Noah Segan didn’t invent the concept of Jewish vampires: He simply mastered it.
During a visit to the Harris Theater in the city’s Cultural District on Oct. 27, Segan, a Los Angeles-based Jewish actor best known for his roles in “Looper,” “Brick” and “Knives Out,” treated Pittsburghers to his directorial debut, “Blood Relatives.”
The 88-minute film follows Francis, a 115-year-old vampire, whose self-imposed isolation is pierced by the arrival of Jane, a teenager claiming to be the vampire’s daughter.
Segan masterfully exhibits the carousel of emotions experienced by both characters as they negotiate the reality of newfound family: Whether for 15-year-old Jane (played by Victoria Moroles) or the Yiddish code-switching Francis (played by Segan himself), establishing a viable future is only achievable by carefully negotiating the present and painfully wrestling the past.
During a question-and-answer session at the Pittsburgh premiere event — moderated by film professor and director of the University of Pittsburgh’s Horror Studies Working Group, Adam Lowenstein — Segan told the audience the film’s genesis was humorously inspired by his life.
“I always thought that I was a really cool guy. I have a cool jacket, and I would go to film festivals and stay up all night,” he said. “I was always the s—. Then I became a dad, and I guess I had to reckon with that.”
As much as the movie is about recognizing the realities of parenthood, it’s also a tale about accepting one’s self.
Without spoiling too much, Francis often wears his Jewish heritage like an albatross. Through the aid of others, though, the vampire learns that a load shouldered isn’t always a burden but can be a measure of one's strength.
Following the screening, Segan told the Chronicle about his East Coast Jewish upbringing, but said it was the process of becoming a parent that compelled him to further embrace his identity.
His father, Alan Segan, shared his pride: “Nachas cannot fully describe how I feel about seeing my son tonight, and seeing the product of his hard work and how that captured so much of his feelings about his own children and about his own life.”
Alan Segan, a University of Pittsburgh graduate, traveled from New York City for the event.
Of course, there was tremendous “satisfaction” in watching his son showcase a film that relies on humor, sadness and horror to talk about heredity, heritage and selfhood, Alan Segan explained. But there was also the heft of understanding the moment: The film played in Pittsburgh four years after the heinous murder of 11 Jews inside the Tree of Life building.
When asked what it’s like to show a horror movie about Jewish identity, family and loss in Pittsburgh on Oct. 27, Noah Segan told the Chronicle, “I wish I could speak from a place of authority, but I can't. I think it is probably too big a responsibility for a filmmaker to say anything other than that my heart is broken and will be forever…. All I can hope is that on a day like today my Jewishness and our Jewishness can be a little bit of light.”
Screening the movie in Pittsburgh — a city his father considers a “second home” — was a gift, Segan added.
The treat extends to viewers as well. “Blood Relatives” releases on Shudder, a streaming service owned and operated by AMC Networks, on Nov. 22. And though the film’s reliance on an opera-loving Jewish vampire who drives a 1969 Barracuda Fastback and lyricizes with a Borscht Belt rhetoric generates good shtick, the movie is a catalyst for smiles, tears and connection.
“We will always be the sum of our history and the people who have hurt us,” Noah Segan said.
“But I think what helps Jews persevere is being able to say both things are true: There is tragedy, and there is light. And that is something that is a survival mechanism, and it's something that I think every marginalized people can speak to.”
Event moderator Lowenstein, a Jewish professor who recently authored a book titled “Horror Film and Otherness,” told the Chronicle that Segan’s work has the unique ability to broaden a genre by remaining authentically specific.
“‘Blood Relatives’ makes Jewish horror both more universal and more Jewish at the same time,” Lowenstein said. “It gives us a story where Jewishness matters, but it matters in relation not just to Jewishness alone but to a whole world of loss and searching and need. I think it's quite beautiful in that way — that it taps Jewish horror to give us something that makes us see more of the world writ large.” PJC
Adam Reinherz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.