Fright Nights, Ogres in Your Sheets, and Clever Baboons

"Fright Night is not a distinguished movie, but it has a lot of fun being undistinguished," Roger Ebert noted about the original 1985 take on vampires.

The same could be said of director Craig Gillespie's 3-D remake, which should be no surprise. At least the "fun" part. After all, Gillespie was responsible for the joyous and "distinguished" Lars and the Real Girl (2007), the definitive comedy about falling in love with a blow-up doll.

A less prescient line in Ebert's old review occurs after he quotes some dialogue spouted by Roddy McDowall as a horror show host/vampire killer: "The kids today don't have the patience for vampires. They want to see some mad slasher running around and chopping off heads.'' Ebert comments, "He's right. Vampires, who are doomed to live forever, have outlived their fashion."

Twenty-six years later, now that bloodsucking couldn't be more voguish, the current Fright Night intentionally wants to make you laugh as you scream in horror (as opposed to, say, the Twilight series that unintentionally gets you chuckling) and mostly succeeds.

The tale takes place in a rather isolated residential area outside of Las Vegas before heading for the gambling oasis. Vegas, being a city where the "undead" get quite lively after nightfall, seems a rather appropriate choice.

In this quiet surburban locale, the newly hip/formerly-a-nerd Charlie Brewster (Anton Yelchin) and his mom (Toni Collette) get a new neighbor, the extraordinarily hunky Jerry (Colin Farrell), who's been doing quite a bit of remodeling in his house. Uh-oh. Don't go into his basement.

Well, just after Jerry moves in, Charlie's classmates start disappearing. His former best friend, the still-nerdy Ed (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), has an explanation. He insists that the boys' fellow students are being sucked dry by the new guy in town, who's a vampire. Charlie harrumphs at the notion until Ed himself disappears.

Oh, no! Will Charlie's mom be the next victim? And what about his girlfriend Amy (Imogen Poots), whom the vile Jerry observes is quite ripe for the picking? And can a "Century 21 For Sale" picket sign disable a vampire?

Silly, scary, and consistently entertaining, Fright Night was made for popcorn noshing or vice versa. And even though when I started composing this review, the film was a potential box office hit, and now it’s a flop of sorts, don't let that dissuade you from biting down for a ticket.

As for producer/writer/but-not-director Guillermo del Toro's Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, the scariest aspect might be Guy Pearce's black hair dye, which appears to have been sprayed on a la one of those old TV after-midnight infomercials. The second eeriest facet is his discomfort. Seldom has such an able actor looked so miserable in any role. And the third, that might just be Katie Holmes's voice. It has no dimension other than bland. Although quite fine in The Ice Storm and Pieces of April, Ms. Tabloid Fodder here is a mere void. Maybe she should be dubbed in the future, say by Glenn Close.

Another remake, this time of an ancient TV movie, Don't Be Afraid of the Dark tells of a house inhabited by little monsters, who apparently have a yen for teeth, especially children's. Into this dental nightmare move architect Alex Hurst (Pearce) and his galpal Kim (Holmes), who plan on rehabilitating the old homestead. But before any dust can settle, Hurst's lugubrious and estranged ten-year-old daughter Sally (Bailee Madison) joins the action. Oh, no! She seems a fitting feast for peckish ogres.

Who will survive?

With lush cinematography and little logic, Sally keeps getting attacked by demons yet is still left to fend for herself by her elders. Even after a rather psychologically tasteless and relentless attack in a bathtub, the darling is tucked in to sleep it off despite finding a creature within her sheets.

To be fair, there are several moments here that will have you jumping in your seat, but hemorrhoids can supply the same thrills at less than half the cost.

For a true adrenaline rush, catch the monkeyshines going on in The Rise of the Planet of the Apes. James Franco as Will Rodman, a scientist creating a cure for Alzheimer's at a large pharmaceutical corporation, discovers instead a drug that will make chimps smarter than all the cast members of Jersey Shore combined. But how will they fare against the computer on Jeopardy?  In what is easily one of the better films of the year, director Rupert Wyatt, with a first-rate screenplay by Amanda Silver and Rick Jaffa, melds thrills with wit and state-of-the-art special effects to create a flick you're ready to watch again as soon as it ends. Give this one five bananas. - Brandon Judell

brandon.jpgMr. Judell is currently teaching "Gay Identity in Literature" and "The Arts in New York City" at The City College of New York and is Coordinator of The Simon H. Rifkind Center. He has written on film for The Village Voice, indieWire.com, The New York Daily News, Soho Style, and The Advocate, and is anthologized in Cynthia Fuchs's Spike Lee Interviews (University Press of Mississippi) and John Preston's A Member of the Family (Dutton).

Sierra Club

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