This What We Do in the Shadows review contains spoilers.
What We Do in the Shadows Episode 3
What We Do in the Shadows episode 3, “Werewolf Feud,” licks old wounds. Rivalries which go back tens of tens of years come to Staten Island. Tensions between vampires and werewolves didn’t start with Twilight. They go as far back as Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein. Static between energy and emotional vampires first drained our collective prana since Dion Fortune’s 1930 book Psychic Self-Defense. What We Do in the Shadows treats both of these clashes with all the reverence of long-standing traditions, with none of the respect.
British vampire Laszlo, played by Matt Berry, opens the episode with his love of topiary sculpture or, as he leeringly tags it, “bush manipulation.” Sophisticated as he strives to be, Laszlo loves trying to sexualize the mundane, although he is a rank and dank amateur next to Nadja (Natasia Demetriou), who tosses innuendo in every window she flies past. But he’s actually quite enthusiastic about the woodsy artistry. Laszlo almost breaks into a skip as he presents such bushwhacks as an Egyptian god of death and a Chimera. He is particularly proud of “The Bunny,” which actually came out the way he saw in his head. This admission is funnier because of the absolute commitment Lazslo makes to his art.
His giddy tiptoe on the tulips is tripped up by Sean, a human neighbor who is very susceptible to any suggestions the vampires make. Laszlo dispenses with the boorish man and brings the camera people to his beloved room of vulvas, topiary delights he’s named after prostitutes he’s loved, like Polly Nickels of White Chapel, 1888. He’s also put his green thumb on Nadja, Nancy Reagan and his mother. A vampire’s sense of smell is extraordinary and Laszlo sniffs out that werewolves have marked their territory all over his mother.
The vampire who made a topiary rendition of Bugs Bunny basically says “I hope you know, this means war.” Laszlo is prepared. He’s got a werewolf attack pack in storage. He is as enthusiastic about his disdain of werewolves as he is about this gardening. All the vampires have a prejudiced view of werewolves, they find them dirty, disgusting beasts. Laszlo doesn’t tell the other vampires, but sets a trap.
The vampire familiar Guillermo (Harvey Guillén), or Gizmo as Nadja calls him, is tasked with binding the wounds of the trapped werewolf. Is it dangerous? Probably, but that’s no important. One of the humorous joys of What We Do in the Shadows is the recklessly casual disregard Nandor (Kayvan Novak) shows his slave. He says disparaging and downright insulting things right in front of Guillermo.
Nandor the Relentless conquered the Ottoman Empire with a special interest in pillaging but when it comes to werewolves he occasionally relents. Part of this is due to the Lycanthrope/Vampire Agreement of 1993. The two supernatural communities live in a wary peace because of the truce. So when The Staten Island Werewolf Support Group shows up at the vampires’ home, Nandor is the voice of reason. According to the dictates werewolves and vampires cannot engage in open combat, they have to choose the best fighter of each side, a tradition that dates back to West Side Story.
The vampires and werewolves meet for battle in neutral territory, in this case the roof of an abandoned Circuit City. When the vampires see the size of the werewolves’ champion, Nandor almost balks, and it is very amusing to watch him consider getting out of the fight. The werewolf chooses teeth and claws as his weapon. Nandor goes for something much less graphic. The payoff comes with a very quick and morbid game of fetch.
The werewolf healing abilities gag pays off a few times. When the first werewolf crashes his way out the window of the vampire lair he moans “I broke my other foot.” When a werewolf is thrown into Laszlo’s prized rabbit shrub, he complains about his sciatica. As much as the supernatural elements undermine the documentary setting, the natural awkwardness of these characters’ humanness lays the mythic open to misinterpretation. It sucks to be a werewolf, compared with a vampire because it hurts longer. The werewolf pack shows up on the vampires lawn with full on pissing match initiative, but quickly begin bitching among themselves and chasing their own tails.
Evie Russell (Vanessa Bayer), the emotional vampire, and Colin Robinson (Mark Proksch) would seem a match made somewhere south of heaven, and lives up to its promise. Their duel is a great sequence. Propelled in the air by the force of empty hunger, lethargy faces off against despondency creating an insensitivity tornado right in the middle of the office. The two non-carnal feeders find a kind of passion in the dismal indifference.
Bayer and Proksch have wonderful chemistry. They are both fangless predators who fit in with any crowd. Not only do they fit in. They are barely noticed, until you want to get away. Energy and emotional vampires are the type of person you meet in any office that really drain your energy. Great place to work if it weren’t for this one person coming by your cubicle every day.
At first Colin and Evie, whose initials E.V. stand for Emotional Vampire, are rivals but soon become partners. A scene of them on an early date is reminiscent of the scene in Love at First Bite (1979) where George Hamilton and Richard Benjamin each try and subdue each other with hypnosis, only to knock out passing waiters. The Munchausen by Proxy gag is classic twisted comedy. She tells a waiter she projects her sicknesses onto her boyfriend, who then gets them, but no one believes him because she openly admits to the proxy.
Their breakup scene is also fun. Colin’s never experienced such exquisite emotional turmoil in his life, but fears it is not good for him. Evie pretends to be broken up over the breakup, and every time he starts to come back, she giggles and he realizes it’s just a last minute munch. It takes everything in him to talk away. As soon as he does, she pulls out her cellphone to share the sorrow of the breakup with someone. No, it’s not a close friend. She just wants to check on her dry cleaning. The vicious circle will play on.
The pretentions and cluelessness of the supernatural creatures work to great effect. At one point Nandor apparates on the front lawn to tell the battling werewolf and vampire contingents to be careful not to draw attention from their human neighbors. Laszlo tells him he shouldn’t appear in a puff of mist in the yard. Laszlo’s affectations are delicious. He translates his love of a particular bush in Beethovenian German, for no particular reason. It imbues the line with an air of superiority, to remind us he’s been all over and done all under. It also implies he may have personally known Ludwig van, though his timeline wouldn’t bear that out. He is just pretentious.
What We Do in the Shadows continues to poke fun at all things vampire in “Werewolf Feud.” The jokes all have bite, and the special effects go for the jugular. The players fully commit to the reverence they pay to the not-so-ancient traditions, spoofing horror movies and real life occult practices equally. The energies the actors exchange make for amusing alchemy.
What We Do in the Shadows‘ “Werewolf Feud” was written by Josh Lieb, and directed by Jemaine Clement.
What We Do in the Shadows airs Wednesdays on FX.
Culture Editor Tony Sokol cut his teeth on the wire services and also wrote and produced New York City’s Vampyr Theatre and the rock opera AssassiNation: We Killed JFK. Read more of his work here or find him on Twitter @tsokol.