Directed by Craig Gillespie
Let’s start off this review by just going ahead and addressing the elephant in the room. Yes, Tom Holland’s Fright Night is by far one of the best vampire movies to come out of the 1980s, and like many of you horror fans out there, I have been completely apprehensive about DreamWorks remaking it ever since the film went into production late last year.
Sure, you had one of the most compelling genre writers behind the script (“Buffy the Vampire Slayer” alum Marti Noxon), an imaginative director at the helm (Lars and the Real Girl‘s Craig Gillespie) and an insanely gifted cast assembled to introduce a new generation of fans out there to the world of Fright Night; and yet, I still couldn’t help but be skeptical. After all, Holland’s original film remains one of my very favorite movies (genre or otherwise), and initially I felt like a part of my childhood was being stolen from me.
But now that I’ve had the opportunity to check out the new Fright Night for myself (twice), I’ve definitely done a 180 on the subject. Not only is Fright Night a brutally fun horror flick. but it’s also one of the best remakes I’ve seen over the last few years. And for those of you nervous about seeing another one of your favorites getting remade, don’t worry too much- it’s absolutely clear after seeing it that both DreamWorks and Gillespie approached this project with the utmost love and respect for Holland’s original story.
In the new Fright Night Gillespie and company waste no time immersing viewers rather quickly into the world of Charlie Brewster (Yelchin). A former geek that used make backyard sci-fi movies with fellow outcast (and best friend) “Evil Ed” (Mintz-Plasse), Charlie finally has everything going for him. He’s left his dorky past behind him (including Ed), he’s no longer an outcast at school and he’s dating Amy (Poots), the proverbial hot girl with a heart of gold.
In this incarnation of the Fright Night story, it’s Ed that discovers Charlie’s new neighbor Jerry (Farrell) is a bloodthirsty vampire who’s snacking his way through their isolated subdivision on the outskirts of Las Vegas. After Adam, one of their close friends goes missing, Ed pleads with Charlie to help him uncover the truth about what happened to their long-time mate and asks him to do some investigating into the matter right after school. Charlie, who’s desperately trying to put his geek past behind him, tries to blow Ed off, but Ed’s having none of that- if Charlie doesn’t show up, he plans on releasing their home movies to the entire student population, ultimately killing Charlie’s chance at any kind of a social life.
Of course, Charlie’s hesitation with meeting Ed stems from the fact that he’s a bit pre-occupied with the fact that both his hottie girlfriend and his mom (Collette) seem to have both fallen under the spell of the new mysterious neighbor Jerry, who oozes both charisma and sex with every word that comes out of his mouth. Charlie can sense that there’s something he doesn’t like about Jerry but chalks it up to the guy just being a good-looking alpha male that may want to bump uglies with both his mom and girlfriend and no one really ever likes to see their girlfriend (or their mom) get hit on. After Charlie reluctantly leaves the leading ladies behind to go investigating with Ed, he gets the whole rundown on just how dangerous Jerry is from Ed, who had been following Jerry around for days along with the now missing Adam.
Ed explains to Charlie that Jerry is the culprit behind a recent string of disappearances in the area and through his reconnaissance he discovered that Jerry is much more dangerous than your average serial killer- he’s actually a vampire. Charlie initially scoffs at the idea that a night stalker has taken up refuge next door to him, but Ed warns Charlie about Jerry, telling him, “This guy is a killer. He’s the fucking shark from Jaws, and he’s just going to continue to eat his way through the neighborhood until he’s stopped.” Ed desperately pleads with Charlie to help him kill Jerry, but like their friendship, Charlie just accepts Ed’s stories as his inability to “grow up” and tells him to stop reading Twilight and ultimately blows Ed off, leaving him frustrated and emotionally wrecked.
And that’s when things start to get really interesting.
The next day Ed has gone missing, and Charlie begins to realize that maybe there might be something to what his former best friend was trying to telling him. Charlie discovers Ed’s research in his bedroom and sees for himself- Jerry is most definitely a vampire and an incredibly dangerous one at that. From there a cat and mouse game begins between Charlie and his fiendish neighbor once both realize the other is on to him, and the stakes (pun intended) continue to get raised for Charlie as Jerry threatens both him and the people he loves most.
A desperate Charlie reaches out to Vegas performer Peter Vincent (David Tennant), whose stage show at the Hard Rock Hotel centers around the occult, the supernatural and vampires in particular. Charlie approaches Peter in a last-ditch effort to figure out how he can defeat Jerry under the guise of a reporter asking Peter about vampire mythology as part of a feature assignment. But Charlie’s journalist façade comes crumbling down once he can no longer contain his real reason for the visit, and in a fit of anger Peter throws Charlie out of his apartment, leaving the teenager to fend for himself against his bloodthirsty neighbor.
