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Fright Night (2011)
Welcome to Fright Night 2011
It has occurred to me that when people refer to a new "reimagining" of a beloved film, they use the term "unnecessary remake." I've been guilty of that myself. I really tend to think, however, that technically any remake is unnecessary. No one "needs" to be told what is basically the same story (in most cases) twice. I've also heard the argument that bad films are the ones that should be remade, not good ones. I can understand that to an extent, but do people really want to sit through a new version of something they hated the first time? No remake is going to make everyone happy; it's just not possible. Unless of course, you haven't SEEN the original.
So, just how should a remake be judged? As a stand-alone film, or how it compares to a previous one we love so much? And I do love writer-director Tom Holland's 1985 vampire flick FRIGHT NIGHT. It is just the right mix of comedy, terror, suspense, terrific performances, and an affection for old-fashioned scares. Many others have fond memories of it as well, so I relate to the "why"s and the "oh don't screw it up"s, and the "leave it alone"s. After all, beloved films are dumped on all the time by would-be filmmakers out to make a quick buck for the safe Hollywood studios.
Most of the central story is intact: Anton Yelchin leads the cast as Charley Brewster, a used-to-be high-school misfit who comes to the realization, thanks to childhood buddy Ed (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) that his new neighbor Jerry (Colin Farrell) is a vampire. It isn't long before he's convinced his single mother (Toni Collette) and his girlfriend (Imogen Poots) of this discovery...at which point all sorts of bloody hell breaks loose.
Screenwriter Marti Noxon has infused a basic story (whose plot points and situations weren't always very believable) with some new smarts, including adding more depth to the central characters. And the setting has changed to a cookie-cutter suburb of Las Vegas, where people sleep during the day, work at night, and are much more transient. Another interesting change is the character of Peter Vincent. In the original, Roddy McDowall played a hammy horror host and actor: Peter Vincent, the Great Vampire Killer. Here, David Tennant assumes the role, but Vincent has become an elaborate Vegas magician who performs vampire-killing antics on the stage. In both versions, they are recruited by our hero to help slay the bloodsucker. It's an ultra- modern twist, but within the location context, works beautifully.
During the first hour or so of 2011's new incarnation, I was shocked to think that I may end up liking this remake even more than the original. But after some hair-raising moments in the first half, culminating in a dark, desert car chase, the film threatens to go off the rails in a sequence that's a bit hokey, over the top, and unfortunately timed. And there are a few iffy CGI instances as well. Luckily, things get back on track with a climax that's executed with a uniquely creepy wit, and a few good shocks and surprises. Director Craig Gillespie (LARS AND THE REAL GIRL, "United States of Tara") earns respect for pulling off (for him) an unfamiliar genre; he also pays homage to a few memorable scenes in the original without trying to copy or disrespect them.
Most of the performances are engaging and authentic (aside from Mintz-Plasse in his later moments), with Tennant's wry turn a real treat, and the ever-wonderful Collette's naturally grounding presence adding a needed weight of normalcy. It is Farrell, however, who is the real deal; he absolutely nails this role (no, he won't make you forget the original's suave Chris Sarandon, but in fairness, Jerry is written much differently in this update). Farrell combines sexiness and utter menace to the fullest: this vamp means business! Some of the best work of his admittedly spotty career is on display, including the film's most brilliant moment, where Jerry's fidgety impatience with being invited into the Brewster home is both hilarious and nerve-wracking.
FRIGHT NIGHT is a solid film in its own right; if there's not enough love from the original's fans to spread out to its remake, that's unfortunate.
Vindication - A Gem
Bart Mastronardi's disturbing horror story follows a deeply troubled young man (nicely played by Keith Fraser) who is literally visited by Guilt after a failed suicide attempt. The story builds slowly but surely, allowing the audience to empathize with the characters. So, by the time the gory mayhem begins, it is all the more shocking and, ultimately, heartbreaking. There are a few limitations with the very low budget, but Mastronardi's skillful writing, directing, and cinematography impresses as much as (if not more than) a Hollywood filmmaker. In fact, he is able to show us a passion for visuals and storytelling that very few big-budget directors possess. So, if you are only looking for the standard slice-and-dice, don't bother. But if you are interested in viewing a challenging and memorable piece of work, then this is a must-see. Kudos must also go to actors Alan Rowe Kelly and Jerry Murdock, who give excellent supporting performances.
