Saturday, September 3, 2011

IN MEMORIAM: Fright Night

A Double Team Review

Jordan: Fright Night '11 is half a great film, and half an okay film. There are aspects that it improves upon from the original, and then there are moments when it completely drops the ball. In its favor though, it never get boring.

Nicole: I would tend to agree. I'm not going to lie, the first one got on my nerves just a bit; I felt that it was a bit more comedy than horror film, but in a detrimental way, whereas this one struck the balance better--and thus held my interest more effectively. There were a few misses in the '11 version, though, that bear mentioning, like the club/dance scene. It builds and builds to what you expect to be a shocking/sexy/gory/somehow momentous and pivotal scene--and then fizzles.

Jordan: Well, I didn't feel like it ever "fizzled," but I felt like it definitely missed some great opportunities. But let's talk about that first act for a moment. It's quite possibly the finest first act I've seen for some time. Every beat is flawless, and every moment spent with the characters contributes to layering them and making them seem completely real, especially Charley, who has warmth and pathos, which you could also attribute to the fine acting. I was very impressed with Christopher Mintz-Plasse, who truly has broken away from the Mc.Lovin character, demonstrating that he has more than simply a variation of that character up his sleeve. It's a completely different performance from the original, and it works wonderfully. It may not be as iconic as Stephen Geoffrey's performance, but it's just as memorable. My only complaint about the character is that he shows up for a couple scenes in the first act then disappears for about an hour only to return again as Evil Ed. I would have loved to see more of the two distant friends and Ed's struggle to not lose his friend to the "cooler kids."

Nicole: In this respect I absolutely agree. One of the major issues I had with the original was how flat the characters were, and how unsympathetic a viewer I became because of the lack of in-depth personality and story they each had. In this version, that is remedied nicely, and each of them has a story that is fleshed out proportionate to their importance (with the exception of Jerry, whose very mystery contributes to his character more than embellishment). Mintz-Plasse was quite impressive, and the struggle between the two over their obviously troubled--but undoubtedly strong--friendship was well-played. A nice addition, which makes it feel much more like these kids really are in high school; after all, who among us hasn't been on one end or the other of that particular conflict? HOWEVER, all that said, the fact that I buy into their joint story so much makes it that much more frustrating that (a) Ed is so un-instrumental to the  action of the movie until the end and (b) when Charley kills him, despite their undeniable bond, Charley seems to be remarkably unaffected by the deed. Not only does Charley seem non-plussed, but the scene itself is rather short, with little indication of its importance to Charley as a character. True, he is always meant to be more involved with Amy, as is made obvious both in the original and in the 2011 version...but if you're going to go to the trouble of developing a whole backstory about Ed and Charley as lifelong friends--so much so that you see Charley interact with Ed's parents like his own family--then at least take the extra minute or two to impress upon us the importance of Charley annihilating his newly-undead best friend.

Or just leave the whole thing to Peter Vincent.

Jordan: I actually had trouble siding with Charley in this version. In the first act, he comes across as such a prick that it took me a very long time to root for him. I mean, he treats his best friend like he's a complete retard. Not only a retard, but some retard man-servant, not to be seen in public. But you're right, I suppose, there are a lot of awkward people I would be embarrassed to be seen with, so it's probably a conflict many people can relate to, but he's also the protagonist. We shouldn't hate him right from the opening scenes. There really was no remorse on Charley's end when murdering his life-long, now estranged friend, which drained all emotion out of the relationship.

Since we're talking about characters, let's discuss the Peter Vincent role and how utterly pointless he is. Since horror-themed programs do not exist anymore, they had to go with some other entertainment profession, but a magician? The character name "Peter Vincent" is a hybrid of Peter Cushing and Vincent Price, two famous horror and gothic film stars, so it made sense in the original that Roddy Mc.Dowell was playing a host of a horror anthology. So, by making him a magician tells me that the filmmakers had no knowledge of this homage, and therefore totally unsuited to direct this film. The original idea, that Charley would seek the help of real life film star Prince Humperdink because he played the vampire in the original Fright Night, is genius and would have opened up many many opportunities for witty banter and jokes. Not only that, but actor David Tennant has absolutely no chemistry with anyone on screen. It's almost as if he filmed the scenes in front of a green screen and was added in post-production. He plays the character like a Russell Brand knockoff. Contrast that to the dynamic chemistry between the rest of the cast, which proves two things: A, David Tennant is not the great actor people claim he is, and B, Russell Brand is worse than cancer.

For all money that was spennt on the the shitty special effects that ruin the third act, the most gripping scene is probably one of the least expensive, which involves Colin Farrell trying to snake his way into Charley's house by asking for a beer. It's a fantastic scene that begins innocently witty enough, but quickly takes a menacing turn as Jerry pretty much threatens Charley's family directly to his face. If only there were more scenes like this in the script, the film could have been superior to the original. But I feel like the writers didn't have enough confidence to continue, so they took an awkward and easy route, which is essentially one long action sequence. Shame, too, as the vampire lore they introduce is fun as hell.

