Control Nathan Rabin 4.0 #26 Vampire Dog (2012)

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Welcome, friends, to the latest installment in Control Nathan Rabin 4.0. It’s the column where I give YOU, the kind-hearted, Christ-like, unbelievably sexy Nathan Rabin patron an opportunity to choose a movie I must watch and then write about. Sometimes, however, patrons give me a choice between several movies to cover. 

In this case I had a choice between the 1997 documentary masterpiece Hands On a Hardbody, which Robert Altman was trying to turn into an ensemble comedy-drama when he died and that Phish frontman Trey Anastasio helped turn into a Broadway musical, the all-time crazy cult movie Manos: The Hands of Fate, which, astonishingly I do not believe I have seen or written about, the 24 hour long 2010 art installation The Clock and finally the 2012 family comedy Vampire Dog. 

I ended up choosing Vampire’s Dog because it features the voice of Norm Macdonald as the titular vampiric canine. What more could you ask for? I was hoping that Vampire Dog would be the next A Talking Cat!?!, the 2013 family mindfuck with Eric Roberts as the voice of Duffy the Magical Talking Cat I’m proud to say I helped turn into a bona fide cult phenomenon

A Talking Cat!?! was a miracle, a unicorn, a happy accident in every conceivable sense. It infected me with a deep, perverse curiosity about other low-budget, perversely amateurish kid flicks where paycheck-hungry campy cult icons voice wacky talking animals. 

I watched and wrote about Ice-T’s star turn as the titular chill beast of burden in Tommy and the Cool Mule and now I’m perversely excited to see and hear comic genius Norm Macdonald try his hand at this perverse sub-section of gimmicky children’s films. 

 This is an actual thing that exists and of course I have seen it.

This is an actual thing that exists and of course I have seen it.

Vampire Dog opens, perversely, with that beloved kiddie classic, the tragic death of a relative. In this case it’s the Transylvanian grandfather of the movie’s floppy-haired, Emo protagonist, who tells Fang, his beloved, undead dog, “I won’t always be around to look out for you” and “What would I do without you, boy? You’re everything to me.” 

Here is how big a dog person, and a wuss, I am: I was legitimately moved by the old man’s death because there are few things in this sick, sad, beautiful world more inveterately heartbreaking and tear-jerking than an animal and their owner being separated by the icy, immutable hand of death. 

Don’t believe me? Go ahead and watch this video of Mr. Bojangles. I dare you not to weep uncontrollably by the end. I dare you! Yes, it’s always emotionally shattering when pets and/or their owners die but sometimes it’s narratively necessary as well. 

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After Fang’s owner dies he’s shipped to Ace (Colin MacKechnie), a tall, pouty-looking twelve year old boy who looks like he was cloned from Mick Jagger’s DNA and lives to play the drums skillfully and passionately. Alas, he’s the new kid in school, which in movies like this inherently makes him an outcast relentlessly bullied by cartoonish monsters. 

Ace has a crush on new classmate Skylar, whose quirky looks made me think of her as Li’l Lauren Lapkus. Unfortunately Skylar is under the Stalin-like control of two popular mean girls who do not take kindly to her troublesome habit of “reading” and “thinking” and “looking at books” instead of devoting her entire body and soul to an all-consuming quest for popularity. 

When these impossibly terribly, atrociously acted pint-sized horrors see Skylar doing something that might qualify as thoughtful they shoot her a look that implicitly but strongly conveys, “If we see you reading for pleasure ever again we will get our hands on a shank and we will stab you with that shank over and over and over again until you’re spurting blood and gradually bleed out, and then we’ll do the same to your family and your pet dog.”

These aren’t garden variety mean girls: they’re evil incarnate, the Charles Mansons of the Middle School lunch room. When these awful, awful little girls see Skylar furtively attempting to learn about science against their wishes, they say “Studying, OMG?” and then “Studying is for geeks!” If you’re in middle school and someone talks to you like that, you’re legally and socially allowed to smack them hard. No court in the world would convict you. 

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Skylar instantly falls in love with our handsome hero but when the mean girls discover that the hunky new student’s mother is, of all things a teacher instead of, I dunno, Beyonce or Elon Musk or Taylor Swift or somebody they might consider cool, they deem Ace an Untouchable, the lowest of the low, human garbage unworthy of the cost of the gasoline and match it would take to set him publicly on fire as a warning to others who might be tempted to non-conform. 

Then in music class one day Ace is playing the drums and falls down, a moment of infinite public humiliation captured on the camera phones of everyone in class. If having a parent who works as a teacher was strike number one, then committing the unforgivable social mistake of falling down once is strike number 2,3,4,5,6,7 and 8. It’s the kind of humiliation that’s impossible to come back from, that will outlast and outlive Ace’s short life and haunt the doomed lives of his progeny as well. 

Ace manages to accidentally fling a drumstick into the groin of the school’s evil Principal, who doubles as the high school’s biggest hater. Seriously, that dude hates his own school the way Donald Trump hates everyone and everything. In real life, hitting an evil authority figure squarely in the nut sack your first day at school would grant you legendary status forever among your peers. Here it’s just another random, groin-injury themed gag. 

