It may not have enough carnage to lure in the hardcore audience, but if you’re ever in the mood for lighter fare, you could do worse than to sink your teeth into this one.