Half star

[Written in February 2022 -Ed.]

I’ll confess I was bored when it happened. There was absolutely nothing on the tube when I started scrolling through Sling’s channel grid. It’s deep winter, the third year of the pandemic, my house is getting smaller each day, and things are getting on my nerves. I need amusement. I saw a new reality show on The Travel Channel – Vampires in America- in the middle of the channel schedule. 

When you think reality TV could not get crazier, The Travel Channel has picked up the most unbelievable show imaginable. This program is about two guys who claim to be full-time vampire hunters. Yes, America is chock full of real vampires – not lifestylists or aging Goths – I’m talking about the real As-Seen-on-TV supernatural, bloodsucking creatures of the night. They look and act just like us, are charming and alluring, and maybe in the toothpaste aisle at Walgreens like everyone else. Or so these guys said.  

Eric Streit and Marcel von Tingen are our roving slayers on a mission to rid the southwest of a vampiric contagion. It seems both have a history of encounters with vampires.

Streit says that he had his first encounter with a vampire in Scotland, and the vamp was “… well-dressed, mesmerizing, and I felt drawn in, but while you’re being drawn in, there’s a sense of dread. But then, fangs. That broke the spell.” 

For Von Tingen, it’s the family business: “I come from 25 generations of vampire hunters. Hearing the stories from my grandfather and from my father, vampires are so dangerous because they’re hiding in plain sight. They look like us. They talk like us. They could be in the grocery aisle, in the post office. They could be your doctor. They could be your next-door neighbor. They could even be your priest.” – Right.

And, off they go, setting records straight about the reality of vampires by using every trope from the genre in existence. First of all, Dracula was not a fictional novel; it was a vampire dictating his story to Bram Stoker. [Interview With the Vampire] Vamps are not human. They evolved differently and are another species. [Fevre DreamThe Hunger] They also have an elaborate social structure and hierarchy of elders [Vampire: The MasqueradeThe Strain]. 

With this bit of mythology established, the pair arrive in Tuscon, AZ, to investigate “a surprising rise in unexplained deaths.” Rejecting the notion of violent crime, the duo assures us this is a sign of vampires. The incontrovertible evidence to support this conclusion is the long history of cattle mutilations in the desert around Tucson. [Every other UFO Show on Discovery Networks and the works of Linda “Moldy Hole*” Howe] Finding clues, Streit and von Tingen go running around in surprisingly unguarded and deserted truck parks at night armed with a shotgun and machete. It seems a stake in the heart is no longer a thing, and decapitation is the only way to dispatch bloodsuckers. 

Of course, two armed men running around armed in the dark is perfectly normal in a country like the US, where everyone is armed and on a hair-trigger. They interview supposed victims and witnesses. Using a whiz-bang database called the V-Net [Holy SciFi computer graphics, Batman!], they find vampires have encircled Tucson and established a feeding base there. [From Dusk to Dawn] A clutch of vampires have come out of hibernation and are running amok. [The Vampire Lestat]  After more running around in deserted locations, the two men examine vampire graffiti tags. [The vegan symbol or maybe a nod to Count Duckula; the Brujah Clan symbol from Vampire: The Masquerade] Consulting the V-Net, our heroes confirm there is a head vampire at work. Said head vampire came over with the rest of the European vamps during the American Civil War. [Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter] Head Vamp is now wealthy with a nationwide vampire network ready to wreak nefarious havoc on humanity. [The Strain]. According to von Tingen, head vampires are always European because Americans are always vulgar and socially inept, even in the world of the Undead. 

Ridiculous premise aside, the show is presented in standard paranormal style “reality” TV show format. Sadly, that doesn’t work with the vampire plot because vampires aren’t making noises or breaking wind off stage. There are just too few bumps in the night or spooky doings to keep viewers interested. Scares are few and far between, limited to opening empty wooden crates and peering into deserted rooms. Suspense is also limited to watching two middle-aged men running around in dusty parking lots, storage centers, and old buildings. We see one young, trim man smartly dressed in leather and running away from the hunters. This man is supposed to be a vampire. Yawn. Location exterior shots are a problem, too. As one viewer noted, the film footage is not of Tucson but footage of LA. After 45 minutes of running, driving, slow-paced yakking, and more commercial cliffhangers/recaps than anyone can stand, there is just not enough main story arc to hold the viewer. 

Casting is TERRIBLE! The actors portraying the witnesses and “victims” are so wooden I’m guessing all answered an ad on Craigslist for a $15-weekend gig. The strangely buff young farmer seemed to strike poses a lot. I think he’s trying to build a modeling portfolio. Streit’s acting is limited to gasps, serious close-ups, and a stuntman shoulder roll under an abandoned truck trailer. Von Tingen does little more than remain silent and bring Teutonic iciness and a bit of Euro-chic to the show. 

The runtime is over 1 hour 50 minutes, which is 1 hour too long. I found myself getting impatient and zapping through the show. It’s dreadfully boring. Unless the duo breaks up a nest of vampires, who all turn out to be well-known Republican politicians, and vampires’ heads start rolling, there is little reason for continued viewing. Since that didn’t happen, it’s time to flip the channel.

Let’s get to the big reveal [ cue Ghosthunters music] and the heart of the matter – the two “vampire hunters.” In real life, these are the program’s two producers who have previously done reality shows and documentaries for Discovery and related networks. 

Mullet wearing Eric Streit, is a colorful person. A Kentucky native, he’s a stunt man, actor, producer, and one-time Democratic candidate for the US House. His past credits show he was writer and producer for the shows “Trip Testers” (2016), “Snake Man of Appalachia” (2012), and “Little People, Big World” (2006). Allegedly Vampires in America is based on Streit’s 2015 self-published novel, Vampire Killers of Route 66.

Less is known about “Marcel von Tingen.” In real life he’s Marcel Schaal and the owner/president of Oregon-based ASG Media Company. His LinkedIn page lists him as a producer and audio supervisor. His personal Facebook page does say he’s a German air force veteran, so I’m guessing that part is accurate. 

Though this is a novel premise for a reality TV show, it does not translate well in the paranormal genre. There is no suspense, no scares, and no story. The writers need something new instead of recycling old literary plots. If the show accomplished anything, Vampires in America did prove there is a limit to viewers’ credulity in an increasingly credulous world. This show is reportedly a pilot for a new paranormal adventure on the Travel Channel. Even though the bar is very low for this genre, the show’s ratings are so abysmal, it now resides on the Discovery+ streaming service. I give one-half star for effort and curing insomnia, and even that is too much. 

*Linda Moulton Howe is a well-known figure in UFO circles. She alleges aliens from space are killing livestock for some nefarious purpose. James W. Mosely, a noted UFO researcher and hoaxer, christened her Linda “Moldy Hole” in his Saucer Smear newsletter. He enlightened me of the moniker over 15 years ago during my email correspondence with him. I still laugh when I think of it.