Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Recent Watches: 12/14/11

I promised myself that this new Recent Watches feature wouldn’t become a year-round version of my Halloween Horror-a-thon write-ups. But, as the end of the year approaches, my obsessive-compulsive need to see every new horror movie of note that comes out during the year is catching up with me. So, when other people spend the month watching seasonal favorites about rednosed reindeer and magical snowman, I’m watching movies about monsters, madmen, and murderers. Oh well.

I love the original "Fright Night." It's my all-time favorite vampire movie, pretty much. So I went in to the recent remake really expecting to hate it. The characters seem overly hipped out and the cast included Anton Yelchin and Colin Farrell, two actors I've never liked. I figured this was just an example of a studio trying to cash in on the vampire craze and whatever name recognition they figured an underseen cult classic from the mid-eighties had.

And it's mostly all of those things for the first thirty minutes or so. In the original, Charlie was a huge nerd with a shitty car, a best friend who hated him, seemingly no other friends, and a girlfriend that looked like a boy. 2011’s Charlie has six-pack abs, hangs out with a bunch of collar popping would-be frat boys, and a rail-thin girlfriend who's hot in a really uninteresting way. Even his mom, originally frumpy and clueless, has been all sexed up, recast as a cleavage barring Toni Collette. Everyone has pretty much been transformed into huge douchebags, Charlie in particularly. Peter Vincent has been turned into an embarrassingly shrill "Celebrities are vapid assholes!" cliche. (And he has a Columbiana girlfriend who is even more annoying and unnecessary.) And, yeah, Evil Ed was pretty much always annoying and creepy, but any of the pathos, layers or humor Stephen Geoffreys brought to the part are lost here, even more so when he does become a full-on vampire. Christopher Mintz-Plasse, otherwise known as McLovin forever, plays him as a nasally dweeb who, despite getting bullied a lot, is a bit of a bully himself, essentially blackmailing Charlie into being his friend.

The movie has some ugly CGI effects, a lot of forced 3D "Comin' right atcha'!" nonsense, and more then a few obnoxious jump scare shock scenes. There's also a vulgar, crass streak running through things that makes the movie even more unlikable. There's almost no humor here at all. All the gay subtext is gone. Jerry is pretty much an irredeemable creep, where in the original he was at least funny. There's no romance to him. He's a straight-up monster vampire... Which would might have been refreshing in this Glitterpire era if the movie wasn't working so hard to make me not like it at this point. Colin Farrell plays the part as a charmless sexual predator.

But, a little over halfway in, something happens. The characters stop being such unlikable dicks all the time and some pretty decent, maybe even suspenseful, sequences roll through. I like the way the movie doesn't wait until the end of the second act to really ramp up the action. That's like the only one visible improvement over the original. The entire car chase/road fight sequence is pretty good, as is Evil Ed's assault on Peter Vincent's penthouse. While I laughed at the idea of Charlie marching into Jerry's house with armor and a crossbow when I saw it in the trailer, it actually kind of works in the movie itself. Charlie Brewster actually becomes a fairly effective badass. The entire last act of the movie is pretty solid, truthfully. Even Peter Vincent 2011, despite being saddled with a sudden tragic origin story, actually becomes funny and likable. (Solely due to David Tennet, I suspect. Not a "Dr. Who" fan but the guy is charming.) The movie even resists the stupid jump scare twist ending, thank god. (Though there is a bizarre acoustic version of "99 Problems" playing over the credits for some reason.) They even keep the iconic design of Vampire Amy more or less the same. So I didn't completely hate "Fright Night" 2011 by the end, despite itself. I'm not saying I liked it though. The original is a campy, hilarious, but still occasionally scary celebration of nerddom, outcasts, and faith in one's self and one's beliefs. The remake is overly hip, sneeringly cynical, and frequently annoying. It’s not charming, horror comfort food.

And some of the horror movies I watched aren’t new. “The Dead Hate the Living!” is a fairly obscure outcast from Full Moon Productions misbegotten shot-on-video late nineties days. It’s a zombie movie from the days before zombie movies were cool again. The film is really, really cheap. There’s only really three or four zombies in the whole movie. The blood we see is of the overly bright, corn-syrupy variety. Near the end of the movie, some really bad digital effects, like straight out of After Effects bad, are trotted out. The movie also has terrible pacing. When you’re struggling to keep your eyes open during supposedly exciting scenes of zombie sieges and living dead dismemberment, you know things are bad. There are some cool ideas here, like a body getting pulled away by the entrails, or real life horrors being dismissed as movie special effects, but the totally listless pacing and cutting prevent any of that from really working.

Despite these glaring problems, the movie is kind of likable. The film is often criticized for its overly referral tone. Lucio Fulci’s “The Beyond” is named-dropped, referenced, and flat-out stolen from countless times. The characters are horror fanboys and often talk about their favorite zombie movies, directors, and stars, even while being attacked. Yeah, it’s winking and obvious, but still sort of funny. More over, the characters are likable. The performances, while definitely amateur, are still kind of fun. If nothing else, the actors are very sincere and heartfelt. There aren’t any recognizable faces aside from the late, real-life giant Matthew McGrory. The make-up, though obviously limited, is pretty decent too. I particularly like the zombie design with no lips whatsoever. I wouldn’t call “The Dead Hate the Living” essential or even good, but it’s not without interesting moments.

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