Welcome to Vampire Valentines!
This blog series in honor of Valentine’s Day is where I fangirl throughout the month of February about some of my favorite takes in multimedia on vampires, dhampirs, and their blood-sucking ilk.
It’s time to introduce you to my favorite family-friendly vampires: the Sackville-Bagg family from The Little Vampire.
I absolutely adore this movie, which is a wonderful mixture of comedic camp and gothic drama. Loosely based on the series of novels by Angela Sommer-Bodenberg, The Little Vampire is about the friendship that forms between a lonely human boy named Tony Thompson (played by Jonathan Lipnicki) and a vampire named Rudolph Sackville-Bagg (played by Rollo Weeks), who has been nine years old for the past three centuries. Tony is lonely, homesick for his native San Diego, and mercilessly bullied by his Scottish classmates. Having recurring nightmares about a gathering of vampires doesn’t help. But Tony’s wish for a friend comes true when Rudolph flies into his room one night, seeking shelter from an attack by Rookery (played by Jim Carter), a professional vampire hunter. Later, Tony meets the rest of the Sackville-Bagg family: the stern and autocratic father Frederick, the gentle and accepting mother Freda, lovesick little sister Anna, and rebellious elder brother Gregory. As Rookery closes in on them, Tony tries to help his new friends find a special magical amulet that can free them from the curse of being a vampire.
Vampirism in The Little Vampire seems to be transferred by biting a victim one time and allowing them to live. (This apparently works for cows as well as humans.) It takes a little time for the victim to fully turn into a vampire, but the process starts quickly. Vampires desire human blood, but are capable of living off of cow blood as a substitute, something that Rudolph’s father insisted on as a way to emphasize that vampires “are family, not fiends.” While they can turn into bats and can be awake during the day (even if sunlight still harms them) they have a ton of traditional weaknesses, most notably bright lights and crosses. Too much exposure to such things weakens them, making them unable to transform or fly. However, becoming a vampire doesn’t seem to change one’s personality. Aside from their supernatural abilities, the vampires in this film are far more human than the ones in the James Asher series or in Sunshine. In fact, the Sackville-Bagg clan explicitly wants to break the “curse” of vampirism and return to being human.
Despite their numerous vampiric tropes, the Sackville-Bagg family is visually unique in this film. I love their tattered-Baroque aesthetic. All of them wear the shredded remnants of ancient finery and have wonderfully grey undead complexions. You can believe that they’ve been “living” in the same clothes and hiding out in crypts for three hundred years. We don’t get to spend too much time with the majority of the Sackville-Bagg family (since the film is only 94 minutes long), but they leave an impact. Gregory (played by Dean Cook) has taken his traditional clothes and modified them into a more punk-goth look, including spiked hair, that reflects his rebellious nature. Freda (played by Alice Krige) is very calm, also disconnected from reality, but probably the most level-headed of the bunch. Anna (played by Anna Popplewell) almost immediately develops a crush on Tony and you get the feeling she’s spent a great deal of time reading old books of chivalry and romance. Best of all is the delightfully earnest but over-the-top performance from Richard E. Grant who plays Frederick. He is very strict, often over-dramatic, and sometimes a bit scary, but he is completely devoted to protecting his family from discovery by the outside world. Several times throughout the film he puts himself in harms way to protect them, and it’s quite touching. He’s definitely my favorite vampire here.
But really, the deep, lasting charm of this film comes from the characters and their interactions. All of the actors and actresses are quite good in their roles and many seem to be enjoying themselves immensely as they ham it up or chew up the scenery. If you haven’t gotten a chance, I highly recommend renting the 2000 version of The Little Vampire from your local library or stream it online. It’s a cheerful, slightly goofy, but well-done vampire film the whole family can enjoy.