Monday, September 6, 2010

Fright Night

How did anyone survive without Scriptshadow on Monday? I think one guy wrote in from Germany saying he was going to kill himself cause I didn't post a review. Or maybe he said he was going to kill me. Either way, I'm sorry but I really needed a break. I'll try to make it up to you this week with a script from a very high profile comedy writing team and another script from an Oscar winner. Requests for the latter script have been flooding my inbox for weeks. I'm tempted to tell you how it went right now but what fun would that be? Heh heh heh. Roger Balfour isn't going to make you wait though. Here he is with a review of Fright Night.

Genre: Horror
Premise: When a teenager learns that his next door neighbor is a vampire, no one will believe him.
About: Craig Gillespie is helming this modern retelling of this 1985 horror theater classic, that was written and directed by Tom Holland and starred Chris Sarandon, William Ragsdale and Roddy McDowall. Marti Noxon (Buffy, Angel, Grey's Anatomy, Mad Men) has retweaked the story for a new generation. Leading the cast is Colin Farrell, Anton Yelchin, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Toni Collette and David Tennant.
Writer: Marti Noxon

I remember watching repeats of the original Fright Night on the local tv station, which is probably the perfect way to watch a vampire movie that plays as a sort of paean to the genre with its Horror Movie-obsessed protagonist and his Horror TV Host mentor. I re-watch it every October, as it's perfect for Halloween not just because it's a scary movie, but because it's nostalgic. There's a spirit in the story and performances that harkens back to Dark Shadows, Drive-In Creature Features and Christopher Lee Hammer Horror flicks. Just the perfect movie to watch on a cold autumn night when the neighborhood is decorated with jack-o-lanterns, skeletons and fake cobwebs.
As a cinephile, I've reached a point where I sometimes scoff at the news of a remake, but realistically, I know it shouldn't bother me. It's not like the existence of a remake erases the memory of the original, its arrival into the world causing the destruction of all celluloid, Betamax, VHS, DVD and Blu-ray copies of its cinematic progenitor. I guess it's the idea that's offensive. It's the knee-jerk "How Dare They!" reaction we can have at Hollywood re-milking teats that, sacredly, should maybe be left alone for artistically honorable and moral reasons. But, what am I talking about? This is Hollywood! This is a business! This is all about re-milking teats!
The fact that the suits chose Marti Noxon as a writer shows that someone cares about honoring the original vampire story, for who better to re-tell Fright Night than a former Buffy scribe?
I'm here to report that aside from a few minor quibbles, at least script-wize, that this remake script is so close (maybe too close) to the original that it feels like a clone that's been fitted with changes and tweaks that are all about making the story more immediate to a new generation of geeks and horror hounds.
It's fun, but very familiar.
I've never seen Fright Night, Rog. What's this about?
Charlie Brewster is enjoying his newborn cool kid status. Previously a fantasy and horror geek like his former best friend, Evil Ed, Brewster is on the tail-end of a growth spurt that's transformed him from typical acne-ridden nerd to a cool kid who is accepted by the jocks. He's surprised that his hot track star girlfriend, Amy, sticks around despite his quirky non-jock-like foibles, and can't believe that she seems to be really into him.
Charlie's traded collecting genre kitsch like Magic: The Gathering Cards for more socially acceptable fare like cool sneakers. This is a point of conflict for his seemingly estranged former best bud, Evil Ed, who is jealous of his friend's new found insider status and seems genuinely hurt that Brewster has abandoned him. I think their friendship and falling out hints at something a lot of teenage males (and females) go through when they enter high-school: People either genuinely change or they change themselves to survive the boiling social pot that is high-school. In the process, they leave friends behind.
To complicate matters, Evil Ed believes that something is hunting and killing off entire families in their Shadow Hills suburbia. He carries around a map that charts the sites of disappearing families, and, according to his map, the center of all this activity is either Charlie's house or the houses surrounding it.
A horror hound, he believes that a vampire is at work in their community, responsible for the sudden disappearance of their dwindling classmates. When he tries to tell Charlie this theory, they have a fight and Brewster blows him off.
It's only when Evil Ed disappears that Charlie starts to suspect that his new neighbor is more than human.
Is Charlie's neighbor a vampire?
Consider the evidence.
Jerry is an American Adonis, a guy that all the women on Charlie's street are drawn to. When we first see his house, we note that he has a huge dumpster on his lawn. It's full of concrete. His explanation to Charlie's single real estate broker mom? He's having to tear up and rebuild part of his foundation.
Why are his windows tinted and blacked out and covered up? They're near Las Vegas, where people who work on the strip work at night. They sleep during the day. And, of course, Jerry says he works on the strip.
Consider more about the setting.
Those disappearing families? Well, there is a mortgage crisis and a lot of homes are foreclosing and people are moving out. If you think about it, it's kind of the perfect community for a creature of the night to operate in.
