Teletoon shows fangs in 'Babysitter Vampire'
Vampires, kids and comedy.
It's a formula that goes all the way back to "Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein" and one Teletoon is applying to their first-ever live action TV movie "My Babysitter's a Vampire" (premiering Saturday, Oct. 9 at 7 p.m. ET).
The pre-Halloween treat stars several young Canadian actors and was shot this past spring in Toronto and Dundas, Ont. With the vampire craze showing no signs of waning, 13 episodes of a follow-up series have already been shot. They're scheduled to air sometime in 2011 on Teletoon.
The movie, produced by Emmy-winning creators Tom McGillis and Jennifer Pertsch ("6Teen"), centres on Ethan and Benny, a pair of Grade 9 geeks played by Matthew Knight and Atticus Mitchell.
Ethan suffers the ultimate teen humiliation — being assigned a babysitter — after he and his buddy are caught goofing off when they should have been looking out for Ethan's little sister.
The babysitter they expect, however, is not the one they get. Sarah (Vanessa Morgan from "The Latest Buzz") is a smoking hot senior and Ethan's secret crush. Little do they know that a bite from her boyfriend has transformed her into a vampire.
Writer Tim Burns has been down the horror path before. He co-wrote the feature films "An American Werewolf on Paris" and "Freaked." His kid TV credits include scripts for "Star Wars: The Clone Wars" and "Carl Squared."
He says the key to writing a horror film for kids is to think like a 12 year old and keep the horror part real.
"It's all about how you scream and how you wet your pants on the way out the door," says Burns, who jokes that he generally manages to keep his "inner adult" in check.
Certain rules apply with ‘tween television, says Burns. You have to steer clear of blood and violence, to say nothing of the sexual taboos at work in adult dramas like HBO's kinky vampire saga "True Blood."
Still, the average 12-year-old today, says Burns, is probably watching "South Park" and "Robot Chicken." As Burns says, "their sensibilities are a lot broader than what the rules will allow you to do (on a children’s channel)."
Burns, who has an eight-year-old at home, can also see the parental guidance side of it. The challenge for writers and producers of ‘tween television, therefore, is to balance material that is scary and funny enough for the kids while still acceptable for parents.
"My Babysitter's a Vampire" does a nice job of walking that fine line. There are plenty of references to the "Twilight" books and movies (called "Dusk" in this movie, with characters saying things like, "How can you date someone who doesn't like ‘Dusk?'").
There are shades of "Vampire Diaries," too, with the cool kids at this high school all pale and brooding behind dark glasses. Director Bruce McDonald keeps things eerie and atmospheric and Burns's script is constantly winking at the genre.
While scares are welcome, Burns sees no reason to go for the kind of visceral shocks you find every week on "True Blood."
When you lean too much on titillation, says Burns, it can backfire and get boring.
Besides, it's important to remember that this story is really all about "two goofs being chased by vampires," he says.
"The more I can just focus in on that and what I remember as my own Mad magazine sensibility, I'm happy."
Burns has nothing but praise for the up-and-coming all Canadian cast, which also includes 16-year-old Cameron Kennedy as Ethan and Benny's nerdy pal Rory. Burns says Kennedy and Mitchell are the comedy scene stealers in the spin-off series.
"Mitchell has one of those great Jim Carrey/Muppet faces," he says.
Burns has no idea why the whole vampire craze continues to fascinate younger TV viewers but he's glad it still does. Others have suggested vampires are the ultimate teen fantasy — they're immortal, they stay young forever, they're like rock stars with fangs.
"If you look at the way they're portrayed now, it's not the ghoulish, Bela Lugosi thing anymore, it's more the sexy bad boy image," Burns agrees. "Everybody's James Dean, they're all really cool."
Teletoon took the pitch from Toronto-based Fresh TV and turned it around in record time in order to cash in on the vampire craze, says Burns.
There was probably no rush; vampires look to be babysitting ‘tweens on TV for many a full moon.
Bill Brioux is a freelance TV columnist based in Brampton, Ont.