Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Fright Night

MPAA (R) CNS/USCCB (O) Roger Ebert (3 stars) Fr. Dennis (3 stars)

IMDb listing -
CNS/USCCB review -
Roger Ebert’s review -

Fright Night (directed by Craig Gillespie, screenplay by Marti Noxon, original story/1985 film by Tom Holland) does not aim to be a profound movie.  Instead it aims to be a “b-movie” for an American teenage audience.  And with that audience in mind it hits its mark reasonably well.  Interestingly, it did get an R-rating, even though there was no nudity in the film though plenty of sexual banter and some gore (enough to understand why the CNS/USCCB gave it a “O” (morally offensive) rating).

Still, a movie is generally more than any particular aspect of it, and this is often especially true of b-movies and even b-horror movies.  For instance, according to Steven King, an undisputed master of this genre, part of what makes a good horror movie is its _context_.  And in the case of this movie, the setup is _outstanding_:

The movie is set in a _completely artificial_, tiny (only a few blocks _square_) suburban subdivision on the outskirts of Las Vegas.  In fact as seen from a screen shot filmed from the air, once one gets out of the few square blocks of “suburbia” one’s _in complete desert_ for about a mile or so before reaching next _completely artificial_, (only a few blocks square) subdivision.  And so it goes...

Now Las Vegas has _long_ been famous _architecturally_ for epitomizing some of the crassest trends in American architecture over the last 50-60 years as attested to by the seminal book on postmodern architecture and design entitled Learning from Las Vegas.  This is because in Las Vegas “anything is possible” because truly _nothing_ was there before except for a bunch of dirt, tumble weeds and cactuses.  So if one wants to build a “vision of Paris,” “New York,” or even “Venice” (_gondolas_ and all, _in a desert_ ... ) it’s possible.  And if after a while, a hotel concept “no longer works,” one can famously demolish it and build something else in its stead. 

However, the people who work in a casino, say the Luxor (shaped liked the Great Pyramid at Giza) still have to live somewhere.  And people want to live “nice.”  So while desert it may be, mixed perhaps with nuclear fallout from the nearby Nevada Test Site, tumble weeds, rattle snakes, and secret bases (Area-51) and now others remote-control flying drones over Afghanistan, why not?  Let’s build a subdivision in the middle of this buzzing “middle of nowhere” that looks like suburban Ohio.  And so it is.

Now in recent years, with the housing crash, Nevada along with Florida and Arizona have been the hardest hit with foreclosures and “underwater mortgages.”  So this tiny, square subdivision in the desert outside of Las Vegas seems even “ghostlier” even more of a mirage than before.

Then of course, there’s Las Vegas’ “Sin City” reputation (certainly not lost on Stephen King in his American apocalypse, The Stand) along with its “city that never sleeps” reputation, and honestly, what a fit!  Can one think of _a better place_ to set a contemporary vampire movie in the U.S.A. than in Vegas?  Indeed, arguably it’s been the casinos and the banks that have been the “grim reapers” and “blood sucking vampires” of our time.  So this is then where Fright Night is set...

To the story: High school student Charlie Brewster (played by Anton Yelchin) somewhat embarrassed about his “nerdy” past, lives in said suburban subdivision at the edge of the desert outside Las Vegas with his mother, Jane Brewster (played by Toni Collette).  Jane is a real estate broker and in the opening scene she’s piling “For Sale” signs, each held-up with a rather large stake, into her car.  Jane expresses concern about their new neighbor, who’s been living in the house next door but never seems to be around.  All that one sees of him is a big dumpster on his drive way, which doesn’t look attractive and in Jane’s view only lowers real estate values on the street even further.

It’s the beginning of the school year.  Over the summer, Charlie apparently bought himself a used motorcycle but hasn’t figured out how to start it. His hot new girlfriend,  Amy (played by Imogen Poots) drives by with her Volkswagen convertible and a couple of her girlfriends and asks if he’d want a ride.  First, he tries to get his bike started.  Unable to do so, he feels embarrassed, Amy tells him “just get in ...” This also allows Charlie to not have to “skateboard’ his way to school with his former best friend and still nerd, Ed (played by Christopher Mintz-Plasse).  There are other guys, Mark (played by Dave Franco) and Ben (played by Reid Ewing) who Charlie’s trying to suck-up to in trying to leave behind his “uncool” past.

It’s ever-nerd, Ed, who voices alarm that Charlie’s new, rarely seen (except when it’s dark...), neighbor may be a vampire.  Charlie, _really_ doesn’t want to “go there” but when Ed disappears, Charlie gets worried.  It turns out that Ed was right. And in a rather sad scene, neighbor Jerry (vampire, played by Colin Farrell), catches Ed spying on him and cornering him, tells him: “I know you’ve been spying on me.  Well, I’ve been spying on you as well.  You’ve been an outcast all your life.  So why don’t you join the other side, and live forever...” Despondant and uable to resist, Ed gets bitten, and there it is.  Now there appear to be at least two vampires, Jerry the neighbor, and now Ed, in the neighborhood unbeknownst to anyone ... yet.

Charlie starts to see things as Ed used to, and, like Ed, _nobody_ in the neighborhood believes him.  Charlie remembers, however, that Ed used to watch a late night television show on Vampires being broadcast out of Las Vegas by “Peter Vincent, Vampire Slayer” (played by David Tennant).  So Charlie goes to seek his help.

Much happens.  It turns out that neighbor Jerry the Vampire had spent his nights excavating a lair under his house and he proceeds to bite / “turn” a good number of Charlie’s friends and neighbors.  It’s up to Charlie to save both his mom and his girl.  Is he able to do it, save them all?  Well, see the film ;-).  And mom’s real estate signs with those stakes on the end do prove rather helpful in the end ... ;-)

Again, Fright Night is not a profound movie.  It does have its cheesiness, some of which the CNS/USCCB rightfully objects to.  But overall it's not a terrible film, and I do believe that the film makers did do a great job in setting the movie in a nameless "ghostly" suburban subdivision at the edge of Las Vegas.  After all, suburbanites are notoriously "transient" and we often no longer know who exactly our neighbors are or what secrets lurk in their basements. ;-)

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