Jerry is quite fond of Charlie's mother, but she's no push-over when it comes to guys. Sure, she thinks he's beautiful, but she's had a lot of bad luck with men. While he constantly tries to get inside the house, she never feels the need to invite him in.
It's during one of these encounters that they share a moment. Charlie studies Jerry as he lingers on the threshold. They make eye contact and Jerry suddenly knows what Charlie is thinking. He tells Charlie to let back off, otherwise something might happen to his mom, or his girlfriend, Amy. It's a creepy moment, and Charlie starts to frantically monitor Jerry and his activity.
The first real turn away from the plot of the original is when Charlie infiltrates Jerry's house to save a woman, and discovers just why Jerry kept a dumpster full of concrete on his lawn. The dude has built cells underneath his house where he's keeping his food supply, and we're treated to a great cat & mouse sequence (reminded me of stuff in Suburbia) with a jarring conclusion once our hero gets the captive out into the daylight.
It's at this point when he realizes he's going to need to call in a professional.
Who is the professional?
Charlie travels to Las Vegas to request the help of one Peter Vincent, an over-the-top Goth shock magician who is all black leather pants, tattoos and attitude. He's a purported expert on not only horror culture and the occult, but is a self-proclaimed expert on vampires.
All of this might possibly be all show business, a persona created by someone who is just the opposite.
At first, Peter blows Charlie off as a quack, but there's something about the teenager's story that haunts him. Something that might have something to do with Peter's back-story.
Cool, so a shock magician and a teenager get to battle a vampire and his brood?
Pretty much. There's a vampire attack on Peter's guarded Las Vegas high-rise, a chase sequence through suburbia involving all the important females in Charlie's life, and a final act three invasion on Jerry's house and the monsters therein.
How's it compare to the original?
Although these changes make it more accessible to a younger audience who have never seen a TV Horror Host, I wonder if it'll still appealing to those of us who have. Granted, a magician is cool, and it makes sense (and they have David Tennant playing the part), but there's just something about an old-school Horror Host that trumps a Criss Angel-like illusionist. Regardless, it works in this iteration and we won't be able to see how all these changes hold up to the original until we see the finished movie. It's gonna come down to the performances. Will they be as memorable as the ones by Roddy McDowall, Chris Sarandon and Stephen Geoffreys? They captured a strange magic together, and I wonder if this new cast will be able to tap into the same heady gothic brew.
The original has some great memorable horror culture moments. From the hypnotic dance club scene to the great cross-crushing Chris Sarandon scene ("You have to have faith for this to work on me!"), I was hard-pressed to find a moment in this script that measures in comparison, save for the part where the vampire blows up Charlie's home, "Don't need an invitation if there's no house." There's also some stuff involving Evil Ed's siege on Peter Vincent's Las Vegas high-rise that will be memorable, but it will come down to the delivery by Christopher Mintz-Plasse. Stephen Geoffrey's had a great obnoxious, cheesy mania to his performance that both grates and delights the ears, and I'm interested to see the McLovin version of Evil Ed. Will he seize the mantle and carry on the tradition sans career twist into hardcore gay porno actor, or will he be found wanting?
Also, there's no shapeshifting! Where the hell are the creature transformations? The vamps don't turn into wolves or bats in this thing. As a kid, I loved seeing the heroes get chased around a house by a wolf. And, I certainly loved seeing the wolf morph back into a dying Evil Ed. There are no moments like this because none of these vampires shape-shift. I feel like the filmmakers are depriving their audience of some great moments by leaving out this genre trope.
Despite my reservations, there's an Amblin flick feel to this script that I enjoyed. From the suburban setting, to the Jaws-like portrayal of the vampire, to the threat on the modern (single mom) family unit and Charlie's suiting-up moment before his final attack on the vampire's house (reminded me of something out of Arachnophobia or The Lost Boys), I did feel like Noxon buried some of that 80s nostalgia underneath the modern mortgage crisis and horror illusionist wrapping paper. In a weird way, compared to all the other scripts I've been reading, I found the read refreshing.

[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[ ] wasn’t for me
[xx] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius

What I learned: Teaser prologue. If you're writing a horror story, whether it be a monster movie or a ghost story, it's usually wise to kick things off with a quick teaser that hints at the menace your story will be about. In Fright Night, there's a three page sequence that's about a teenager trying to survive a deadly and mysterious attack on his suburban family by an unseen threat. We see glimpses of something tearing apart bodies. We see glimpses of something...not human. Your first act will be all about establishing your setting, characters, world and story. These things usually are a slow-build up, so it's smart to kick things off with a short sequence that shows your monsters or ghosts without showing your monsters or ghosts. Build a tense scene showing something horrible happening at the hands (or fangs) of your menace, but don't give it all away. Create mystery, move along to your story, then when it's right, show your creature, monster or ghost in all their creepy glory.