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Fright Night (2011)




Fright Night 2011Starring Anton Yelchin, Colin Farrell, Toni Collette, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, David Tennant, Imogen Poots

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

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Ruby Blu-ray Review – ’70s Drive-In Psychic Shocker From VCI



Starrign Piper Laurie, Janit Baldwin, Stuart Whitman, Roger Davis

Written by George Edwards and Barry Schneider

Directed by Curtis Harrington

Distributed by VCI Entertainment

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and director Curtis Harrington’s Ruby (1977) is paying it to a few of the ‘70s most notable horror films. Cribbing liberally from such better pictures as The Exorcist (1973) and Carrie (1976), this is a picture that could have worked well despite being a pastiche because it begins with a decent setup and the elements for something interesting are present. Unfortunately, nothing ever gels like it has to and Ruby loses focus early on, dashing from one death scene to the next and allowing for little salient connective tissue to tie it all together. The big mystery presented early on should be easy enough for horror fans to deduce, and the film never brings the scare factor. A few of the deaths are novel in their inventiveness, especially the use of the drive-in theater surroundings, but a couple kills do not a movie make and Ruby spends too much time middling and being weird to be of any note.

Florida, 1935. Low level mobster Nicky Rocco (Sal Vacchio) is gunned down by a lake as his pregnant girlfriend Ruby watches on in horror. Just before dying, Nicky swears vengeance on whoever did this to him. Cut to sixteen years later and Ruby (Piper Laurie) runs a drive-in movie theater and lives in a home nearby with her daughter, Leslie (Janit Baldwin). Ruby is a tough broad, quick-witted and foul-mouthed; able to hold her own with the guys. But those guys are beginning to vanish one by one as the bodies start piling up at the theater. Ruby suspects there’s something off with Leslie, so she brings in her own psychic doctor, Dr. Paul Keller (Roger Davis), to examine her daughter. Leslie, as it turns out, is acting as a conduit for the wayward soul of Nicky, who blames Ruby for his ultimate demise. Possessed and programmed for vengeance, Leslie and Ruby have an all-out battle in a search for the truth.

The second half of this film is where things go right off the rails, with scenes aping The Exorcist so much it feels like a knock-off. This isn’t always such a bad thing because knock-offs of better films can always turn out great (see: most of the post-Gremlins little creature features), but Ruby never makes a clear case for introducing these fantastical elements in the third act. This is a story that could have worked better by exercising restraint, playing closer to something like J.D.’s Revenge (1976), a similar gangster-soul-out-for-justice film, than a wild, possessed ride.

What does work, for me, are the drive-in theater setting (I’m a sucker for movies that also involve the craft of film in some way) and the kills, a few of which make great use of the theatrical setting to deliver fitting fatalities. One employee winds up stuffed into a soda machine, with his blood getting pumped into a dark, syrupy drink and served up to guests. Another meets his end on the screen, impaled by the pole on which car speakers are kept. Harrington does inject this picture with a strong sense of atmosphere, too. The locale is woodsy and feels remote; the countryside is dark and foggy, the perfect setting for something grim to occur. None of these elements are enough to fully save the feature, though they do bring enough production value to ease to burden of a poor script.

Personally, I’m a sucker for almost any horror from bygone eras – especially the ‘70s and ‘80s – so, deficiencies aside, Ruby is still worth a spin if you enjoy reveling in this particular era. This is far from an unheralded gem or little-seen treasure, but it does, at the least, rip-off good pictures in spectacularly bad fashion.

This is a rough film and every bit of work done for the 2K restoration still can’t do much to polish it up any better. First, a note: there is a video drop-out for approximately ten seconds around the 21-minute mark. VCI is offering replacement discs via their Facebook page, so check there for further details. Future copies will be corrected, and those should already be on “shelves” now, so consider this an FYI. The 1.85:1 1080p image is frequently soft and murky, darkly shot and poorly lit. Shadow detail is virtually non-existent. The color temperature looks a bit on the warm side. Film grain is noisy and occasionally problematic.

An English LPCM 2.0 track carries a clean & balanced audio experience. Voices sound a touch muffled at times, though nothing too severe. The murders scenes are accompanied by creepy ambient sounds, adding a slight chill. The film’s closing theme song is awesome cheese that must be heard. Subtitles are available in English SDH.

There are two audio commentary tracks; the first, with David Del Valle and Nathaniel Bell; the second, with Curtis Harrington and Piper Laurie.

The film’s original trailer is included in HD.

Also included are a few interviews with Harrington, conducted by David Del Valle, including “2001 David Del Valle Interview with Curtis Harrington”, and “Sinister Image Episode Vol. 1 & Vol. 2: David Del Valle Archival Interview with Curtis Harrington”.

