Posts Tagged ‘vampire’

I suppose it was inevitable, really. With the vampire craze in full swing thanks to TV shows like True Blood  and The Vampire Diaries, and with the damn-near-ubiquitous-at-this-point Twilight franchise ruling at the box office and still sitting somewhere near the top of the fiction bestseller lists, it was probably only a matter of time before the creatively-stagnant-powers-that-be in Hollywood turned their attention to a remake of one of the quirkiest, most downright fun vampire movies ever made, namely writer-director (and eventual Child’s Play creator) Todd Holland’s 1985 mini-masterpiece Fright Night.

Here’s the thing, though — any “reimagining” of Holland’s film was doomed to be subpar in comparison to its progenitor almost from the word go because a big part of the original Fright Night‘s charm is that it’s such a product of its time. It’s unpretentiously, unapologetically 80s all the way, not because it was trying to be or anything, but just because, hell, that’s when it was made and they didn’t have much budget to reach for anything greater than they were capable of. It’s from that brief-but-glorious time when Hollywood decided to try to blend equal parts teen horror and teen comedy and see what it could come up with — if there was money to be made halfway between Friday The 13th  and Porky’s, if you will.

The answer, ultimately, was “some, but not enough to keep it going,” but in both the sort and the long runs the fusion-formula gamble paid off , and continues to pay off, for us genre fans with classics like Holland’s film and Fred Decker’s superb Night Of The Creeps.

That, however, was then, and this, needless to say,  is now. And what has the now brought us?

Well, something of a “close-but-no-cigar,” I’m afraid.

Director Craig Gillespie (best known for the indie-hit Lars And The Real Girl) really does seem to have his heart in the right place here, and some of the “modernizing” touches, such as setting the story in a typically barren suburban Las Vegas cul-de-sac, work quite well (Vegas has a transient population and it’s not entirely out of place to see a house with blacked-out windows because so many people work night and need to sleep when it’s light out) — and some of the casting choices are damn-near brilliant, to be honest. Colin Farrell as vampire-next-door Jerry is out-of-this-world menacingly cool and oozes dangerous charisma throughout. When he’s hanging out just on the other side of the doorway of our ertswhile teen hero Charley (Anton Yelchin)’s house because he hasn’t been invited in, the tension’s palpable as he quite clearly is trying to ingratiate himself to the point where Charley tells him “hey, man, come on in” but is also trying to suss out whether our intrepid adolescent has figured out who and what he really is. It’s a highlight-reel moment in a (no shit here people) Oscar-worthy performance from Farrell.

And on the supporting actor front — recasting Roddy MacDowall’s legendary Peter Vincent character as a Criss Angel Mindfreak-type Vegas performer rather than a washed-up TV horror host is another stroke of pure genius, as was casting Doctor Who  alum David Tennant in the role. Essentially he’s just playing the Tenth Doctor with a substance abuse problem (and, it’s strongly hinted, the sexual dysfunction issues that often go along with that), but it works and it’s a hell of a lot fun.

It’s in the rest of the casting, though, that the big cracks in this flick begin to show. First off, Anton Yelchin is just a straight-up bore as Charley, and nowhere near as interesting, or even mildly sympathetic, as a lead needs to be. He just never gives you much of any reason to give a shit whether or not he, and by extension through him everyone he loves, gets killed. So that’s a bit of a bummer. He’s not even so much actively bad as he is just crushingly bland. And the same can be aid for his supposedly too-hot-for-him, entirely-out-of-his-league girlfriend, Amy, played by Imogen Poots (today’s winner of the “celebrity-names-that-are-too-fucking-clever-by-half award, runner-up being Miranda July), who (sorry to be superficial, but) isn’t all that outrageously hot and more importantly isn’t all that good an actress. And finally, we’ve got Toni Collette slumming is as Charley’s mom (quite an international cast here, by the way — Collette’s Australian, Yelchin’s Russian, Tennant and Poots are British, and Farrell’s Irish), who’s serviceable enough, but this role is too blase for an actress of consequence like her to be messing with.