Now, if you’ve seen the original Fright Night, then you are well aware of how the events of the movie play out, and if you haven’t, don’t worry- I will try my best to not ruin anything in the new Fright Night for you. Let’s just say that the updated Fright Night touches on all the right beats from the original story and blends them with a gaggle of inventive twists and surprises throughout the film which should delight both diehard fans of the original and newcomers alike.
In this day and age where horror remakes seem to get announced almost on a daily basis around these parts, this writer can’t help but be skeptical about any kind of remake, let alone one of my favorite genre flick of all time. But somehow both Gillespie and writer Noxon manage to not only create an intense and darkly comedic update on Holland’s classic story, but the pair have also managed to create the best straight-up horror flick of the summer with Fright Night 3D. As a fan of the original from the very beginning, I couldn’t have asked for a better remake than what DreamWorks has made here.
Noxon, who is no stranger to the world of vampires, has created an incredibly intelligent and chilling story with the new Fright Night, and that’s part of why the movie works: She understood the soul of what made the original Fright Night so great and knew what needed to get reworked for new audiences in a way that won’t be insulting to the diehards out there. There is plenty of heart still beating within the story, the horror delivers on all levels (gores, jumps and intensity) and the comedy moments in Fright Night work well with this darker spin.
In terms of casting, Fright Night is one of those rare treats where a cast is comprised of many Hollywood heavy-hitters and newcomers alike. Farrell continues to prove he’s an engaging presence on the big screen with his performance as killing machine Jerry Dandridge in this updated Fright Night. Farrell doesn’t try to take away anything from the performance of the original Jerry (Chris Sarandon) and incorporates a few new vampire habits with his take on Jerry that I found incredibly clever and surprising. And ladies, forget that Edward what’s-his-name…Farrell’s Dandridge is the new sexy vamp on the block, only he doesn’t sparkle. He just wants to rip your throat out, drink your blood and move on to his next victim. Farrell does a great job balancing out the incredibly dark humor to Jerry’s character with the ice cold vampire instincts that drive him to eat his way through his neighborhood, and here he proves that he’s one of the more engaging actors working today.
As the film’s main protagonist, Yelchin has his hands full playing Charlie. At first Charlie isn’t exactly the most likable guy- he’s selfishly left his best friend behind for the popular life, and he’s been posturing for new girlfriend Amy so that she won’t uncover his dorky past. But once Jerry sets his sights on taking away everything from Charlie, the teenager must now transition into adulthood and either put an end to Jerry or die trying. I’ve been a huge fan of Yelchin since his gut-wrenchingly raw performance in Alpha Dog, and he does a wonderful job of making you care about a character that, for the first two acts of the movie, is a total douchebag. It’s Charlie’s character arc in the film’s third act where we see the reluctant hero transform into the man he so desperately wants to be.
The 3D in Fright Night is very much akin to the 3D you experienced this past weekend if you made it out to see Final Destination 5 in theaters. Like FD5, Gillespie uses 3D in Fright Night to give audiences an immersive filmgoing experience that not only gives off a feeling of intimate dread but looks amazing to boot. Don’t worry; for you fans out there who like those “in-your-face” 3D moments, too, Fright Night has them as well and demonstrates that once again, if you actually shoot your project in 3D, you can make an incredible looking horror movie where the 3D lends itself well to the story unfolding on the big screen.
Fright Night definitely earns its R rating, too, as Farrell starts amassing a long list of victims that would make Charles Manson proud. The practical gore is good, and the digital gore is used minimally (during various parts of the third act mostly), which should make the gore enthusiasts out there happy to hear. The creature and vampire design work done on Fright Night by KNB’s Howard Berger looks great even if I wasn’t a huge fan of the digital alterations added to the prosthetics for “enhancement” purposes, but that’s just because I’m more a fan of the old-school approach to bringing macabre creatures to life.
The one thing that may throw fans off a bit is that the new movie seems to move at a breakneck pace, and you get the first hour of the original Fright Night thrown at you over the course of the new flick’s first 20 minutes. I understand why Noxon chose to go this route as the writer (audiences these days unfortunately aren’t into plodding storylines that take their time to get going), and while I would have preferred to have things slowed down just a bit, I don’t feel like the frenetic pace of Noxon’s story took anything away from my overall enthusiasm for the new Fright Night.
In a filmmaking climate where so many remakes stumble, Fright Night has managed to get everything right and make a fan out of me. With an exceptionally talented cast assembled, an innovative director at the wheel and one of the best genre writers attached, Fright Night is one of those rare remakes that has the ability to hold its head up proudly on its own merits (there are plenty of surprises in the last 20 minutes that should manage to keep fans of the original guessing until the very end) but also manages to loving pay its respect to its source material without ever taking anything away from the original film or trying to duplicate what made Tom Holland’s classic film so special to its loyal fans.
