Juliet Landau is greeted by a fan in her directorial feature debut A Place Among the Dead, by being asked if she is the woman from Buffy – clearly toying with her established persona, Landau sets out to play with this and vampire mythology in general. Part vampire crime drama, part faux documentary, Landau assembles a plethora of exciting talent for the talking head segment of the feature, which is spliced with narrative. The results are intriguing and sometimes atmospheric, but neither the documentary or narrative segments are given enough focus to fully engage us.
Written by Landau and cinematographer husband Deverill Weekes, the premise sees our lead actress set out to make a documentary about vampires with the help of several Hollywood pals (including Gary Oldman, Charlaine Harris, Anne Rice, Lance Henriksen, etc.), yet she is drawn into the case of vampire-serial killer Darcel, who makes brightly coloured artistic depictions of his victims.
The mock-documentary elements of A Place Among the Dead are some of the most captivating scenes with a variety of Hollywood vampire experts digging into societal fascination with the blood-sucking beasts. More than anymore, these stars know the links between the film industry’s obsession with youth paired with the sexualised, virile mythology of the vampire. Some intriguing parallels are drawn by the likes of Oldman and Rice, who dip into character to warn Landau to avoid delving into the subject matter for her own safety. This is when the narrative elements creep in and unfortunately, these talking head moments become less frequent.
The narrative elements feel slightly less captivating and more muddled as Landau becomes fixated on the case of Darcell – conversations to camera surrounded by boxes with the label ‘Serial Vampire Case’ attempt to showcase how deep Landau is digging into the case. Here Landau incorporates more arthouse horror stylistics, inventive camera effects – a close up of moving blood cells from under the microscope and unsettling voiceovers attempt to inject some grim horror stylistics into the project. Landau’s own narration alludes to gothic mystery in her own home, with regular reference to her parents. Hollywood favourites Martin Landau and Barbara Bain, yet it is not massively clearly what we are meant to interpret from this.
A Place Among the Dead would most likely have worked better as Landau’s hunt for a vampire serial killer or as a straight-forward documentary/mockumentary examining the parallels between Hollywood and vampire mythology. The hybrid still has moments of intrigue, but never manages to fully captivate.
A Place Among the Dead is available on digital platforms from the 9th November.