The Inevitable Remake
John Carpenter's 1978 slasher film "Halloween" is a classic, plain and simple. Not only do I feel that it is the best horror film ever made, but it is one of the best films of any genre.
And now, 29 years later, we get the obligatory remake, written and directed by Rob Zombie. I will begin by saying that I have not seen "House of 1,000 Corpses" or "The Devil's Rejects," nor do I want to.
From the time it was announced that Zombie would be taking on this "reimagining," I have followed countless forums, blogs, and internet news reports, only to discover my worst fear: fans detest the idea and, later upon its release, they loathe the film.
So,upon it's DVD release this past Tuesday, I decided I would pop it in, and with as much of an open mind as possible, finally watch Zombie's vision. Now, I feel slightly disappointed. No, it isn't because I was expecting a great film...I'm disappointed because it's not the all-out cinematic toilet paper I was expecting. Granted, it is by no means a good film (and as a remake, it just plain sucks)...but I found it watchable enough, easily killing two hours.
Zombie begins the tale by exploring the home life of 10-year-old Michael Myers (Daeg Faerch, who looks like a chubby, male Dakota Fanning, and is in no way imposing). His mom (Sherri Moon Zombie) has a good heart, but she makes her living as a stripper; her husband (William Forsythe) is a pathetic drunk who calls Mikey a faggot, and leers at his older sister, the slutty Judith (Hanna Hall). It seems the only normal family member is "Boo," the infant girl, who Mikey adores. On Halloween day, it is discovered by his school principal that Mikey likes to kill animals and take pictures of his dastardly deeds. Psychiatrist Sam Loomis (Malcolm McDowell) is called in to consult, but Mom won't have it. And as soon as Mikey leaves school, he bludgeons to death a bully that's been picking on him. Night falls, Mom goes to work, and our killer-in-training manges to pick off his stepdad, sister, and sister's boyfriend in gruesome detail.
None of these events are as truly unnerving as they were intended to be, and they just reinforce the idea that a "reimagining" is not necessary. In Carpenter's version, Michael comes from a stable suburban home and, without warning, snaps and stabs his sister to death. Now, I ask what is more frightening, nature or nurture? A picked-on kid from a white-trash family? Or the sudden emergence of evil with no explanation? If you picked "A," then you should enjoy the rest of this film without a problem.
Dr. Loomis becomes Michael's lone psychiatrist over the next 16 years at Smith's Grove sanitarium. Their relationship basically consists of Loomis asking a question, and Myers not speaking. When little Mikey is all grown-up (to a 7-foot behemoth, no less), he kills the security guards and escapes.
This is where the remake portion of the film comes into play, as Loomis tracks Myers back home to Haddonfield, Illinois, where "Boo" is now the high-school senior Laurie Strode (Scout Taylor-Compton), and she and her friends are in for a hellish night. Zombie begins to copy key scenes from Carpenter at this point, but nothing is effective. Everything in this third act is rushed; we do not get to know any of the teens he is stalking, so they come off as one-dimensional morons that we don't mind seeing butchered. And since Michael has become the central character of this film, unlike the "Shape" that lurked in the background in Carpenter's film, he is no longer terrifying. He is like any other warped killer in any other film, though the misogynistic Zombie does insist that the females he butchers are all either completely or partially nude.
Now, here's what Zombie gets right: the final showdown. The confrontation between Laurie and Michael is actually well-choreographed and intense, and Zombie shows some skill here. No, it's not the edge-of-your-seat fear that the original's climax created, but no one could have topped that. Throughout the film, Zombie also makes effective use of Carpenter's original score, and not just it's classic main theme...so that's a small relief.
Rob Zombie is a screen writing hack, to be sure. The story has lapses of logic throughout, and his dialogue (half of which consists of the word "f**k" by most of the cast members) is cringe-worthy. It's actually pretty amazing that the acting performances are all average to above-average, given the material they have been given. Another problem is that Zombie fills the film with genre acting veterans, and these prove to be merely a jokey distraction, especially since these characters are introduced for the sole purpose of a higher body count. "Oh, look who it is!" "Uh-oh, they're dead now!" But Zombie does show directing promise; if he would direct a film written by someone talented, he may finally have something.
All in all, the movie is a mess. It lumbers on and on; it's profane, tacky, and exploitive; and the violence is way over-the-top. This may be fine for the current generation of ADD filmgoers, but for those who understand what made the original so truly remarkable (unlike Zombie), this remake...yes, remake...just won't cut it.