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Fright Night, Part II (1989)

Sequels are a tricky business.  In horror, they tend to be rather formulaic.  However, there’s a big difference between a formulaic slasher film that follows a loose stalk and slash concept, and a sequel that just carbon copies every plot point and story turn from the first film.  If you’ve seen the original Fright Night, you’ve already seen a better version of this movie.

It’s a few years later, and Charley Brewster (William Ragsdale) has been in therapy, attempting to recover from the incidents of the original film.  Peter Vincent (Roddy McDowall) is still the host of “Fright Night”, and an adamant believer in the undead since the vanquishing of Jerry Dandridge.  Charley is attending college and has new girlfriend in the beautiful and attractive Alex (Tracy Lin).  Charley has attempted to put the events of four years ago far behind him, but the past has just caught up to our two heroes.  Meet Regine Dandridge (Julie Carmen).  Sexy, seductive, alluring, just like her brother Jerry.  Regine has come to avenge her brother’s death upon Charley and “the Great Vampire Killer”, Mr. Vincent.  Regine ensnares Charley with her blindingly seductive aura, and good old Charley can’t resist her mesmerizing beauty.  Brewster tries to deny what’s happening around him, but Regine wishes to make Charley into one of the undead to eternally torture him.

From here the movie takes beat-for-beat reprises from the first film.  Peter Vincent, despite his true believer status, is still somewhat cowardly and skeptical as to Charley’s eventual claims.  The tables turn quickly as Charley is truly dissuaded in those claims only for Mr. Vincent to peer into his pocket mirror once again to reveal the non-reflection of their vampiric adversaries.  Some things vary from the original’s plot path, but there are numerous parallels such as Peter Vincent getting fired as host of Fright Night.  Then, there’s essentially a replication of the first film’s climax.

Fright Night, Part II is directed and co-written by Tommy Lee Wallace.  I don’t believe he is a particularly bad director, but he hardly ever seems to get films that have good enough or original enough content to really breakout as anything special.  His scripts vary in originality.  With Halloween III: Season of the Witch, he did a fairly good job with the concept, but it lacked enough compelling content to maintain dramatic momentum.  With Vampires: Los Muertos, he has better luck with a more polished production and decent ideas, but with a direct-to-video budget and the cast to go with it, he just fell too short of reaching the quality of Carpenter’s 1998 original.  Fright Night, Part II simply has a severe lack of creativity as it more tries to remake the first film instead of attempting to be a smart, natural continuation of it.  It’s as if Wallace didn’t know what to do with the characters as they were left at the end of the first film, and just tries to reset everything so he can have them do it all again.

Visually, the movie certainly looks a great deal better if you can locate a widescreen version of it, but it’s not an easy find since the only North American DVD released for it is in pan-and-scan.  I’ve only seen a few clips from the widescreen version, and it was a vast improvement in appreciating the visual quality of the movie.  Regardless, this sequel focuses more on gore and being more outlandish in its concepts, which is a poor replacement for innovative creativity.

Regine Dandridge is joined by an extremely offbeat band of creatures of the night that are easily more badly comical than scary.  The male vampire seems more werewolf like, but it’s quite implied that he is a long-toothed bloodsucker.  There is another vampire who is portrayed by a man, and certainly looks like it, yet dresses in drag throughout the entire film, gliding around in roller-skates.  It’s utterly ridiculous and an ugly sight to behold.  Then, there’s Brian Thompson who is some bug eating brawn of the bunch.  He never happens to be anything of note as he hasn’t anything more to do than to say “You’re supposed to bite her on the neck,” and munch on an array of bugs.  This group never adds anything particularly positive to the movie.  There might be people who enjoy some of their humor, but it just left a terrible impression upon me rather quickly.  In the first film, Jerry Dandridge made every attempt to blend in, to be inconspicuous so to not attract undo attention to his horrific nocturnal activities.  This group does everything possible to attract as much attention to themselves as possible.  Not to mention, the film tries to feed us the weakest of excuses for Charley Brewster to dismiss the obvious truth about them.

Julie Carmen is quite beautiful and seductive.  She fills her part well, but doesn’t reach the levels of Chris Sarandon’s Jerry Dandridge.  Sarandon just oozed a sexy and seductive charisma, not to mention, a fine level of sophisticated charm.  Carmen doesn’t have a rich enough charisma or presence to rival him.  The dynamic between Regine and Charley also never really clicked for me.  Charley’s characteristically a little awkward and comical, and him being under her trance is played more silly than sensual.  Thankfully, both Ragsdale and the late Roddy McDowall maintain great consistency with their return performances.  They had their characters locked in for the first film, and four years later, they easily slipped right back into them.  It’s a fine thing to witness, but the level of fun cannot measure up to Tom Holland’s Fright Night.

