So Vam: Exceptionally Cheesy Queer Vampires

As one character in Alice Maio Mackay’s horror comedy reminds us, vampires have been gay for as long as they’ve not existed. In 1872, when Sheridan le Fanu sought to find a vessel for the societal fear of lesbianism, he poured his angst into Carmilla and gave a vampiric face to that fear. As is often the case with horror though, its origins may be rooted in the phobia of the other, but oppressed and underrepresented people have a surprising capacity to wear their otherness as armor. Vampire fiction is hardly an exception, with many queer creators leaning into this allegorical function, finding a certain relatability and pathos in the outcast creature of the night.

So Vam is smart enough to acknowledge this directly, with its young hero Kurt (Xai) expressing sympathy for the monster in the cheesy adaptation of Frankenstein that he and his bestie Katie (Erin Paterson) are watching. Kurt is a teenager living in a small town, one conservative enough to support a local conversion camp and provide an inexhaustible supply of homophobic bullies and bigots to provide thirsty gay vampires with guilt-free sustenance, though not so conservative it is unable to support a queer bookstore and multiple queer nightclubs.

Kurt (Xai) makes his stage debut

Kurt is relentlessly bullied for being gay and harboring aspirations of pursuing a career in drag. That is, until he stumbles into an underworld of vampires—some queer and nice, others not so much. One of these latter preys on Kurt and transforms him, leaving it to his new trans vampire friends to save his life and show him the ropes. These are the kindly and instructive April (Grace Hyland) and the sassy Harley (Ethan McErlean), a pair of roaming queer vampires who take Kurt under their wings and teach him how to survive as a vampire, keep a low profile and defend himself and his loved ones from the villainous ancient vampire Landon (Chris Asimos).

As far as vampire stories go, it’s about as familiar and formulaic a take on the material as you might find, echoing films like Near Dark and A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, which were far more accomplished from every technical perspective. The lighting is overexposed and there’s some very obvious dubbing that exacerbates the already extremely clunky dialogue and amateurish performances. Even the drag performances aren’t that good, credibly of the level you might find on a weekday night in a provincial local drag bar.

So maybe So Vam won’t be winning any awards anytime soon. If, as all the talk in it about selling one’s audience on a fantasy would have you believe, So Vam‘s goals are to draw you into an emotional and empowering coming of age story, it might be considered quite the failure. But like most micro-budget films, it’s the act of getting the film made and released at all that’s truly empowering and inspirational. Seeing people who can act about as well as you can starring in a feature film is on some level inspiring, and it’s appropriate as that’s appropriate, as a certain level of incompetence is often an essential element of kitsch. Seeing the limitations the filmmakers had to deal with right in front of you onscreen, with the film retaining the guileless charm of a group of friends working together in a non-judgemental atmosphere where everything is good enough, makes you appreciate the personalities behind the film all the more. It also makes the moments of genuine entertainment and even resonance all the more laudable.

A lot of So Vam is entertaining, if often just for its cheapness and absurdity, with the only parts that genuinely drag being the two drag performances shown. Even if it were the highest standard of drag performance, there are just some things that don’t have the same impact if you’re not there in the room. I don’t think I’m going to break any of the filmmakers’ hearts by pointing out that they didn’t get the exposure settings right for a lot of these shots, that the sound is distorted here, or that the edit was too fast on this or that shot. I credit them with intelligence enough to know that. That’s just the reality of making a film on a micro-budget: mistakes will end up in the finished product, and So Vam operates in a vein of camp where they aren’t fatal to the film’s appeal. So Vam is supposed to be charming and funny, so does it really matter if we’re laughing at the wit of the dialogue or the awkwardness of its delivery?

When I told a friend how awful I found Thor: Love and Thunder, they replied with an argument along the lines that it was okay that it was silly, since it didn’t take itself that seriously. Well, I think $250,000,000 is an amount to be taken seriously because the makers of So Vam had around $12,000 and still did more with it than Taika Waititi and his friends. There really isn’t that much wrong with So Vam that three more zeroes and a few more years of experience behind and in front of the camera wouldn’t fix. There’s a baseline fun cheese factor to its story of queer vampire high-schoolers finding themselves, a few intriguing morsels of world-building that would be fun to see explored, and a solid foundation in character that could’ve developed into something really interesting and emotional if given the right support.

So Vam doesn’t take itself seriously, and since it was made for the price of a new car and asks no more than an hour and a quarter of your time, it doesn’t have to. It could’ve been something really great, and perhaps it will be someday. Even as it is, it’s as much because of its limited resources as in spite of them that So Vam manages to be so endearing. It gives you as much movie as $12,000 is ever gonna buy you, and its offbeat, non-judgemental celebration of queerness is priceless.

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Written by Hal Kitchen

Primarily a reviewer of music and films, Hal Kitchen studied at the University of Kent where they graduated with distinction in both Liberal Arts BA and Film MA, specializing in film, gender theory, and cultural studies. Whilst at Kent they were the Film & TV sub-editor and later Culture Editor of the campus newspaper InQuire and began a public blog on their Letterboxd account. Hal joined 25YearsLaterSite as a volunteer writer in May 2020 and resumed their current role of assistant film editor in November 2020.

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