The directorial debut from Juliet Landau, known to most of us as the demonic vampire, Drusilla in Joss Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer is making its appearance in time for the Hallowe’en weekend. Landau has stuck to what she knows and what we expect by keeping with the vampire theme, but this time delving in to a more factual exploration of our current fascination with the undead. Landau plays herself in this pseudo-documentary, as she follows up on a serial murder case for her TV show, only to find out that the person behind these murders will lead her to confront her past demons in a society that so often keeps them hidden.
A Place Among the Dead has an almost Eraserhead quality to it, while not quite as jarring, there’s a certain bizarreness that is never really acknowledged; a feeling that you accept as part of the narrative. The film is peppered with various well-known talking heads, Gary Oldman, Joss Whedon and Anne Rice to name a few. There’s an uneasiness about some of the interviewees, specifically Oldman where he seems almost unnerved at Juliet’s constant pursuit of the fantasy and reality of society’s obsession with vampires. We’re never really sure why he tries to dissuade her from digging deeper into this world, but there are plenty of possibilities which prove more intriguing than actually knowing the truth. The interviews do provide some substance but they could have easily been removed completely, there is definitely a Netflix True Crime feel to them, which would work if it had been fully fleshed out but they seem a little like a second thought, or an idea that has been overshadowed by Juliet’s story.
Throughout A Place Among the Dead we’re immersed in what we can only assume is a snippet of Landau’s past, a mix of old photographs and disheartening put-downs like “you’re not good enough” and “you’re not normal” reverberate and add context to one another and perhaps to Juliet’s persistence at the task in hand, as well as connecting this feeling of Otherness to the undead and the fantastical, an common interpretation. Somewhere where people rejected by society feel like they’ve been accepted. Her past is seemingly the driving force behind her passion for capturing this story on film and trying to make a name for herself by producing this TV show.
A Place Among the Dead has some superbly surreal moments, actually, so much of it is otherworldly that you’re just sort of along for the ride, but the ride, albeit a bit silly at times, is fun and reminds us of why we wore that black lipstick for so long. Landau could be accused of playing it safe and sticking to a genre we’d expect, but she drags us back into the past she’s so well remembered for and despite its slightly fragmented format, all we can really do is enjoy it.