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The Little Vampire (2000)

Dir: Ulrich Edel. Wr: Karey Kirkpatrick, based on the novel by Angela Sommer-Bodenburg

Starring: Jonathan Lipnicki (Tony Thompson), Richard E. Grant (Frederick), Jim Carter (Rookery), Alice Krige (Freda) Rollo Weeks (Rudolph), John Wood (Lord McAshton)

From the director who bought you such family unfriendly fare as Christiane F (young girl in Berlin declines into a spiral of hard drug abuse and prostitution, before she’s sixteen) and Last Exit to Brooklyn (bad, bad times had by society’s outcasts in New York) comes an all new feature picture, The Little Vampire. But wait! It’s based upon the well known series of children’s books by Angela Sommer-Bodenburg and stars the kid from Stuart Little (the human one not the mouse) so maybe it won’t be a case of grim times had by all. And indeed it proves to be. The Little Vampire is the story of how a young boy, Tony and his family set up a new home in Scotland. Tony is the brunt of schoolyard beatings and ridicule, partly because he’s American but also due to the fact that he is insistent about his dreams of vampires and their failed ritual three hundred years ago during a ceremony at the time of a comet’s passing. And wouldn’t you know, the self-same comet is coming round for a return visit real soon. If that were not enough Tony has found a new friend in the shape of Rudolph, a dead cool dude with the emphasis on dead. Rudolph is a vampire, but a nice one that snacks on the local cows and generally avoids human contact, as do his eccentric vampire family. All very idyllic but with the comet deadline fast approaching, the vampire clans need to find a magic amulet which will free them of their curse and make them human once more. It’s a laudable aim but one that’s not shared by Rookery, a professional vampire killer whose family has been slaying the undead for four hundred years. He’s got the weapons, the knowledge and the technology to send them straight to Hell. Caveat Vampiros.

The Little Vampire is an engaging fun-filled romp from start to finish with all the ups and downs of a well-crafted story. That elusive element of the finest family films is here – screen magic. So what if the effects don’t always reach the heights of, say, Stuart Little (although the vampire cows, hanging upside down from the beams in their barn are marvellous) they are all there for the purpose of creating a magical fantasy which should appeal to all but sour faced pedants. Edel effortlessly flows from adventure (think Moonfleet), to suspense (there’s even a nice The Shining reference but don’t point it out to the kids) and comedy, even managing time to pull off some jump-out-of-your-seat scares at appropriate moments. If you are concerned that this is a bit too much for younger children (perhaps the U rating is a little lenient) then don’t be, the scares are perfectly in tune with the Roald Dahl ethos of ‘gross is fun’ and never manages to be offensive or gratuitous. Indeed as can be guessed it is with the vampires (and Tony of course) that you side, rather than with the smelly, dirty, cigar-chewing vampire hunter and his aristocratic lackeys. The vampire family are great, half Interview With A Vampire, half Salem’s Lot with a particularly dominating performance from Richard E. Grant, they also manage to be quite seductive in a hypnotic, vampire way helped by some stunning costume design. With flapping bats, graveyard shenanigans, gothic tombs, sumptuous Scottish scenery, gadgets galore, ancient rituals, chases, scares and plenty of friendship this manages to be funny, exciting and charming all at the same time. Hopefully with the current popularity for all things vampiric (in the wake of Buffy) and the magical child’s eye view of the world portrayed in the Harry Potter books, The Little Vampire will be a commercial success as well as ideal for half-term or a dreary Saturday morning. Highly recommended for the under twelves and over twenties. And do visit the splendid website which has lots of things to do and read.