The script has some definite flaws in logic.  First off, there’s no way Regine could know who it was that killed her brother.  She wasn’t there when it happened, and there was no one left alive to tell her who did it.  A revenge plot certainly works fine, but this plot hole is never addressed.  Charley seeing a psychiatrist doesn’t make any rational sense, either.  He was perfectly fine at the end of the first film, and it was blatantly obvious that Jerry Dandridge was a vampire.  There is no disputing that, and there were eye witnesses in Peter Vincent and Charley’s now ex-girlfriend Amy to confirm that.  This idea seems to be in the film only for the filmmakers to reset everything so that they can retread the same plot progression as the first movie, which is lazy and sloppy screenwriting.  Also, Regine’s revenge plot doesn’t really sell.  She’s going to seduce Charley in order to turn him into a vampire – an immortal being of great supernatural power.  Revenge plots aren’t usually designed to make your adversary stronger and more capable of defeating you.  I get that it’s a turnaround from Jerry seducing and turning Amy in the first movie, but it’s not the most clever scheme for exacting revenge on the person who killed your brother.  It lacks innovation and smart screenwriting.

Again, the film doesn’t end in a much different way than the first.  In fact, the ending may leave you a bit unsatisfied.  It’s slightly clever, but doesn’t equal the dramatic build up in the basement of Jerry Dandridge’s house from the first film.  Director Tommy Lee Wallace just isn’t very innovative, and that becomes worse when he’s directing sequels to films helmed by great filmmakers.  The makeup effects certainly don’t rival those of the original’s.  They look rather hokey and lack either an artistic beauty or solid terrifying quality.  Fright Night, Part II only made a few small million at the box office in ’89, and it doesn’t surprise me at all given the time it was released and the quality of the film.  It provides some extra gore, but lacks in the fun factor that the original was so rich with.  Surely waiting four years to do a sequel didn’t help either.  Freddy Kruger, Jason Voorhees, and Michael Myers all suffered bad box office in this year with their respective critically panned sequels, and so, why should this late arriving sequel have been any different?

The film’s stars, McDowall & Ragsdale don’t lose anything from part one to part two, but everything else falls down, at least, big one notch.  The effects, the direction, the script, the fun / humor factor, and certainly the villains fall well below the quality of Tom Holland’s original Fright Night.  It is worth, at least, a rent, but the first Fright Night is where all the gold lies.  Part II simply isn’t as fun, fresh, or nearly as satisfying as its predecessor.  There’s far too much bizarre and corny quality throw into this one to really feel polished and smart.  Even if I judged this as a standalone film, I still wouldn’t like it based on those qualities alone.  I don’t know if I’ll ever fully watch the 2011 remake of Fright Night basically because I’ve already seen one grossly lacking and disappointing remake of the movie, and it was called Fright Night, Part II.  I don’t think I have the desire to see another one.


Fright Night (1985)

In 2011, they remade this movie.  I have not seen it, and I don’t need to.  The original Fright Night from director Tom Holland needed no improvement or reinvention.  It’s an excellent and immensely entertaining vampire film that mixes enough horror with humor.  It has a wonderfully seductive vampire in Chris Sarandon and a wonderful lead in William Ragsdale.  As many of the best 1980s vampire films did, it delivers on both solid horror and fun humor in a well balanced blend.

For young Charley Brewster (William Ragsdale), nothing could be better than an old horror movie late at night.  However, when he sees the new neighbors bringing a coffin into the house next door, Charley starts to believe his handsome and charming neighbor Jerry Dandridge (Chris Sarandon) is a vampire.  Unfortunately, Dandridge knows that Charley is aware of his secret, and attempts to kill him.  Charley then becomes deadest to destroy the monster,  Of course, nobody believes his wild claims – not the police, not his weird friend “Evil” Ed (Stephen Geoffreys), and not his girlfriend Amy (Amanda Bearse).  Ultimately, Charley turns to his beloved horror television show host and cinematic vampire killer Peter Vincent (Roddy McDowall) who is also skeptical, but as the terrifying events unfold, he and Charley must stand side-by-side to battle the fanged undead for their own survival.

