Sunday, December 25, 2011

Vampire Redux

Add another casualty to the list of movies I chose not to see in the theaters this year. When the remake of Fright Night (2011, directed by Craig Gillespie) hit theaters this summer, I gave it a pass because I didn't feel like paying the damned up-charge. This was a familiar situation for me all year long, and by the time Fright Night came along I was getting angry about it. I wanted to see Fright Night, actually. I just wasn't willing to pay the going rate. So here it is, months later, and I'm watching it on TV alone rather than with an audience, the way movies are intended in the natural order of things, and I'm feeling pretty crummy about it. Because, y'know, it's a pretty good popcorn horror movie. This movie would have rocked with an audience. Alas...

If you know the original movie, you more or less know the plot of the remake. Teenager Charlie Brewster suspects that the guy who has moved into the house next door is a vampire, a suspicion that proves to be horrifyingly correct. Charlie enlists the aid of horror star Peter Vincent (in this iteration of the story, a Criss Angel-style Vegas occult showman) to help him, only to be turned down. Jerry Dandridge, the vampire, kidnaps Charlie's girlfriend, Amy, and Peter Vincent has a change of heart. Our intrepid vampire hunters head into the belly of the beast to save Amy.

As I say, the story is more or less the same, but the individual incidents are very much changed. The setting of the movie in an isolated development in the desert just outside of Vegas transforms the suburban setting of the original into a kind of remote village, for one example. For another, Dandridge doesn't have a familiar. For a third, Charlie's mother (played by Toni Collette) and girlfriend (played by Imogen Poots) both have a great deal more agency in this movie. They're active opponents of Jerry Dandridge. The scene in the original where Charlie's mom invites Dandridge into their house, for example, is not present in this movie, or, more accurately, is drastically changed. Evil Ed is still on hand, too, played with geeky abandon by Christopher Mintz-Platz, everyone's go-too geek kid these days. Colin Ferrell's Dandridge is a more ruthless vampire in this movie, too, though one is disappointed that this film doesn't replay the scene in the original where our vampire hunters discover that Dandridge locks his coffin from the inside.

The middle part of the movie is where this deviates most from the original, in which the filmmakers have inserted a pretty good action sequence in which Charlie, his mom, and Amy flee from Dandridge in a car chase from their development toward Vegas. The desert highway at night is a nicely menacing setting, and this sequence is executed with high style. The movie also departs dramatically from the original with the nature of Peter Vincent, played with considerable cheek by David Tennant. No longer is the character a call back to the great horror movies of the past. He resembles neither of his namesakes in this movie. He's a good deal younger, too. It's disappointing that Vincent caves so easily to a belief in vampires. There's no clever discovery of the truth in this movie. They've also given Vincent a backstory that makes his emnity of vampires personal. This is a huge misstep and it makes the movie's endgame more of a banal Hollywood ending. There's a certain video game quality to the way the end of the movie is structured, too, with the minions running interference for the boss at the end. Tennant is able to transcend the character that's been provided for him by the sheer force of his personality, but he's playing the character while weighted down with chains. The ending of the movie, too, creates a situation where the only characters to have actually killed anyone are our heroes themselves. This is a big flaw.

I'm also disappointed by how much less queer this version of the movie is. The removal of Jerry Dandridge's familiar and the emphasis on his female victims suggests a much more heterosexual monster, while the subtextual theme where Charlie is more interested in his queer next door neighbors to the exclusion of his girlfriend is voided. This is further heteronormalized by making Amy a much more interesting character and by having her play a co-hero for a portion of the movie. Charlie, for himself, is depicted as being completely gobsmacked at his ability to land such a hot girlfriend, which turns him into a kind of preening prick to his friend, Ed, near the beginning of the movie. Charlie, it should be noted, isn't a very likeable character here, and Anton Yelchin underplays him.

In spite of all of this, I still had a good time watching this. In general, it's a wittier movie than the original--particularly David Tennant's swaggering brand of British nastiness--and its horror beats are generally more sinister than in the original. I do miss the carnival of practical monsters, replaced here by CGI creations that don't have the weight of reality that the original had, but I don't mind the CGI, either. The production design of the film, is pretty slick, eschewing suburban Gothic in exchange for a vapid suburban landscape where postmodern flourishes suggest a soulless way to live. That Charlie's mom makes her living selling this lifestyle to people as a real estate agent is a nice touch. And those signs in her garage? As tidy a piece of foreshadowing as you'll run across. Full marks for that. And if this movie isn't a profound and terrifying experience, well, neither was the original film, nor, for that matter, are most horror movies. What this is is a fun popcorn movie, which is the legacy to which it aspires.

1 comment:

C.A. Young said...

I actually liked that Yelchin wasn't entirely sympathetic, if only because it made him a more credible character. Of course he's unreliable, uncommunicative, and a bit douchey. He's a high school boy.

And yeah, while they've taken out a lot of the queer subtext, they did a bang-up job of doing some interesting social commentary about how we construct masculinity.

Also, David Tennant in leather pants. Unf.

Amusingly, I did see this in a theater, but I went to a late-late showing and was one of 3-5 people there. Surprisingly good ambiance for a camp horror flick.