by Eric J Baker
Cripes, internet people! Think of any subject that can possibly be discussed and at least 50% of you are in a raging fury about it. Michele Obama wants kids to eat more healthfully? That evil witch is tearing up the Constitution right before our eyes! The Bachelorette chose Hank over Luigi? Firebomb your congressional rep’s car in revenge! Raisins in cinnamon toast? Mass suicide is the answer!
The big topic that has folks frothing this week is remakes, now that the new versions of Conan the Barbarian and Fright Night have hit theaters. The argument goes, “How dare Hollywood screw with these classics? It’s heresy I tell you!” Yes, because that shot of Arnold Schwarzenegger punching out a camel in Conan rivals the baptism scene at the end of The Godfather for cinematic brilliance. Because Kurosawa saw the original Fright Night, said, “Fuck it. I can’t top that,” and quit making movies.
It’s fair to say that 1985’s Fright Night was a fun B-movie with naïve charm and memorably campy performances by Roddy McDowall and Stephen Geoffreys. It was also directed like a made-for-TV film, looked cheap, and had your average amount of continuity and lighting mismatches for a low-budget 80s horror flick, which means there were a lot of them. True, there was no good reason to remake it, but a redo is hardly worth getting your panties all in a bunch, is it? Now do what Nurse Ratched says and take your pills.
The new Fright Night, directed by Craig Gillespie in utterly unnecessary 3D, retains the original film’s premise that a vampire, Jerry, has moved next door to suburban teenager Charley Brewster and is killing off (and sometimes converting) the locals. In both versions, Charley knows Jerry’s secret but no one believes him, forcing him to enlist the reluctant help of vampire expert Peter Vincent. This time around, Vincent is not an aged midnight-movie horror host but a trashy Las Vegas magician/entertainer who behaves like a long-lost member of Spinal Tap.
The opening act of the movie is dull, with its perfunctory revelation that Jerry is a vampire and the implausible ease with which Charley accepts that fact, given our age of postmodern cynicism. Anton Yelchin – whose Russian accent in the recent Star Trek reboot was even more over-the-top than Walter Koenig’s used to be, if that’s possible – is earnest as Charley, but his character is bland and unlikable. Far more interesting is Imogen Poots as his girlfriend, Amy, who proves to be a tougher adversary than Charley throughout most of the film and would have made a better main character. Hell, you gotta be a fighter when your last name equates to an urban slang term for flatulence.
Seriously, Imogen, movie actors have a long history of re-branding themselves with better names. Constance Ockelman became Veronica Lake. Archibald Leach became Cary Grant. Frances Gumm became Judy Garland. So how about giving “Claire Pennington” or “Penelope Danforth” a try? I just made those up. Feel free to choose one and stop people like me from writing childish things about you.
Where were we? Oh, yeah. Fright Night.
The film perks up considerably in the second half when the vampires go bat shit (literally), and David Tennant’s ball-scratching, drunken Peter Vincent starts chewing up his dialogue in an appropriately campy manner. But the standout performance in the film belongs to Colin Farrell as Jerry the Vampire, believe it or not.
While he’s a talented actor, I’ve always thought of Farrell as Russell Crowe lite: Brooding and assholish but without the passion. Somehow, though, playing the villain in a B-movie suits him rather well: He’s at once funny, threatening, and wicked. We understand why Charley’s girlfriend is tempted by him, but we never root for him. In fact, he earns the highest compliment one can give a lead villain: His presence permeates the film, even when he is not on screen. Now, you may be asking, “Did Baker just use three full colons in one paragraph? Colons for Colin, is it?” Yes I did, because that’s how we roll in Jersey. You gotta prollem widat?
Alas, the fast-paced and colorful final act can’t quite undo the slow start, and the CG is hit or miss. Vampire hordes hitting sunlight and exploding in a swirl of dust and sparks is cool. A crappy car chase through a painfully obvious digital landscape is not so impressive. Staging a flick like this and putting together a solid cast for a reported 17 million dollars is good business, as that money will eventually be made back and then some in overseas revenue and DVD sales. However, wouldn’t it be cheaper to go to a real desert and film a real car chase (no explosions or big stunts involved) than to render the same thing in digital? Or are they trying to avoid heat from PETC (People for the Ethical Treatment of Cars)?
So the verdict is Not Bad, which, in my interpretation of blogmaster James Killough’s rating scale, falls somewhere between Meh and Nice. A few more scares early on might have nudged it up a half step.
I hope I get to say “nice” come October when the prequel/remake of The Thing, one of the 1980s’ most intense horror flicks, is released. The trailer unspooled prior to Fright Night, and it appears that the filmmakers are attempting to recapture the somber vibe of the ‘82 version, even retaining the pulsing, monotone score. I was frightened, but, unfortunately, not by anything intentional on the part of the director. My fear was roused by the film’s star Mary Elizabeth Winstead, who appeared to say, “Anartica” rather than “Antarctica” in a dialog clip. I have such a high opinion of you, Mary. Please don’t make me sad.
More frightening than anything happening on screen was the amount of morbidly obese people in the theater. The two girls behind me, loudly scarfing nachos and candy all night, were large and larger, respectively, but nothing compared to the couple in front of me. They were so big, I’m tempted to call them a quadruple, since they each took up two seats. They reminded me of the uber-fat people in WALL-E (the only Pixar* movie I ever sat through without looking at my watch at least twenty times) who were immobile and floated around on flying recliners.
I’m all for positive body-image messages and whatever else fat, unattractive people have to do to feel better about themselves, but these two were well over 400 pounds each. Good grief, listen to Michele Obama and stop cramming bacon double cheeseburgers down your esophagus all day. Better yet, don’t. When Jerry the Vampire comes to town, I want plenty of people around me I can outrun.
*Maybe it was DreamWorks or Disney or somebody else who does computer cartoons. It’s all the same to me. And stop getting freaked out because I can’t stand that shit and you think it’s better than Taxi Driver and Schindler’s List combined. You Pixar people are like friggin’ cinema fascists, you know that? In fact, why are you reading this? Don’t you have a Kung Fu Panda movie to pleasure yourself to?**
**Going back to my original point, this is an example of how irrationally pissed off and angry people are on the internet.