4 out of 5
Desolation Review: Campers + Lunatic = Simplicity, But Not Always a Better Product
Starring Jaimi Page, Alyshia Ochse, Toby Nichols
Directed by Sam Patton
I’m usually all in when it comes to a psycho in the woods flick, but there was just something about Sam Patton’s Desolation that seemed a bit distant for me…distance…desolation – I’m sure there’s a connection in there somewhere. Either that or I’m suffering from a minor case of sleep-deprivation. Either way, make sure you’ve got your backpack stuffed, cause we’re hitting the timber-lands for this one.
The film focuses on mother and son tandem Abby and Sam, and the tragic notion that Abby’s love and father to her son, has passed away. The absence has been a crippling one, and Abby’s idea of closure is to take her adolescent offspring to the woods where her husband used to love to run and scatter his ashes as a memorial tribute. Abby invites her best friend Jenn along as emotional support, and together all three are planning on making this trip a fitting and dedicatory experience…until the mystery man shows up. Looking like a member of the Ted Kaczynski clan (The Unabomber himself), this creepy fellow seems content to simply watch the threesome, and when he ultimately decides to close the distance, it’ll be a jaunt in the forest that this close-knit group will never forget.
So there you have it – doesn’t beg a long, descriptive, bled-out dissertation – Patton tosses all of his cards on the table in plain view for the audience to scan at their leisure. While the tension is palpable at times, it’s the equivalent of watching someone stumble towards the edge of a cliff, and NEVER tumble over…for a long time – you literally watch them do the drunken two-step near the lip for what seems like an eternity. What I’m getting at is that the movie has the bells and whistles to give white-knucklers something to get amped about, yet it never all seems to come into complete focus, or allow itself to spread out in such a way that you can feel satisfied after the credits roll. If I may harp on the performance-aspect for a few, it basically broke down this way for me: both Abby and Jenn’s characters were well-displayed, making you feel as if you really were watching long-time besties at play. Sam’s character was a bit tough to swallow, as he was the sadder-than-sad kid due to his father’s absence, but JEEZ this kid was a friggin malcontented little jerk – all I can say is “role well-played, young man.”
As we get to our leading transient, kook, outsider – whatever you want to call him: he simply shaved down into a hum-drum personality – no sizzle here, folks. Truly a disappointment for someone who was hoping for an enigmatic nutbag to terrorize our not-so-merry band of backpackers – oh well, Santa isn’t always listening, I guess. Simplicity has its place and time when displaying the picture-perfect lunatic, and before everyone gets a wild hair across their ass because of what I’m saying, all this is was the wish to have THIS PARTICULAR psycho be a bit more colorful – I can still appreciate face-biters like Hannibal Lecter and those of the restrained lunacy set. Overall, Desolation is one of those films that had all the pieces meticulously set in place, like a house of cards…until that drunk friend stumbled into the table, sending everything crumbling down. A one-timer if you can’t find anything else readily available to watch.
Looking for a little direction way out in the woods? Look elsewhere, because this guide doesn’t have a whole lot to offer.
Children of the Fall Review – This Israeli Slasher Gets Political
Starring Noa Maiman, Aki Avni, Yafit Shalev, Iftach Ophir, Michael Ironside
Directed by Eitan Gafny
Reviewed out of Utopia 2017
Slashers are a subgenre of horror that are often looked down upon. After all, what can a movie about a killer slaughtering multiple people have to say about, well…anything. Those of us in the community know full well that this is nonsense and that any kind of horror movie can be a jabbing (no pun intended) commentary on society, culture, politics, art, etc… And that’s precisely what Eitan Gafny aims to do with Children of the Fall, one of the few Israeli slashers ever created.
Set on the eve of the Yom Kippur war, the film follows Rachel (Maiman), a young American woman who comes to Israel to join a kibbutz after suffering some serious personal tragedies. Her goal to make aliyah (the return of Jews to Israel) is however hampered by some rather unpleasant encounters with local IDF soldiers and members of the kibbutz. Pushing through, she makes friends with others in the commune and her Zionistic views are only strengthened, although they do not go untested. Once Yom Kippur, one of the holiest holidays in Jewish culture, begins, a killer begins picking off the kibbutz workers one by one in violent and gruesome ways.
Let’s start with what Children of the Fall gets right, okay? As slashers go, it’s actually quite beautiful. There are wonderfully expansive shots that make use of the size and diversity of the kibbutz. The film opens with a beautiful shot of a cow stable, barn, water towers, and miscellaneous outbuildings, all set against a dark and stormy night. The lighting of this scene, and throughout the film, is also very good. I found myself darting my eyes across the screen multiple times throughout the film thinking I’d seen something lurking in the shadows.
The kills, while unoriginal, are very satisfying. Each death is meaty, bloody, and doesn’t feel rushed. In fact, the camera has no problems lingering during each kill, allowing us to appreciate the practical FX and copious amounts of blood used. And if you believe that a slasher needs to have nudity, you won’t be disappointed.