Nicole: It's true, Charley does become a bit despicable in the conflict between him and Ed...but as I said, I buy it completely, and I would disagree with you slightly in going so far as to say it makes the audience "hate" him. I didn't hate him, I almost felt sorry for him--just a confused young boy trying to fit in, looking for love in all the wrong places, as it were. and although I still maintain that yes, it is a major miss to have him so callously and without remorse kill his lifelong companion in the end, I feel it's more a problem of an underdeveloped, poorly written scene than an intended shallowness of Charley's character. Frankly, the person the whole situation made me hate was Amy: she not only appears to be the impetus of the split between the friends, but also makes no effort whatsoever to be even polite towards the guy who was her boyfriend's very very bestest friend in the whole wide world throughout childhood. Pretty skanky and shallow, if you ask me. As a matter of fact, I really had an issue with just how distant Ed and Amy were. In the original, they end up working together to help Charley--siding against him, really. There was even a point in the original film when I felt they were perhaps closer than mere friends, like lovers or possibly siblings, and it gave the interactions between Charley and each of them a much more cohesive feel which is lost in the 2011 version.

As for Peter Vincent, I wouldn't say he is entirely pointless. Yes, he's poorly acted, and stereotypical, and flat, and the whole bit about his parents being killed by vampires is absolutely ridiculous and stupid and groan-inducing, but he does do one interesting thing: he throws in all that cool vampire lore that is, indeed, "fun as hell". Since Ed--who had all the vampire info back in the original--isn't around for long enough to edify poor Charley, and the script is written such that Amy doesn't even hear about vampires until Jerry is in the backyard trying to kill them all, the fact that Peter Vincent is around to go on about the specific type of vampire Jerry is and what his weaknesses and habits are, etc., is something that I feel is necessary. It would be wildly boring to have Charley simply look in up on his computer--plus there's already one "I-can-look-it-up-onGoogle!" joke thrown in the film, and that's one too many. And granted, the initial idea of having Charley look up Chris Sarandon as his guide against the evil next door was pretty effin' awesome and I would have much preferred it to this watered-down Peter Vincent...but I'm not nearly as bothered by it as I could have been. Even as a Russell Brand copycat, the character does make for a few funny lines, primarily between him and his dancer/stripper/model/wife thing (who, by the way, was great).

Another excellent sequence in the film--though admittedly not as exciting as the tense scene in the kitchen, which was indeed brilliant--is Charley sneaking in to Jerry's house to rescue his go-go dancing neighbor. I guiltily enjoyed the creepy greenish Saw-like aesthetic of scenes the interior rooms Jerry has constructed to house victims (cheap but effective), and there is some real tension in the possibility of Charley being caught. The best part, though, is when they make it out. Sure, the special effects get shitty and overdone in the climax, but damn do they look awesome when that girl bursts into flames. It's understated, it's surprising, and it's quick, which makes it memorable and fun and even genuinely frightening. Not only that, but her immolation gives rise to the notion that Jerry knew exactly what was going on in his house, and meant for Charley to discover his neighbor's almost-undead state. Much, much more interesting and fun than seeing a portrait of his girlfriend in his vampire-neighbor's house.

Jordan: I think we can both agree that the best aspect about the film is Colin Farrell's performance. He's tremendously magnetic on screen, and each time he's off screen the film struggles to keep the momentum flowing. There are some brilliantly subtle choices he makes, and I love the way he addresses Charley as "guy." It's just so appropriately compliments his douchebag character. It's the perfect example of paying tribute to the original while making it his own, unlike Jackie Earl Haley's Freddy Kreuger. The less said about that, the better. And while it would have been neat to have some mom-son vampire asskickery, I think Toni Collette comes in a close second. But like I said before, the third act looses its way, and this is just another consequence of not wanting to take too many chances.

The film didn't perform all that well, and I understand that, but it worries me. Fright Night marks the return of the fun, carefree vampire that was predominant in the 80's and early 90's but has now been replaced by the mundane, emo vampire, which makes $200 million at the box office. The horror genre is in a shitty place right now, and it's not going to get better until we start supporting films like Fright Night and Don't Be Afraid of the Dark and Final Destination 5 (which is the best one in the series since the first entry). Only then will talented people like Guillermo del Toro be able to make expensive horror films like At the Mountain of Madness. Why was that film passed on? Because no one supports quality horror. So, until people do, enjoy Twilight. I hope you're happy with yourselves.

Nicole: Colin Farrell really is excellent at being a douchebag. He just has that...look. He oozes confidence and devil-may-care badassitude, very much like Sarandon did in the original. Colin Farrell, without being remarkably similar in any superficial way other than in name to his previous incarnation, is indeed the best homage the film gives to its predecessor. And yes, the best (and most quotable) thing said in that entire movie is the "guy" moniker he so kindly deigns to bestow upon Charley. Unfortunately, his truly enjoyable performance will not be widely recognized, as the era for these movies seems to have passed, for better or for worse. I won't lie, I wasn't a fan of the original, and I'm not so nostalgic about the era of campy 80's horror that I regret the disappearance of the genre from public eye. But, that said, it's nice to see at least one really fun, well-scripted, moderately high-budget ode to the past that can also stand on its own as a really fun movie. And even if all that the majority of the general public sees of vampires on the big screen for the next few years are those shiny pussies with heroin-chic eyeshadow, at least we all know that someone still is making movies like Fright Night, and at least a few studios are throwing down to get it done. I'm not saying it was perfect, or that it was the best it could possibly have been--but it's something, and it's good to know the art is not entirely forgotten.

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