Adaptations and Mutations

Fright Night: written by Marti Noxon, based on the 1985 movie written by Tom Holland; directed by Craig Gillespie; starring Anton Yelchin (Charlie Brewster), Colin Farrell (Jerry), Toni Collette (Jane Brewster), David Tennant (Peter Vincent), Imogen Poots (Amy) and Christopher Mintz-Plasse (Ed) (2011): Buffy the Vampire Slayer veteran Marti Noxon manages to rewrite Fright Night so as to make it a lot better than its original. Only Roddy McDowall’s delightful horror host Peter Vincent is sorely missed here, though former Doctor Who David Tennant does the best he can with a somewhat unfocused role as a Criss Angel-like Vegas magician who’s also an occult collector a la Led Zeppelin‘s Jimmy Page.

Frankly, the Vincent role would be funnier (and truer to the original) if we had someone like Steve Coogan playing Vincent as an aging, occult-obsessed rock star suddenly faced with the real thing. Oh, well. Tennant does have a terrific smoking scene. But I’d still like to see an old rock star with a fetish for Aleister Crowley and The Lord of the Rings taking on the hounds of Hell. Wouldn’t everybody?

The bare bones of the story remain the same as in the original: geeky Charlie Brewster comes to believe a vampire has moved in next door to him. Almost no one believes him, but he’s right. Vampiric shenanigans ensue.

The movie cleverly moves the action to Las Vegas, where despite the anti-vampiric sun, there’s lots of good eating in a town with a lot of itinerants and a large population of people who are already nocturnal due to their night jobs at the casinos and hotels. There’s real wit in our first look at Charlie’s subdivision, which seems to sit in the middle of an empty desert.

Yelchin and the other actors do nice work here, though the character of ‘Evil’ Ed gets shoved off-stage rapidly so as to focus more on Charlie’s ass-kicking girlfriend Amy, played by hellacute Brit Imogen Poots (!). The always reliable Toni Collette, who now seems to be the go-to actress for American single moms, also gets to be a bit more pro-active on the vampire-fighting front.

Colin Farrell plays the vampire (incongruously named Jerry) as an Alpha Male thug, and it works nicely as a counterpoint to all those more refined vampires out there. Director David Gillespie stages some nifty setpieces, most notably a funny/scary car chase in which a realtor’s sign makes a surprisingly welcome appearance. All in all, an enjoyable romp. Recommended.

Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark: written by Guillermo del Toro and Matthew Robbins, based on the 1973 movie of the same name written by Nigel McKeand; directed by Troy Nixey; starring Bailee Madison (Sally), Katie Holmes (Kim) and Guy Pearce (Alex) (2011): As with Pan’s Labyrinth, this film can either be viewed as a fairy story told not to but by a child, or it can be viewed as a story with annoying plot holes and lapses in character motivation.

I’d go with the first choice, as the tone, the atmosphere and even the performances would support such a view even if one didn’t know that Guillermo del Toro had something to do with this.

Based on a 1973 TV movie that got del Toro interested in horror in the first place. Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark features plucky, misunderstood 10-year-old Sally, a girl suffering through the divorce of her parents and, soon, persecution by tiny monsters living beneath the basement of the old New England house her father is renovating for profit.

Oh, it’s Rhode Island — that an H.P. Lovecraft allusion whether one wants it or not. Explicitly referenced in the film is Welsh fantasist Arthur Machen, whose stories often featured the monstrous real creatures behind the myths and legends (Machen’s “The White People” and “The Shining Pyramid” are the two stories most relevant to this one). A doomed 19th-century painter and naturalist gets named (Ralph Waldo?) Emerson (Algernon?) Blackwood. Hoo ha.

The father is distant and somewhat thick (remember the fairy tale elements here or you’ll obsess over stupid parents a bit too much), his new girlfriend sympathetic to Sally and, ultimately, an ally. The little, talkative monsters are a bit of a letdown — they’re basically Gollum crossed with a rat — but occasionally scary, though if someone had the sense to buy a tennis racket, they’d be a lot less dangerous. Troy Nixey summons a lot of atmosphere and a real sense of place; the opening titles (directed, I assume, by someone other than Nixey) are stunning. Recommended.

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