Free Movie Friday: Vampyr (1932)

This theme is kicking off with horror before it expands to other genres. Next is the greatly atmospheric Carl Dreyer film based on Sheridan Le Fanu’s Carmilla, the first such adaptation of the novel to the screen. It’s also the rare public domain and horror title that Criterion has given the royal treatment. Their extras, including the screenplay, are well worth checking out if you can get a hold of the box set.

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March to Disney: Mom’s Got a Date with a Vampire (2000)

This was a title that I wanted to discuss during 61 Days of Halloween, however, one of the good things about having multiple annual topics is that you will frequently find overlaps. Such is the case with Mom’s Got a Date with a Vampire. Yes, it’s another DCOM (Disney Channel Original Movie), and another from the earlier days of Disney Channel’s sojourn into made-for-TV films.

The title is indicative of a few things: 1) what it’s about 2) That it’s at least partly (actually mostly comedic). The release date also give you a hint that said date is not seen as a good thing, seeing as how this is pre-Twilight.

As is the case with any of these titles that work a lot of the debt is owed to the cast, and this one runs pretty deep with Charlotte Rhea, Charles Shaughnessy, Robert Carradine, Matt O’Leary, Jake Epstein and Myles Jeffrey. More on that to follow.

The films begins with a movie-within-a-movie which sets the stage first for some of the comedic aspects, for the gothic (read: traditional) treatment of vampires, sets up characters and is used as a point of reference for rules when the kids find they are faced with a real vampire.

It is a an extremely structurally sound film as nothing is superfluous and things that seem like they are just fenestration do play a role later on and play into the plot everything from the desire to see a band called the Headless Horseman at the Harvest Festival, the promise of a date, the mention of mom (Rhea) having been in a band before, and more.

Typically in reviewing I avoid over-focus on the acting – not because it’s not important but mostly because it’s just one aspect of the film that needs to be discussed. In this film it’s what I frequently remember but it’s the solid foundation, the details in terms of the use of vampires that stand out.

There are a lot of hidden jokes for fans of the genre and a great implementation of archetypes commonly found in horror films. The discovery of the threat and the willingness to believe it’s true is very tied in to character arcs in the film.

Those arcs are accentuated by how good the performances are, and similarly virtually all the characters have pronounced, well-wrought and significant ones which is in fact a rare accomplishment. Matt O’Leary, had quite a few good turns as a young actor. The fact that this rivals his performance in Frailty is a testament to his skilled reads and reactions to situations, and the material. Playing his sidekick in a small, but not insignificant role, is Jake Epstein, who was perhaps best known as one of the forebears on the new-age Degrassi he is so good in this – such a different character than I saw him in afterward.

A perfect example of the cast’s work is a scene wherein Adam (O’Leary) is grounded (again set up by a seemingly innocuous improvised essay he created by reading a tabloid). It’s the kind of scene you see various times, but everyone O’Leary, Rhea and Laura Vadervoort; is so on that it works a lot better than it should.

That leads to the kids’ plotting which sets up everything that happens after that. If you’re after silly escapism, you’ll like this; if after a wink and knowing nod to the vampire subgenre, you should like this. If you like DCOM seasonal fare, you should love this. And that’s why I wanted to write about it of the Halloween-themed ones it’s by far the best and rarely airs. I had to re-screen it off a VHS recording I made in 2001. It’s a Disney title that really doesn’t get the attention it deserves.

Silent Feature Sunday: Nosferatu (1922)

While I do watch many new films, and have annual awards and will discuss current cinematic topics. Part of my desire to create my own site was to not have an agenda forced upon me that was not my own. This allows me to discuss films from all periods of history whenever I see fit. Recently my Short Film Saturday posts have been running toward silents more often. I questioned this tactic for a second until I realized that if I really do hope to encompass all of film history then the silent era most definitely should not be ignored. If you mark the silent era from the birth of film (1895) to the first talkie (1927), and I realize it could be argued that the silent era stretched a few years beyond that, and also that there were experiments with sound very early; that’s still 27% of film history at current which was entirely silent. Therefore a weekly post (or, however often I put it up) is not out of line at all mathematically or otherwise.

The good news is that many silent films are available to watch online, and are in the public domain. So I will feature some here.

