Horror comedy is such a subjective film genre. Hell, comedy in general is tough enough because what’s funny to me might be completely boring to you. So how do you tread into that territory with horror? I think the key factor here is the intention behind the movie. There are a ton of the “so bad it’s funny” films that will be sure to get a laugh if you are watching them with friends and a few adult beverages, but then there are horror films that are specifically trying to be funny. Films like Slither, Terrorvision, Shaun of the Dead, and An American Werewolf in London come to mind as some of my personal favorites., These films take many of the classic horror tropes like blood and monsters and specifically poke fun at them, or use them as a punchline. Conor McMahon’s 2021 film Let the Wrong One In wades into the territory of horror parody, where the entire film is a series of jokes and punchlines, paying homage or winking to the camera by specifically highlighting vampire flicks and poking fun at them. Even the name is a play on the 2008 novel and cinematic adaptation of the same name Let the Right One In.
The film tells the story of a young supermarket worker who discovers that his brother has been turned into a vampire and he has to decide if he is going to help or kill him. It is set up pretty quickly that Matt (Karl Rice) is a responsible kid, as he comes downstairs dressed for work and makes his Ma (Hilda Fay) breakfast, while his estranged brother Deco (Eoin Duffy) is currently waking up on some random lawn looking like 40 miles of bad road after a night of partying. Deco seems to be having some problems with sunlight, as his skin starts to smoke when he is exposed, so he makes his way over to Matt’s house for help, but the problem is that Deco was kicked out of his Ma’s house and never allowed to return. After some back and forth between Matt and Deco and hiding from Ma, Deco is finally let into the house and reveals everything that has been going on with him. It doesn’t take long for Matt to decide that Deco has been turned into a vampire.
Some of the typical vampire tropes are here as Deco has no reflection in the mirror and he has an aversion to the garlic french fries that Matt offers him. However, it isn’t really a true vampire film if there isn’t an old wizened “Van Helsing” character who is trying to kill him. Let the Wrong One In provides this through a taxi driver/vampire hunter named Henry, who is brilliantly played by Anthony Head from Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Repo the Genetic Opera fame. It turns out that Henry’s fiance Sheila (Mary Murray) was having a bachelorette party in Transylvania where she was bitten and turned into a vampire. Now she is working her way through Dublin partying and turning as many people into vampires as she can. So it is Henry’s mission to find and stop her while killing all of the vampires along the way. Every character in the film is specifically played to be over the top caricatures of themselves, but Head plays Henry completely straight and that’s what makes it work. Henry also has a hilarious obsession with trains that may or may not cause him some serious trouble in the second act of the film.
Horror comedies are a tough sell, but horror parodies are even tougher. There is a fine balance between how long a film can make jokes using classic tropes and when they have finally overstayed their welcome. Let the Wrong One In doesn’t always keep this balance. At times the parody jokes linger just a bit too long, such as an extended training montage of Henry teaching Matt how to kill vampires in his backyard, and a prolonged game of cat and mouse where Deco is trying to eat Matt. With the majority of the film being shot in the close quarters of Matt’s house, McMahon relies on a lot of quick edits to be able to sell the stunts and gags, but it doesn’t always work out. In several scenes, it is very obvious where one shot ends and the other begins. Granted this has everything to do with budget as it takes a lot of money to build a big set and hire a bunch of stunt performers to make everything look sharp, but other low-budget films have been able to accomplish this with some clever editing. Pacing and editing aside, there are some pretty funny gags interspersed throughout the first and second act, but it just wasn’t enough to keep me hooked. There are cuts during all of the cat and mouse scenes with Matt and Deco that show Sheila organizing a giant vampire party to draw in victims, thus setting up the finale.
For a brief moment, McMahon touches on a really interesting idea that could have made the film really stand out for me. Matt and Deco’s relationship was destroyed because Deco has an addiction problem. We learn through a flashback that Deco sold some of his mother’s belongings in order to buy drugs and that Matt ratted him out. Deco keeps telling Matt that he has to help him because he owes him for getting him kicked out of the house, but in a pretty heartfelt scene, Matt tells Deco that he always felt like Deco chose drugs over their relationship and Deco’s newly found bloodlust was just the same. The idea of portraying a vampire as a junkie is a really interesting angle to me and one that, if explored for more than one scene of the film, could have really given Let the Wrong One In a depth that it is otherwise lacking. Granted, that would definitely shift the tone of the film but it would have easily pushed it into a more original territory beyond just being a horror parody.
Honestly, the final act of the film is a bit all over the place. Sheila and her gang of vampires kidnap Matt’s mother and plan to raffle her off at their big party and Matt must go save her without the help of Deco. Deco has turned his longtime girlfriend, Natalie (Lisa Haskins) into a vampire and they plan to live the life together, as she tells him that she loves all of that “Team Edward” stuff. Of course, Deco needs a redemption story so he shows up to save Matt and their mom, but there really isn’t enough of an epiphany moment for him that makes you feel like he has remorse for the life he has led.
In the end, Let the Wrong One In winds up feeling like a story that was written around a bunch of silly gags and not the other way around. Granted, not every film has to be serious or have a purpose but I felt like there was a good story buried in there somewhere. Just enough of those moments crept in that made me see what the film could have been, but ultimately, like Deco, they stayed in the shadows. Be sure to stick around for the first part of the credits though, as I feel like one of the best jokes of the entire movie is featured there.
If you love horror comedies, especially silly parodies, there is still plenty to enjoy about Let the Wrong One In. Although I had issues, when the jokes hit they are really funny and the cast swings for the fences with their goofy performances.
We Watched Let The Wrong One In as part of the 2021 Fantastic Fest