And lastly on the poor casting and performances front, and this one really hurts — Christopher Mintz-Plasee, McLovin himself, absolutely sucks as the 2001 version of Evil Ed. Granted, the script absolutely wrecks the character from the outset, turning a likable geek from the original into an asshole geek in this one, but even still, Mintz-Plasse is so unconvincing as a prick-ish nerd, and even more unconvincing one’s he’s “turned” by Jerry, that even a better-written character wouldn’t have stood a chance.

The other big flaw with this film is the script itself. the pacing just seems off from the start and when the film’s earlier attempts at blending some comedy into the mix, as the original did so effortlessly, are abandoned, we end up with a flick that takes itself way too seriously when at the outset it seemed like it wanted to plant its tongue firmly in its cheek. The massive, cop-out, deus ex machina-type plot device that resolves everything at the conclusion is impossibly lame, too, and probably made David Tennant feel right at home because it’s just the sort of mega-big, but mega-cheap-and-obvious ending that Russell T. Davies used to wrap up every season of Doctor Who with.

All that being said, there’s slightly more good than bad here on the whole, especially if you see it in 3-D (and yes, this was actually shot in 3-D rather than having it added in post-production, so there are some really cool, old-school 3-D style moments), and hey, you even get a cameo by the original Jerry himself, Chris Sarandon, so all is not lost by any means. But it sure comes close. Gillespie and crew seem to either lose sight of, or change their minds about, exactly what type of film they’re making here at right about the halfway mark, and make the rather perplexing choice to bury the fun under the grim way past the point where they ever had much chance of actually scaring us very much,  and the result is a movie that tries to be more than it has any business being, and consequently, and ironically, ends up being so much less. in short, it’s tough to go for pure thrills, chills, and gore when you start off letting us know we needn’t take anything here too seriously. Either stick with trying to blend horror and comedy from start to finish, as the original did so successfully, or just go with one or the other. And hey, if you ‘re absolutely determined to convince us that suddenly,out of nowhere, this now-dark-and-humorless world has consequences, don’t insult our intelligence by telegraphing an obviously consequence-free ending  (remember that deus ex machina I mentioned a second ago?) while there’s still a good half hour left to go.

Don’t get me wrong — as remakes go, this could have been a lot worse (most are), but to see a movie that really does seem to get where it’s coming and have an equally solid idea of where it’s going suddenly become so thoroughly and completely lost thanks to some ill-advised, and out-of-the-blue, tonal shifts just when it seemed to be in a position to really hit its stride is a real head-scratcher. Gillespie just about had a film here that you could happily compare to its predecessor, as with Let Me In/Let the Right One In (just for the sake of a recent comparison in the vampire genre), but the whole thing really loses it focus, and its heart, when it decides to ditch the fun and start taking itself seriously for no discernible reason whatsoever.  Some of the actors, most notably Farrell, who’s just plain dynamite here, really deserve better than to have their self-assured, supremely confident work lost inside a movie that  can’t quite decide what it wants to be.

"Grace" Movie Poster

"Grace" Movie Poster

We promised — or threatened, depending on how you look at it — to take a look at first-time writer-director Paul Solet’s rather disturbing little indie horror “Grace” in a previous entry in our not-really-a-countdown,  and now seems as good a time as any to engage in a critical overview of this film that’s got a pretty solid little “buzz” going for itself thanks to a largely well-received run on the horror convention and indie festival circuit last year being that it’s just been a couple of weeks since Anchor Bay released it in the form of a very nicely-done DVD that includes (just to get the specs out of the way) a great 5.1 sound mix, stellar 16:9 picture, and extras galore including a nice little “making-of” featurette and an exhaustive feature-length commentary track from Solet and company detailing just about everything you’d want to know about the movie’s origins and its various production stages. Clearly Anchor Bay have pulled out all the stops in providing a first-class package to showcase this film, something of a rarity for a flick that barely saw any theatrical play and marks an untested filmmaker’s debut effort. In short, they clearly believe they have a winner on their hands with “Grace,” but the question is — do they?