Nosferatu (1922)

While 61 Days of Halloween is going on this will be a horror-themed post as well. This will allow me to see some horror silents I’ve not yet viewed. However, I figured I’d start with a staple. I must admit I’m not a huge fan of this film. However, I do like it. It’s not quite another Freaks for me, I like it better than that. It’s just quite meet the hype when I saw it, which was a while ago. Next week, however, I will have a film I love…a lot. Regardless, enjoy and may the horror begin!

Review- Underworld: Awakening

Kate Beckinsale in Underworld: Awakening (Screen Gems)

Going into this film in all sincerity I wanted the ceiling of its potential quality to be much higher than I expected it to be. To be fair I only saw the last installment prior to this so I came in dreading a similar experience and hoping for a better one. While I’ll concede it was a better film it wasn’t by very much at all.

The film starts immediately on the wrong foot with a tired recap that relies too heavily on voice-over and not enough on montage. Granted it is a storytelling crutch to introduce new viewers and/or refresh the memory of fans but even the Friday the 13th series, which practically invented the technique, was more visual and inspired than this attempt at backtracking.

The tonality of this film is, from the very first, off. When you combine the desaturated color palette with the icy, stiff performances and flat-lining storyline you’re in a situation that no stakes can raise. I do grant this film raises the stakes from the last chapter but everything is so rote and done with such little aplomb it has no impact whatsoever.

Essentially the problem that plagues this film is the same that plagued the last one: the conflict seems created to support the action sequences and the action does not seem to flow organically from the conflict. We are given the minimum information and development and expected to be fat and content from that as we watch yet another tiresome action sequence where we as an audience have little to no investment.

Upon looking at the cast list one can easily ask “What is Stephen Rea doing here?” Sadly, that question does not dissipate in my mind as the film progresses. It seems as if Rea wanted nothing to do with this film and that perception makes itself evident in every frame.

In technical terms the films fares slightly better than the narrative does. The 3D is serviceable but rarely exploited and hardly worthy of the upcharge incurred. The effects are decent in execution but in conceptual terms the same unfortunate choices are made and exacerbated like big, hairless, “werewolves” and so on.

The film like the prior installment overdoes gunplay and downplays chase and is always trying to be more action then horror and achieves neither. All it ends up being is an incredibly tedious exercise that minimally advances a muddled mythos.


4/10

Review- Fright Night (2011)

Imogen Poots and Anton Yelchin in Fright Night (DreamWorks/Disney)

Here’s another case of full disclosure is necessary, there are two things that bear mentioning with regards to Fright Night: first, I am in no way a fan of the original Fright Night, it has some strong elements but overall I was not entertained in the least. Therefore, I walked into this version with an open mind as it with this remake I actually felt there was a need for it.

This incarnation of Fright Night does absolutely wonderful things with the aspect of disbelief in the horror genre. Typically and you get very weary of this if you’re a fan of the genre. You are therefore used a long struggle were characters doubt the supernatural elements of the story. The modern notion respects the audience enough and is just reflexive enough that this part of the story is quickly addressed but sped through. Never has it been so quickly and intelligently handled as in this film.

This, of course, lends itself to much comedy. Comedy in a horror film can be a precarious thing. Many people do need that release valve for their nervous energy but many horror films veer too heavily towards comedy. This one does something odd in as much as it keeps the horror subsumed and allows it to bubble to to the surface and take over when necessary.

Not to say that those who like their horror in a more classical style will necessarily walk away disappointed from this film. You get in this film very well-done gore and perhaps what I was most grateful for good, old fashioned scary vampires. The horror elements are there in spades.

Another way in which this film is a kind of throwback is that its a horror property that was able to attract talent to it. First, you have your protagonist in Anton Yelchin, who may not be a household name yet but has certainly done his fair share of films and should be recognizable to most. You also have the ever-versatile Toni Collette as his mother. Then there’s Christopher Mintz-Plasse as his friend. Then perhaps the most important duo is the vampire (Colin Farrell) and the vampire hunter (David Tennant).

It’s truly a shame that the 3D backlash came at a time when good films with effective 3D work was released. This is one of them. Yes, there is an over-saturation of 3D but this film should not have fallen victim to our general malaise with it.

The pace of this film as intimated earlier is fantastic. Due to the fact that it deals with the niceties quickly, effectively with great dialogue it allows the film to move quite quickly and still manages to build suspense while doing so. There are quite a few memorable sequences in this film.

It’s quite easy to look at Fright Night and say “Oh, look, another remake and another vampire movie at the same time,” however, this one gives both a good name and is worth seeing.

9/10