The Ketchup Vampires
Not all movies begin life as just that. Sometimes film and TV enjoy a symbiotic relationship, and we see a series edited 'seamlessly' into a feature film. Maybe it's just two or three episodes in a row, flowing as naturally as it can. Sometimes whole shows are crunched together. Such is the case for The Ketchup Vampires...
At the Castle Ravenstein lives an odd collection of characters. There's teen girl Bella and her kooky scientist grandfather, and a family of vampires. But not just any, they are ketchup vampires, who have sworn off blood in favour of a vegetarian diet. But their relatives are still vengeful, not only for their betrayal, but their theft of Dracula's sacred book. Integral to the creation of new bloodsucking vampires, it's needed for the upcoming Matura festival, held every 30 years. Will it be a success this time, or will the wider vampire community have to accept ketchup as the future?...
The Ketchup Vampires is a cheesy low-budget cartoon from the mid-90s. On first glance it looks fairly normal, but when you watch it you realise just how bizarre it is! Narrated by the Mistress of the Dark herself, Elvira, it tells the story of the titular family and their friends, all living together in their castle/tomato sauce factory. It sounds simple going in, and on paper it is. But the opening minutes alone show what we're in for...
The Ketchup Vampires was originally a German series, running for 2 seasons and 26 episodes. And for and American release it was compressed it into a single movie! This results in a dense and disjointed film. There's narration stringing scenes together, and explaining things for us rather than showing naturally. Events are raced through with no time to settle, and the stories feel rushed. You can tell what short snippets would've been their own episodes! The dialogue also hasn't been altered enough to support this new structure.
To describe the pace with one scene, the vampire boys are sent out to look for the book (and get a moon-tan while they're at it). As Elvira narrates, "But the students were quickly discovered". And she means it too, because literally one second later we cut to Pino looking at the sky going "Those students are vampires!".
If they had've changed the dialogue and kept more character scenes, maybe this could have worked as 2 part film, or ideally, spread the two plots across a pair of films. Makes you wonder what the actual sequel will be about!
This all sounds like it makes for a very confusing film, and it is. But despite this, Ketchup Vampires is a lot of fun! Sometimes in a cheesy ironic way, other times it's a genuinely enjoyable watch. I would gladly watch a full series of this, and that'd probably answer any questions I have, and feel way better when not crammed into one package.
The vampire lore here is fairly simple, and might not entirely make sense (like how do vampires age or have kids?), but is fun. Every 30 years the bad vampires create a new generation of bloodsuckers with the Matura book. It's a little unclear how this is supposed to work, but ah well. With no means of getting blood(?) they are reduced to eating blood sausage. Meanwhile, our protagonists are able to survive on tomato sauce just fine! The book also has many other secrets and tricks of Dracula's, which come in handy for the heroes.
The cast of characters in Ketchup Vampires is numerous and underdeveloped. It's hard keeping track of everyone, and not only do many have poor introductions, many don't really get the time they need. Young lad Pino is ostensibly the lead, and nice enough. Teenage human Bella meanwhile is spunky and sweet. And also a badass with her very matter-of-fact line about being used in a trap The pair's romance is out-of-nowhere, as they go from friends to lovey-dovey in the second half. But this is is a nice development.
Pino's parents, Margaret and Maurice, are a nice couple (and so old after only 30 years!), although come across as forcible vegans! They're also generous to a fault, and will accept any random baby that strange vampire teenagers will give them. This new baby is then kidnapped as a bargaining chip, which is a roundabout plan! Their part in the climax amounts to 'We'd go with you but we have a factory to run'.
Vampire baby Chubby is a cute enough, albeit entirely unnecessary addition, and has a cute relationship with Bully, the villains' gentle giant manservant. Although the compressed plot robs them of some big scenes.
Then there's Siegfried, a random relation who doesn't really add much, Bella's daffy and inventive grandfather, and her uncle Leo, a melodramatic failed actor. Dr. Ravenstein's gadgets and potions help out a fair bit, eventually transforming himself into a bat to aid the heroes at the end (resulting in some accidental indecent exposure!).
After being freed from Huberta, Hugo the bat gets a cute/sappy romance with Rosie. They become the leads for a while, and the others disappear for almost 15 minutes! In no time they already have babies, and they're good bat kids! Not only well-spoken and intelligent for newborns, but have a strong sense of right and wrong.
The villains are equally plentiful. There's nefarious cousin Hilga, and her associate Ricardo, who scheme to get the book back. While in the second act the Grandmaster takes centre stage, after his discovery of Dracula's magic ring restores his youth and mind. It's funny seeing such a cute innocent character become so different once he's got his wits about him. There's also a group of vampire kids, but they do next to nothing.
Vampire girl Huberta gets much of the focus, particularly in the second half. She becomes instrumental in the Master's plan, and randomly falls in love with Pino. She's a bitch, and thoroughly rude, but in a way that's fun to watch. I did wonder if she would end up reforming, but it's fun seeing her be bad.
