With Richard’s Wedding and, now, the vampire horror-comedy Summer of Blood, it’s becoming apparent that Onur Tukel is developing a distinct on-screen persona: that of a cynical motormouth whose disaffected hipster veneer masks a core selfishness. Like Tim Heidecker’s Andy Kaufman-esque prankster from Rick Alverson’s The Comedy, Tukel’s characters prefer to turn everything into jokes, to the point that one wonders whether they have the emotional capacity to take anything seriously. Summer of Blood, then, proposes a measure of redemption for such a figure through, of all things, the bite of a vampire—a supernatural turn of events that forces this character to finally confront such issues as death, the existence of God, and, yes, other people.
But getting to that redemptive point still necessitates stomaching a litany of cringe-inducing behavior. Upon seeing his girlfriend, Jody (Anna Margaret Hollyman), propose marriage in the film’s opening scene, 40-year-old slacker Eric Sparrow (Tukel) rejects her by coming up with all sorts of ridiculous reasons that suggest a deeper commitment-phobia. And his quick-witted responses to a confrontation with a co-worker (Alex Karpovsky) who calls him out on his laziness reveal the depths of his cynicism, as he couches his pride at being the worst salesman in the office to sticking-it-to-the-man cant. His belief in such convictions, however, is challenged in Eric’s dates with three different women after his breakup with Jody, in which he shamelessly changes the worldview he voices depending on how the previous date went. Through it all, Eric gives off the sense that he’ll do or say anything to get what he wants, but unlike the people surrounding Heidecker in The Comedy, Tukel frequently has characters call him out on how self-centered he is. Eric isn’t necessarily a product of a spiritually barren environment, just a pathetic human being whose behavior we’re invited to find appallingly hilarious.
And then, one evening, Eric is approached by a vampire, Gavin (Dustin Guy Defa), who proceeds to bite him while he’s in a rare state of emotional vulnerability (Eric admits to him that he wants to die), and his journey toward a more enlightened state commences. But enlightenment doesn’t come immediately, as becoming a vampire at first turns Eric into a sex machine, and Summer of Blood’s brand of vampirism also includes a mind-control power that he uses to hypnotize his landlord into getting out of paying rent. Gradually, though, he begins to at least open himself up to the possibility of caring for others, especially once he realizes that he’s ready to settle down and start a family of his own. Or, considering how seemingly out-of-nowhere his change of heart appears to be, this could simply be a new attitude that he feels like trying out for a time.
That ambiguity is, in a nutshell, the whole strategy in Summer of Blood, in which Tukel, through this abrasive persona, seems to be playing games with his audience—not only testing our tolerance for Eric Sparrow, but daring us to actually take seriously the universal subjects his character treats with such offhand glib mockery. At least, though, this marks an advance on Richard’s Wedding, which made just about every character in its large ensemble worthy of little more than easy scorn. The insights into human nature may be as limited in Summer of Blood as it was there, but at least Tukel is able to offer a reasonably fresh spin on familiar vampire-movie tropes, giving pitiless misanthropy pedal-to-the-metal comic wit.