The acting is middle of the road. Maiman is serviceable as Rachel but the real star of the film is Aki Avni as “Yaron”. His range of emotion is fantastic, from warm and welcoming to Rachel when she arrives to emoting grief and pain during his Yom Kippur announcement where we learn that he was a child in a concentration camp. The rest of the cast are perfectly acceptable as fodder for the killer.
So where does Children of the Fall stray? Let’s start with the most obvious part: the runtime. Clocking in at nearly two hours, that’s about 30 minutes too much. The film could easily have gone through some hefty editing without affecting the final product. Instead, we have a movie that feels elongated when unnecessary.
Additionally, the societal and political commentary is very in-your-face but the film can’t seem to make up its mind as to what it’s trying to get across. Natalia, a Belarussian kibbutz worker, raises the concept of Israeli racism, misogyny, and xenophobia, her hostility unabashedly pouring out in the midst of IDF soldiers, locals, other kibbutz members, and more. Is there validity to what she’s saying? Undoubtedly. But there is also validity to Rachel’s retorts, which include calling this woman out on her own vitriolic views. This back-and-forth mentality frustratingly prevails throughout the film, as though Gafny was unwilling to just commit.
The dialogue is also quite painful at times, although I attribute this to difficulties with translating from Hebrew to English. Even the best English speakers in Israel don’t get everything perfect and the little quirks here and there, while charming, are quite detracting. Also, why is this movie trying to tell me that Robert Smith of The Cure is a character here? While amusing, it makes absolutely no sense nor does it fit in Smith’s own timeline.
Had this film gone through a couple rounds of editing, I feel like we’d have gotten something really great. Eitan Gafny is definitely someone that we need to be watching very closely.
While Children of the Fall has a lot going for it, it has just as much working against it. Overly long, you’ll get a really great slasher that is bogged down by uneven social and political commentary.
Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club Review – A Charming, Quirky Dark Drama
Starring Keren Mor, Yiftach Klein, Hana Laslo, Ania Bukstein
Directed by Guilhad Emilio Schenker
Reviewed out of Utopia 2017
One of the great joys I have in being a horror fan is seeing horror films from around the world. I view these films as a chance to learn about the fears, folklore, mythology, and lore of varied cultures. Films like Inugami, Frontier(s), [REC], and the like transport me across oceans and into places I might never get the chance to visit otherwise. Hence my interest in the Israeli dark drama Madam Yankeolva’s Fine Literature Club, the feature debut of director Guilhad Emilio Schenker.
The film follows Sophie (Mor), a member of a strange, female-only reading club – who believes that love is a lie – that we soon realize brings men into its midst only to have them killed. The woman who brings the most fitting man is awarded a trophy for her fine taste. When a member reaches 100 trophies, they get to enter a coveted and highly esteemed upper echelon of the reading club’s society, one that includes lavish surroundings and an almost regal lifestyle. Sophie starts the film earning her 99th trophy but her plans towards the all-important 100th trophy are thrown askew when she ends up developing feelings for her latest victim. She must now decide if the mission that has been so dear to her for so many years is something she wishes to see through or if she’s ready to take a huge risk and fall in love.
Now, if this seems like a strange story for a horror website, I don’t disagree. Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club is certainly not your traditional horror film. In fact, I’d liken it far more to the more playful works of Tim Burton and Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s The City of Lost Children than something more grotesque and violent. It’s very playful and quite charming, although there are times when the presentation feels amateurish and certain moments when things become wildly unbelievable. That being said, the film aims to be a dark fairy tale come to life, so a healthy amount of “I’m okay letting that go” will not go unappreciated.
The film is shot in such a way that it’s very soft around the edges, almost like we’re constantly in a dream. This is aided by composer Tal Yardeni’s score, which obviously takes inspiration from Danny Elfman, playfully weaving its way through each scene.
While there’s a lot to love about Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club, it’s certainly not a flawless film. As mentioned previously, there are times when it feels quite amateurish, as though no one thought to look at how a scene is being filmed and say, “People, this isn’t how things would go down. We can have fun but this just doesn’t sit right.” Additionally, the story moves very quickly. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve heard of love at first sight. But that’s not how this story plays out, so the wildly strong feelings that develop between Sophie and Yosef (Klein) seem strangely out of place.
All things being what they are, Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club is a charming film that can definitely appeal to horror fans if they’re willing to stretch their boundaries to include films that have absolutely no scares or gore but imply quite a horrific situation.
Charming, quirky, but not without its faults, Madam Yankelova’s Fine Literature Club is a dark drama for fans of Tim Burton and Jean-Pierre Jeunet. Don’t go in expecting any scares or gore. Rather, anticipate a fairy tale that might be just a bit too gruesome in tone for young children.
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