 This is also a movie that exists, that I will happily receive money to watch and write about.

This is also a movie that exists, that I will happily receive money to watch and write about.

Thankfully Ace has a secret weapon in the form of Fang, who is not your dad’s vampire dog. Fang is not interested in keeping a harem of vampire wives sexually in thrall to him or sinking his fangs into the juicy jugular veins of the living, draining them of their life force and their essence and cursing them to walk the earth for eternity in a mad, insatiable hunt for human blood. 

No, Fang is not that kind of a vampire. He’s not, you know, a “real” vampire as we know them in any sense. He’s more of a sassy, explosively flatulent pal who teaches you to believe in yourself and pursue your dreams no matter what. He’s less a Bram Stoker-style vampire so much as he’s a fart-prone life coach who happens to be eternal and also a canine.

Fang does not drink blood. Instead he has an insatiable craving for jelly, or what you or I might refer to as Jell-O brand gelatin dessert because, unlike the filmmakers, we don’t have to worry about securing permission from the Kraft foods corporation to use one of their products in a film entitled Vampire Dog. 

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Before I watched the motion picture Vampire Dog I didn't even know that vampire dogs who ate off-brand Jell-O brand gelatin were a thing but within the film’s bizarre universe, wacky villainess Dr. Warhol (Amy Matysio) not only knows that undead, eternal vampire dogs roam the earth consuming Jell-O, she also somehow knows that vampire dog DNA is the secret ingredient for the anti-aging formula that will fuel her comeback. 

Now at this point you might be wondering about the realism of the film’s premise. Astonishingly, Neil DeGrasse Tyson worked on Vampire Dog as a consultant and says that it and Halloween III: Season of the Witch are the only two scientifically accurate films ever made. He went on to say that they weren’t horror or science fiction or fantasy so much as they’re science fact, dispatches from tomorrow. 

The amazing thing about Vampire Dog is that the dog doesn’t start talking until twenty-five minutes into the film. Considering that Macdonald’s participation is the film’s only real commercial drawing point, beyond kid’s enduring fascination with dogs and vampires and dogs that are also vampires and vampires that are also dogs, that seems a little perverse. But it has the effect of making audiences obscenely grateful for the presence of a bona fide star in the midst of a perversely bland, amateurish affair. 

At the risk of damning Macdonald with the world’s faintest praise. He is easily the best part of the motion picture Vampire Dog.

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It takes 25 minutes for Macdonald to make like the title character in A Talking Cat!?! and get busy with the chit-chat because the movie has a lot of plot, conflicts and plot points to work through, all of them ridiculous, none of them necessary. 

For example, we learn that the evil Principal of the school, whose questionable approach to education is exemplified by his apparently compulsive need to tell his students that they suck, instead of giving the tools and education they need to suck less, is in cahoots with Dr. Warhol and plans to turn the school into a business centered around Warhol’s miraculous, Vampire Dog-DNA-based anti-aging formula. 

HOWEVER, and this is very important and also very realistic, IF Lugosi High puts on an impressive performance at a multi-school Battle of the Bands, then the failing school will be turned into a Fine Arts charter school, something the movie presents as a happy ending when it’s really just opening up a whole new can of worms. 

I personally think charter schools are a recipe for disaster. I also think that the comments section for a Control Nathan Rabin 4.0 article on a movie called Vampire Dog is the perfect place for educators and parents to vigorously debate the merits of charter schools versus public education. Have at it, brainy weirdoes! 

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Making the school’s outcome dependent on a film-ending Battle of the Bands that our bland hero will undoubtedly play a central role in writes the movie into such a corner that it pretty much HAS to end with a twelve year old boy delighting his peers and parents with an extended drum solo, easily the least liked form of music this side of the 3-hour solo kazoo recital.

God bless Vampire Dog, it does climax with a tween bashing his drum set really hard, to the delight of everyone blessed enough to see and hear him. This marks the first time in human history that an extended drum solo from a child got a positive, let alone ecstatic reception. 

The evil, would-be dognappers are captured mumbling something to the police about needing the DNA of a vampire dog, Ace gets the girl, the school is saved and Fang finally gets to gallivant about in the sun like a regular dog without worrying about dying instantly. 

Macdonald’s longtime trademark as a performer has been a winking, post-modern irony that allows him to exist simultaneously inside and outside of whatever garbage he’s gracing with his presence. You’d imagine that would hold true here but Macdonald commits to the material in a way I found surprising. He brings an awful lot of personality and humor and even heart to the profoundly ridiculous role of a vampire dog who teaches life lessons when not breaking wind or hunting for Jell-O. 

Yes, Vampire Dog is an astonishingly stupid motion picture but thanks largely to Macdonald’s over-achieving voice work, it was, to put things in The Flop House terms, good-bad, an almost impressively idiotic juvenile romp. 

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I’m happy I chose Vampire Dog because it allowed me to continue to chronicle direct-to-video kid’s films about wacky talking animals. If you want me to continue this groundbreaking work, I would be happy to cover films such as A Talking Pony!?! and Easter Bunny Puppy, both from the director of A Talking Cat!?! in exchange for cash money. I’m a weirdo, to be sure, but also one who has to be able to make a living. 

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