The voice acting here is mixed. Most of it is pretty decent, a lot is over-the-top, and while some performances range from average to cute, some might annoy. Particularly Huberta, whose nasal and whiny delivery could amuse, or drive you to insanity. They all fit their characters though, which is good for any dub. And of course there's Elvira narrating, and she's a fun presence! Perfect for the spooky season.
Ketchup Vampires has a great score! There are many fun tunes on display, from goofier tracks, to surprisingly dramatic electric guitar riffs. Then there are the songs. Liar Liar Pants on Fire, There's no such thing as a Ketchup Vampire is a goofy but fun intro song, and we're closed out with Here Come the Ketchup Vampries. We also get a couple of half songs throughout, which are ok, but not great, especially since they're sung over talking, so it's hard to focus on either.
The last thing to discuss is the animation. It's pretty good, for an older cartoon (hey, I said older, not old, don't kill me!), especially one of the cheaper variety. Yeah it's not the most elegant, and has a few hatchet-y moments, but it looks good, and has a nice art style, and the character models are all good, with plenty of diversity. Cartoony without being too exaggerated. There are also some funny/terrifying facial expressions. I guarantee Huberta will live in your nightmares.
Overall, The Ketchup Vampires is a mind-bending watch at times, but it's still charming in a way, and never boring! Its worth a watch for vampire enthusiasts, and judging by those who still hold it in fond regard 30 years later, it's a good choice to sit kids in front of. It could be a great intro for vampires to the youngins if you feel that more adult horror is off the table for a few years (though why would you!)...
The Ketchup Vampires 2
Young vampire boy Pino and his family have just left the circus, and are looking for a new home, where he can meet a nice girl and live the way a growing vampire should. They quickly find the small but homely town of Ravenstein, where the local castle and tomato factory is the perfect place to stay. They can work for their keep, and never run out of ketchup. But the only condition is that Pino must never reveal his existence to the professor's granddaughter Bella. Yet he falls head over heels! Can he win her over and make things work out? Well, if you saw the first film, then definitely!...
After having a mind-numbing but good time with the first film, I was simultaneously eagerly awaiting the sequel, and also curious what it'd be like. Before watching either film I had assumed they each covered a season. But after seeing the first, I wasn't sure.
The Ketchup Vampires 2 isn't actually a sequel, but a prequel. It shows how the titular characters came to be, how they met and ended up at Castle Ravenstein, etc. While not getting a proper follow-up might be disappointing, I was glad of this in a way, because god knows we didn't get enough intros in the first movie!
This is much less sewed and disjointed than its predecessor, feeling less like a condensed series and more like an actual movie. The story is a bit disappointing though. What even happens? An evil relative sends a cousin(?) over to break Pino's heart. That's it, and since she can't even get a toe in, this meagre thread isn't furthered at all. The last film had more plot than you could shake a stake at, with ancient vampire books, diabolical plans, Dracula's ancient ring, brainwashing and kidnapping to create the new vampire king, etc. Here we just see a lot of fluff and meandering.
The continuity is noticeably off this time round. We get a new vegetarian origin for our leads, and a stint in the circus, though I suppose neither are too hard to square with the last film. The bigger examples include Siegfried and Huberta. She comes to Ravenstein here and meets everyone, despite their first encounter being last movie. And with her is cousin Siegfried...Huh? But isn't he a relative of the ketchup vampires, and on their side? What's he suddenly doing in Transylvania with Huberta, who he first met last movie?
Ricardo is now Hilga's husband. The Matura book and its theft are forgotten, and despite Pino's parents fearing for their lives in the flashback, and only seeing her again in the first movie, here is the exact opposite. Margaret casually says they haven't seen the family in a while, and write a letter inviting them over, suggesting they introduce Pino to a nice vampire girl from home. After all, it's not like Hilga's gonna hold a grudge, right?
The pacing in Ketchup Vampires 2 is a lot better and less manic, but also a bit slower in places. There are odd omissions too. There are huge gaps without Bella, and her first meeting with Pino is offscreen (or just written confusingly). She's also told about the ketchup vampires by her granddad offscreen.
The film's central conflict is whether or not Pino can be with Bella, which is soon forgotten as soon as they hook up. But then a third act break-up causes drama. Pino's inconsiderate-as-hell mother keeps him practically chained inside when he has a date due with Bella, and when he finally shows up late, she breaks the relationship off angrily, saying "It's pretty clear you don't have any respect for me!". Jeez louise, girl, he was only late by a few minutes. You live in the same house! You could've just seen where he was!
Pino doesn't make things any better for himself by replying with "Well there's this girl you see". Ooofff, bad explanation! Couldn't he have just said 'Sorry, I had a sprained ankle'? Following this he has some sudden vampire angst. Why, dude, that's not what caused your problems! He even tries filing his fangs off with his dad's tool box, thankfully stopped in time.