The answer, I’m pleased to say, is “yes” — although it’s a “yes” with a few reservations, which we’ll get to in due course.

Madeline and Michael Matheson (Jordan Ladd and Stephen Park, respectively), are a very well-to-do yuppie couple (he’s a lawyer — I think, and she’s essentially a bored rich housewife — again, I think) who have been trying desperately to conceive after Madeline’s last pregnancy resulted in a miscarriage. She’s now happily eight months pregnant again, and despite the reservations of stereotypical mother-in-law-from-hell Vivian (Gabrielle Rose), a judge who seems to have connections in the medical as well as legal professions, they’re forgoing the typical hospital-birth route and employing the services of a very pricey midwife, one Patricia Lang (Samantha Ferris), a woman who Madeline was friends (at least, perhaps more than that) with in college who’s steered them in the direction of one of those water-births that are all the rage among the holistic/natural set these days. This is rather more in keeping with the couple’s vegan/health-conscious lifestyle, and despite humoring Vivian by paying a visit to her personal physician, Dr. Richard Sohn (Malcolm Stewart), their minds are made up.

And then, tragedy strikes. On the way home from an appointment at Patricia’s office, they’re involved in a horrible car crash that Madeline survives, but Michael and their unborn child do not.

In a move that Sarah Palin would no doubt approve of, Madeline decides to carry the baby to full term and give birth to a stillborn child. She even goes ahead with the whole water-birth scenario just as planned. And that’s when things start to get pretty damn nuts, because within moments after delivering the supposedly dead baby, Madeline puts the little girl right up to her breast and wouldn’t you know, it start feeding—and feeding—and feeding—and the little tyke’s not after her mother’s milk, it’s after her blood.

I don’t know what you’d do in a situation like that, but our girl Madeline names the baby Grace and brings her home.

The rather gorgeous Jordan Ladd as Madeline with her monster-baby, Grace

The rather gorgeous Jordan Ladd as Madeline with her monster-baby, Grace

And you know? I can sort of understand this admittedly warped decision. Imagine you’ve been trying for years to have a baby and nothing’s worked out. Then, when things are finally looking up, both the baby and your husband are lost to you in an instant. You have the kid anyway, and damn if it isn’t — at least seemingly — alive. Bloodthirsty little shit or not, you’d probably think it’s very existence was a miracle, which Madeline clearly does.

Sure, there are signs something’s not quite right almost immediately. Flies buzz around the infant’s crib like crazy.  The child has a foul odor. And then there’s all that blood-drinking.

But this baby is not only the answer to all Madeline’s prayers, it’s also a living connection to her now-dead husband. And of course, for Vivian, that also means it’s a living connection to her son.

There’s a problem, though — Madeline knows something’s wrong and she won’t let Vivian — or anyone else, for that matter — inside the house to see little Grace. After all,  how do you explain hanging roll after roll of fly paper from the ceiling in the baby’s room? Okay, maybe she just plain doesn’t want the old bitch-on-wheels anywhere near her kid, but in truth, practically speaking, she can’t let her see Grace because it would take a completely blinded fool — which Madeline surely knows she’s become but frankly doesn’t care — not to see that there’s a serious problem with the kid.

As Madeline’s mental health deteriorates, her physical health does, as well. The little tyke’s draining way too much of her blood and she’s become badly anemic as a result, so in order to satiate the six-pound bundle of evil (and by the way, is Grace more a zombie or a vampire? I’m going with vampire given the whole blood-drinking thing, but you could make an argument for her being a zombie-baby, as well, given that she is, quite literally, the living dead, as opposed to the “undead” status vampires “enjoy” — but I digress, the kid’s a monster any way you slice it, which camp it belongs to is a purely academic question) she turns to killing others since she can’t keep up with its constant demand for the red stuff and stay alive herself — and who doesn’t want the privilege of being around to watch a demon-child grow up?