Special Features:

  • NEW 2K RESTORATION from the original camera negative
  • Original theatrical trailer
  • Audio Commentary with Director Curtis Harrington & Actress Piper Laurie
  • New Audio Commentary with David Del Valle and Curtis Harrington historian Nate Bell
  • Two Interviews with Curtis Harrington by Film Critic David Del Valle
  • Photo Gallery
  • Optional English SDH subtitles
  • Ruby
  • Special Features


A simple plot becomes wildly unfocused but Ruby does have intermittent camp value fans of ’70s horror cinema should dig. VCI’s Blu-ray is no beauty by any means, though it’s likely to be the best this poorly-shot feature will get.

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The Midnight Man Review – Don’t Hate The Game, Hate The Players



Starring Lin Shaye, Robert Englund, Grayson Gabriel, Emily Haine, Gabrielle Haugh, Summer H. Howell, Louise Linton

Written by Travis Zariwny

Directed by Travis Zariwny

Travis Zariwny’s The Midnight Man is largely a robotic hide-and-seek slog, yet if dissected in butchered chunks, smaller bites range from delicious destruction to utterly incompetent character work. Judging by the bloodthirsty opening sequence alone, you’d think Zariwny is about to blow our morality-siding minds. A sad misconception, I’m afraid. After our hopes skyrocket, mechanical plot devices are pinned to a storyboard with the utmost lack of exploration. The Midnight Man’s game is afoot, but these players would barely compete against an opponent crafted from brick and mortar. Can someone calculate a handicap for them, please?

Gabrielle Haugh stars as Alex Luster, a caring granddaughter to Nana Anna (Lin Shaye). One night, upon the request of her not-always-there relative, Alex rummages through attic trunks for a silver-backed hand mirror. Instead she finds a nondescript wrapped box with what appears to be a game inside. Her crush Miles (Grayson Gabriel) has arrived by now, and after an incident where Anna requires medical attention from house-call doctor Harding (Robert Englund), the two friends begin playing whatever it was that caused Anna to screech in disapproval. You know, the only rational decision.

At the risk of sounding like a smug CinemaSins video, The Midnight Man would surely bomb any horror IQ test. Zariwny’s *first* piece of introduced information after discovering Midnight Man’s altar is quite simple – DANGER. DO NOT PLAY. IT JUST CAUSED A WOMAN TO FAINT. Nevertheless, our braindead sheeple follow careful rules to summon Mr. Midnight Man into their house – because, as horror movies have proven, tempting occult fates is buckets of fun! At least the characters don’t confess romantic feelings and makeout while another friend who joins the game late – “Creepy Pasta” obsessed Kelly (Emily Haine) – could already be in the Midnight Man’s clutches, that’d be – oh, right. That happens.

Senile Anna is another story altogether – Zariwny’s grey-haired red herring in the worst way. Lin Shaye injects so much destabilized madness into this energetic, midnight-perfect role, elevating herself into a stratosphere well above The Midnight Man itself. Whether she’s screaming about Alex’s disgusting blood, or ominously whispering dreadful remarks through a housewide intercom, or beating Robert Englund to a pulp with wide-eyed psychosis – well, if you’ve seen Dead End, you *know* the kind of batshitery Shaye is capable of. Her genre vet status on display like a damn clinic here.

Shaye – and even Englund – aside, scripting is too procedural to salvage any other performances. Kelly doesn’t even deserve mention given her “bring on death!” attitude and enthusiastic late entry INTO AN URBAN LEGEND’S DEATHTRAP – a poorly conceived “twist” with less structure. This leaves Grayson Gabriel and Haugh herself, two thinly-scripted cutouts who couldn’t find a more repetitive genre path to follow. There’s little mystery to the gonigs on, and neither actor manages to wrangle tension (even when staring our Midnight friend in the face…thing).

Scares are hard to come by because Zariwny opts for a more “charismatic” villain who talks like Scarecrow and appears as a dyed-black, cloaked Jack Skellington. He can form out of clouds and is a stickler for rules (candles lit at all times, 10 seconds to re-ignite, if you fail he exploits your deepest fear). Credit is noted given this villain’s backstory and strict instructions – which does make for a rather killer game of tag – but the need to converse and expose Midnight from shadows subtracts necessary mysticism. He’s a cocky demon with masks for each emotion (think woodland death imp emojis), but never the spine-tingling beast we find ourselves hiding from.