These last 10 minutes are a slog with this awkwardness, and the night of the party seems to come a couple of times before it finally happens. There are some great costumes, and it sets a good scene for the climax, where Pino has a confrontation with Bella's new date. Both parties seem to forget what caused the drama, and Bella has already forgiven Pino the second he shows up. Leading to the hilarious exchange of "Sorry I was late for our date Bella, I hope we never fight again." "Me too. Can we get back together?".
And then the film ends on a slightly prolonged kiss, and no other characters get any ending. Neither the villains back in Transylvania, or the Grandpa, Pino's family, or Leo. Not all these characters necessarily need a big final moment, but it'd at least be nice to get a last look-in. We do get a goodbye from Elvira though, wishing us a Happy Halloween!
The characters are on par with the previous outing. Pino is a good lead. Smart and helpful, he's also honourable. He's sad about not seeing Bella, but doesn't break his promise (...right away). He does have some weird moments though, like spying on Bella n the middle of the night and saying "Oh how lucky I am to get to see her sleeping!".
Bella is a little more passive this time round, since she's not directly involved in the action, and mainly roams around searching for a costume fix, and falling for Pino. Their romance is simultaneously an adorable and sweet part of the film, and host to some of its dumbest moments!
Huberta isn't as mean this time round, more pathetic. I felt a little sorry for her in places. Siegfried is another story. He's a little shit, and we never see how he turns good and becomes part of the Ketchup family. The pair completely disappear by the end.
Pino's parents are their usual selves, but get some funny moments. Margaret is wondering why he's so glum. When he tells them it's because he's in love, they're happy. Then he tells them he's fallen for Bella. Ever the supportive mother, she gasps "But that's terrible!" while a hilariously dramatic electric guitar twang plays. The mother is a sudden idiot later on regarding Huberta, but thankfully Maurice sees through the charade and helps his son out.
Leo is an amusing side character again, and gets a funny line while failing to cook: "A scorching review! Away with you, black horror!". I felt bad for him during the rejection letter scene, though he bucks up soon after.
Hilga and Ricardo are ok, though soon forgotten. The supporting villains at the castle get their own subplot when the Master's birthday comes. They're all pretty unnecessary in a single film packed with characters, but they're harmless enough, and get a little more exploration here (like servant Roquefort, who's only a human pretending to be a vampire). Then there are the bats, who don't talk anymore. Hugo is different, acting sleepy or stoned.
We finally get a daylight scene here, with other kids (well, kid, singular), a preppy jerk who I could easily see being named Chet. He's Bella's 'friend', and gets to take her to the dance while Pino's out of the picture. It's here where he gets the 'charming' line:
"Bella, you're a real nice girl for somebody that lives in a castle with a crazy old man, but...I'm telling you, nobody's gonna kiss you while you're wearing those stupid vampire teeth!". Pino gets a hilarious put-down against him, which unfortunately can't say what he means because it's still a kids' show, but ah well!
The music is nice once again, with many of the same tunes recycled. The opening theme this time is Here Come the Ketchup Vampires. I wondered if Liar Liar would be at the end, but the same song plays over the end credits too, which was a bit disappointing. There are a couple of others too, like a weird birthday half-song, and the fun Be Yourself party song.
The animation is likewise good, just as it was before. Although the party scene has some odd lighting, making it look a little bad in poor VHS quality. The characters also make poses reminiscent of the Zelda CD-I games, although not quite that poorly animated!
And the cast is fine as before, though the acting is worse in places, with one hilarious offender being the stiff and overly enunciated "This is extra ordinary and totally un belie vable!".
One last thing to discuss is what Ketchup Vampires 2 even is. The original series lasted for 26 episodes, and if you asked me I'd say the book and ceremony story was the first 13, and the young master plan with Pino was the latter half. That leaves noticeably little material to make a new movie. And since this sequel is quite clearly a single 90 minute story (with such bad continuity to boot), that got me wondering. Just how connected is this to the series? If I had to guess, this is like an addendum, like the Americans needed extra content, and asked their German friends if they could please animate an extra movie for them. This would beg the question why they blitzed through 2 big stories in the first film, instead of divvying them up! Maybe this is just the B-reel of all the remaining side plots, but it flows together too well, so I'm not sure.
The Ketchup Vampires 2 just isn't as good as the first. It's got its positives, including things it does better than its predecessor, but overall it's got too many little problems. If you're a fan of the first movie you should still probably watch this but you might not get as much out of it.
The Ketchup Vampires series really is indicative of a cartoon and VHS market that just doesn't exist anymore, more's the pity. I miss this kind of cheesiness and charm. The complete and total lack of money (or talent, good sense, etc.) only endears them to us, and entertains even now...