There’s some seriously authentic drama between Madeline and Vivian as the elder, sensing something is seriously wrong, hatches a plot with the previously-mentioned Dr. Sohn to get Grace away from her mother. Hell, she even dusts off her old breast pump, not knowing that the baby will have other plans for her mammaries if she ever does manage to wrest it away from Madeline.

Our erstwhile blinded-by-motherly-love heroine, however, has an ally, too, in the form of Patricia, who evidently still harbors some feelings for her, much to the chagrin of her current lady-love who works as her clinical assistant.

Now, from what I’m told, this kind of shit is pretty common when a husband dies during his wife’s pregnancy. The mother-in-law become seriously unhealthily attached to the infant — but in this case, whoever ends up with the kid is the real loser, so by the time Madeline and Vivian do have their inevitable confrontation, you’re not quite sure who to root for, since neither of them seem particularly great candidates for raising a child by this point, both consumed as they are more with the need to be needed by the baby  than anything resembling love any longer, yet whoever does end up with the kiddo is essentially as good as dead.

I’ve probably given away more than enough at this point, but hopefully not too much. Suffice to say, “Grace” works as both a horror and slice of realistic (well, as realistic as can be given the circumstances) fucked-up psychodrama. It take an unbelievable-on-its-face situation and makes it believable, thus succeeding in being a truly domestic horror.

As I said earlier, though, there are some flaws. A scene where Dr. Sohn pays Madeline an unexpected visit, diagnoses her anemic condition, and then gives her a thoroughly sadistic tutorial on the proper use of a breast pump despite her weakened state is so over-the-top sadistic that it borders on being darkly humorous in a film that, frankly, has no sense of humor whatsoever. It’s jarring and incongruous and thoroughly disrupts the flow of the film. Then we’ve got the whole rather disturbing subtext of female breast mutilation that runs throughout the film. I mean, for a movie where you never see any boob at all (unusual enough for a horror flick), this is the most creepily breast-obsessed movie you could imagine. Whether it’s Grace getting at her mom’s blood through her bosom, or Vivian getting out her dusty old pump, or the doc giving Madeline an altogether inappropriate, very hands-on lesson in pump use, or the really warped and cringeworthy scene at the very end that I won’t say anything about, this is the most mammary-fixated non-porno movie you’re ever likely to see, and after awhile it stops feeling integral to the plot and starts feeling downright prurient. Suffice to say, the abused-boob theme gets taken way too far.

On the technical side,  my only gripe is that the camerawork of Zoran Popovic (“War, Inc.”), along with the lighting and set design, while very professionally executed in all respects, is seriously clinical and antiseptic, in much the same way “Deadgirl” is. The overly-orchestrated visual aesthetic works a lot better in “Deadgirl,” though, since it’s so incongruous to absolutely repulsively dingy subject matter that the dichotomy really strikes a chord. Here, though, I’d have to say that “Grace” would benefit from a little more chaos and dischord in terms of its overall aesthetics, especially in later scenes, as it would really serve to drive home the trainwreck that Madeline’s life has become thanks to her little hellspawn.

That’s pretty much it as far as the complaint department goes, though. On the whole, “Grace” explores territory few other films can, let alone should. Paul Solet has proven himself to be a new, and rather daring, voice to be reckoned with in the horror genre, even if he does sometimes let his own unhealthy fixations get in the way of telling a good story. He knows how to bring horror down to a human level we can all understand and all be both frightened and sickened by in equal measure, and he creates characters that are both hopelessly fucked up and all too real at the same time.  And regardless of whether or not you can forgive its flaws or stomach its morbid obsessions, “Grace”  is undoubtedly a film you have a very hard time shaking out of your head, because at its core is a dark truth that we can all relate to — our children need us for a time, but ultimately, they’re here to take our place after we’re gone. Every parent that has ever told their kid “you’re going to be the death of me” wasn’t just tossing out a throwaway guilt-trip line, they were giving voice, whether conscious of it or not, to a primal fear that lies at the heart of parenthood.

Fortunately for most of us, however, we won’t actually meet our end at our son’s and/ or daughter’s  hands. Or their mouths.