This is all a bummer because gore goes bonkers in the very first scene – with underage victims no less. One young player gets decapitated, another explodes into a red splattery mess (against fresh snowfall), but then a vacuous lull in process takes hold. It’s not until Alex’s fear of blood and Miles’ fear of pain that we get more eye-bulging squeamishness, then again when Kelly’s bunnyman appears. A no-bullshit, bunny-headed creature wearing a suit, which plays directly into Kelly’s deepest fear. When Zariwny gets sick and surreal, he scores – but it’s a disappointing “when.”

I take no pleasure in confirming that any small victory The Midnight Man claims is negated by kids who should’ve been offed for even thinking about a quick playthrough of Anna’s old-school entertainment. Invite him in, pour your salt circles and try to survive until 3:33AM – sounds easy, right? If the demon plays fair, you bet! But why would ANYONE trust a demon’s word? Makes sense given Alex and Miles’ ignorance of more red flags than a Minesweeper game, and a thrilling chase these bad decisions do not make.

  • The Midnight Man


The Midnight Man begins by striking a meteoric horror high, only to plummet back down towards repetitive genre bumbling once the game’s true – and less enticing – plot begins.

User Rating 5 (1 vote)
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American Psycho Meets Creep – Strawberry Flavored Plastic Review



Starring Aidan Bristow, Nicholas Urda, Andres Montejo

Directed by Colin Bemis

Recently I wrote up an article here on Dread Central which was basically an open letter to anyone who was listening called “I Miss Found Footage.” Well, it seems like someone WAS listening, as I was then sent the link to an all-new found footage film called Strawberry Flavored Plastic from first-time writer-director Colin Bemis.

The film follows the “still-at-large crimes of Noel, a repentant, classy and charming serial killer loose in the suburbs of New York.” Basically, you could think of the flick as American Psycho meets Mark Duplass and Partick Brice’s Creep. That, or you could think of it as “Man Bites Dog in color!” However you choose to label Colin Bemis’ psychological thriller, just make sure you check out the film once it hits in the future.

As I alluded to above, the film is basically a found footage version of American Psycho. But that said, the film sports a twist on the charming serial killer subgenre that I have yet to see play out in any of the above-mentioned classics. I’m not going to go into spoiler territory here, but I will say that the film introduces an element to the tale that spins it into much more of a character drama than a straight horror film. Not that there is anything wrong with that!

Truth be told, the film’s turn from serial killer flick into a layered character study might have been its kiss of death, but this slight genre switch is rendered a minor issue as the film’s central narcissistic antagonist is played by Aidan Bristow. Bristow is an actor you may not have heard of before this review, but you will hear his name more and more over the years to come, I promise. The guy gives (no pun intended) a killer performance as the film’s resident serial killer Noel Rose, and time after time surprised me with how chilling, charming, or downright vulnerable he chose to play any given scene.

Bristow’s performance is, in the end, the major element the film has going for it. But that said, as a fan of found footage, I was smiling ear to ear at first-time director Colin Bemis’ understanding of what makes a found footage suspense sequence work.

In Strawberry Flavored Plastic director Colin Bemis is confident and content to allow full emotional scenes to play out with the camera directed at nothing more than a character’s knees. Why is this so important? Because it keeps the reality of the film going. Too many found footage directors would focus on the actors’ faces during such emotional scenes – no matter how contrived the camera angle was. In this film, however, Bemis favors the reality that says, “If you were really in this emotional state and holding a camera, you would let it drop to your side.” I agree, and it is small touches like that which make the film feel authentic and thus – once the shite hits the fan – all the scarier.

On the dull side of the kitchen knife, the film does feel a bit long even given it’s short running time, and there doesn’t seem too much in the way of visceral horror to be found within. Again, graphic blood and gore aren’t a must in a fright flick, but a tad more of the old ultra-violence would have gone a long way in selling our main psychopath’s insanity and unpredictability. But all the same, the film does feature a rather shocking sequence where our main baddie performs a brutal home invasion/murder that puts this film firmly in the realm of horror. In fact, the particular POV home invasion scene I’m talking about holds about as much horror as you’ll ever wish to witness.

In the end, Colin Bemis’ Strawberry Flavored Plastic is a must-see for fans of found footage and serial killer studies such as American Pyscho, Creep, and Man Bites Dog. I recommend giving it a watch once it premieres. If only to be able to point to Aidan Bristow in the near future and tell all your friends that you watched (one of) his first movies.

Until then, check out the film’s trailer HERE, and follow the movie on Facebook.

  • Strawberry Flavored Plastic


Lead actor Aidan Bristow turns in a star-making performance in Colin Bemis’ Strawberry Flavored Plastic, a found footage film that plays out like Man Bites Dog in Color before introducing a new element to the charming-serial-killer subgenre and becoming more character study than a straight horror. Think American Psycho meets Creep.

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