By Matt Mueller Culture Editor Published Mar 21, 2015 at 11:56 AM

Vampires have gotten a bad rap over the last decade or so, and it has little to do with the whole "nocturnal bloodsucking bat-creature devouring human life blood straight from the tap" thing. Yes, they may be the most famous pop culture monsters out there (with zombies shambling closely behind). But thanks to "Twilight" and the oversaturation that followed – including the less than beloved likes of "Vampire Academy," "Dracula Untold" and "Dark Shadows" – their presence is also the most likely to cause your eyes to roll straight out of your head.

Is it possible, though, for the monster’s creative dark age to also serve as a renaissance? Because while the recent vampire trend has provided some pretty craterous, sell-out lows (re: anything involving sparkling and baseball) it’s also spawned a fair amount of impressive highs for the notorious neck-nibblers.

The Swedish thriller "Let the Right One In" (and its strong American counterpart "Let Me In") came out right at the beginning of "Twilight" mania, gathering a cult audience with its haunting, chilly creepiness and a swimming pool finale that’s one of the all-time greats (and could also scare any bully into a boy scout). Jim Jarmusch’s fangs-out hang-out "Only Lovers Left Alive" is not only a great vampire movie, but just a great movie period, one that bleeds effortless cool.

And now you can add "What We Do in the Shadows" to that list, a hilarious New Zealand import from long-time Kiwi cohorts Jemaine Clement ("Flight of the Conchords") and Taika Waititi ("Eagle vs. Shark") that gushes goofy laughs like a comedy hemophiliac.

Filmed in a faux-doc style (that’s right; two hacky, overdone entertainment trends brought to life in one!), "What We Do in the Shadows" follows four bloodsucking flatmates living in secret in Wellington.

The dandy Viago (Waititi) serves as housemother, prissily nagging about five years' worth of unwashed dishes in the sink and laying down towels and newspaper before dining on a victim. Vladislav (Clement) was once one of the most feared vampires – his nickname: Vladislav the Poker – but after a brutal encounter with "the beast," his hypnosis and shape-shifting powers have weakened. He still has his old school beliefs though; smash cut to him declaring, "We should have slaves!" at a flat meeting.

Deacon (Jonathan Brugh) is the young playboy of the group, coming in at a youthful 183 years old, while in the basement lays 8,000-year-old Petyr (Ben Fransham), who’s a little too vicious – and looks too much like Count Orlok from "Nosferatu" – to roam around the Wellington nightlife with the guys. He mostly stays in his stone casket, sated by the occasional passerby or live chicken offering.

Other than the occasional spat about chores, the vampires live comfortably together wandering the streets at night in their finest (as well as frilliest), performing ancient erotic dances for one another and playing hypnotic tricks on their victims. However, when Petyr turns one of those victims (Cori Gonzalez-Macuer) into a vampire, he unsettles the house, becoming rivals with the former young buck Deacon, bringing a dull human pal Stu into the flat and telling all in sight about being a vampire. He also introduces the sheltered fellows to the wonders of the Internet – and, for Vladislav, Facebook’s poke button – and modern technology, so it’s not a complete loss. Plus, they like Stu. Stu’s cool (for a plump, bloody human).

Unlike many recent vampire comedy riffs (angrily glares over at 2010’s "Vampires Suck"), "What We Do in the Shadows" doesn’t rely on pop culture references and easy "sparkly vampires lol" jokes. Instead, Clement and Waititi commit to bringing their sense of straight-faced daffiness to the idea of classic Bram Stoker vampires trying to function together in the real world. In their hands, it turns out to be an artery pumping full of comedic potential, with dryly delivered jokes, visual gags and macabre fun splattering everywhere.

The dialogue is wonderfully silly, with Vladislav vulgarly but kinda logically explaining why they prefer virgin’s blood and their run-ins with a band of roaming werewolves – "not swear-wolves," as their teacherly leader (fellow "Flight of the Conchords" vet Rhys Darby) insists. For fans of the HBO folk comedy group’s stumblingly dopey interactions and mishaps, there’s plenty more of that here – more often than not finding a laugh.

Where the movie gets its biggest cackles, though, is from its hilarious sight gags, dished out with droll abandon. From the vampires’ little floaty flights to Viago’s messy, finicky attempts to drink an exploding artery to seeing a crowded vampire party through a mirror (pro tip: not much to see), "What We Do in the Shadows" piles on the inspired goofy visuals. It’s a movie where a place called The Cathedral of Despair winds up being the cozy, unassuming Victoria Bowling Club. 

Even some of the film’s darker moments – like the camera crew following a helpless victim chased around the mansion – are delightfully packed with giggly sights like Deacon crawling out of a backpack and Vladislav’s hissing face attached to a cat. Deadly chases aren’t often this wickedly funny. 

Clement and Waititi commit just as much to the mockumentary format as well, not just lazily shaking the camera and using it for exposition. They imitate the dramatic archival B-roll and talking head interviews perfectly, as well as a late "Forensic Files"-ready dramatic recreation. The actors play off the cameras to humorous effect as well, especially Clement and Waititi themselves, easily snagging laughs from simple side-eye glances and awkward smiles to the lens. Jim from "The Office" would be proud.

The rest of the fanged gang is hilarious as well. Perhaps its most impressive trick, however, is giving these murderous creatures some palpable heart and sweetness. A character like Viago may try to gulp down blood straight from the carotid, but he also still misses his former love, who found someone else while he was lost at sea. When the guys team up at the end to protect boring fleshy-faced Stu from other hellions, it’s almost touching. Not that a joke is far behind.

As for the story, it’s jumpy and thin, having more than a short film's worth but perhaps not quite enough for feature-length. And of course, not all of the jokes hit. For instance, a subplot involving Deacon’s human servant and accomplice (played by a gamely vindictive and exhausted Jackie van Beek) plays pretty dark and mean without the big laughs to soften the bite.

Still, unlike poor messy Viago, "What We Do in the Shadows" hits the right vein more often than not, making it another new vampire movie more alive than undead. 

Matt Mueller Culture Editor

As much as it is a gigantic cliché to say that one has always had a passion for film, Matt Mueller has always had a passion for film. Whether it was bringing in the latest movie reviews for his first grade show-and-tell or writing film reviews for the St. Norbert College Times as a high school student, Matt is way too obsessed with movies for his own good.

When he's not writing about the latest blockbuster or talking much too glowingly about "Piranha 3D," Matt can probably be found watching literally any sport (minus cricket) or working at - get this - a local movie theater. Or watching a movie. Yeah, he's probably watching a movie.