Fright Night is such a strong movie.  Every artistic element really forges together solidly.  Most importantly, the cast is brilliantly put together.  Writer / director Tom Holland really grabbed up some amazing talents.  Firstly, William Ragsdale has so much enthusiasm for the role of Charley Brewster.  He really sells every passionate, manic, and heartfelt aspect of the character.  Right from the start, he’s purely relatable as this loveable, scared teenager.  While playing Charley as an entirely straight, panicked character, Ragsdale is able to illicit so much humor amongst his co-stars.  His intensely fearful behavior purely feeds into Ed & Amy’s perspective that he’s gone right out of his mind, and makes for a wonderfully funny juxtaposition.  Anyone going to see this movie could easily put themselves in Charley’s place, and that’s really the perfection of this movie.  Anyone else in Charley’s position would likely be frightened out of their mind, and look for desperate solutions to this lethal supernatural threat.  Still, it’s Ragsdale’s sweetness, heart, and innocent charm that really drive home the likeability of Charley.

The late and very great Roddy McDowall clearly was having major amounts of fun on this movie.  His performance as Peter Vincent is greatly charismatic and smart.  He brings such jovial, witty quality that required a charming sweetness.  The moments where he plays up the corny aspects of the character are very entertaining and brilliant.  McDowall also adds subtle touches of depth to this lowly washed up horror legend of Peter Vincent, respectfully named after horror greats Peter Cushing and Vincent Price.  As Peter Vincent becomes aware of the horrifying reality at hand, McDowall richly portrays the character’s shaken, fearful state of mind.  One of the film’s most intense scenes is after Peter Vincent violently slays a creature of the night, and he witnesses the tragic, nightmarish reversion he takes from wolf back to human form.  McDowall gives the scenes such emotional substance with an amazingly deep expression of humanity and sympathy.  Most other horror films wouldn’t think to incorporate such a powerful moment, but it deeply motivates Peter Vincent to confront Dandridge once again into the film’s climax.  It gives him the strength of will and faith to combat this powerful enemy.  It’s a great piece of acting by Roddy, and a brilliant piece of screenwriting and directing by Tom Holland.

I absolutely love Chris Sarandon’s work.  I think he is a remarkable actor able to bring a unique and entertaining quality to everything he does.  He can do great, straight dramatic acting, or as in The Princess Bride, can play a truly despicable villain while still making him deeply comedic.  As Jerry Dandridge, Sarandon oozes seductive sexuality which saturates the screen.  He has a hypnotic allure that leaves no doubt in his ability to sway Amy’s desires.  Sarandon always brings an elegant sophistication to his performances that really penetrates and creates a very theatrical quality.  That is vibrantly on display with Jerry Dandridge.  He can be nicely charming as the friendly neighbor, but then, turn on the imposing, frightening qualities which electrifies the screen.  In the dance club scene, he completely captivates and enthralls with sensual, erotic physicality in conjunction with Amanda Bearse.  It’s a great dynamic that Dandridge is both deeply seductive and romantic as well as fiercely violent.  Dandridge is very full of life and compelling charisma that would be a chore for most any other actor, but for Sarandon, it seems to come very naturally.

The supporting cast is just as solid and enjoyable.  Jonathan Stark does a very intriguing job as Billy Cole.  When things get weird, the character just gets weirder.  What sort of creature he is, I’m still uncertain about, but that’s good.  It shows that there are things that not even all of the horror movie knowledge in the world can explain in this film.  Most would know Amanda Bearse from her years on Married With Children, but she shows a whole different side of her talent here.  She demonstrates an impressive range starting out as the wholesome, sweet girlfriend Amy who gradually succumbs to Dandridge’s seduction to become an alluring vixen.  It’s quite amazing how sexy and attractive she is late in the film.  She plays off of Ragsdale very well with both comedic and heartfelt moments, and later, is very in sync with Chris Sarandon’s sensual vibe.  It’s solid work.  Stephen Geoffreys is great as the quirky, nutty “Evil” Ed.  He’s so much the comic life of the film, and it’s not one of those instances where he’s the lone character off-setting the tone.  He entirely fits into the tone and style Tom Holland sets with this film, and Ed just pushes the crazy, hyperactive aspect of it all.  He’s the clown of the group, and Geoffreys just goes full boar in the latter half of the film.  It’s immensely entertaining and well-rounded, as are all of the performances.

Fright Night is amazingly well shot and edited.  Pacing is very tight and consistent.  There never feels to be a lull as the momentum constantly builds as the plot progresses and the horror intensifies.  Mood and atmosphere are smartly maintained through very good, realistic lighting and strategically used haze.  The aforementioned club scene is very 80s with vibrant colors and a lively visual style.  There’s nothing low grade in this film.  The production values are consistently very high.  Sets are perfectly realized, and the effects are flat out excellent.  Instead of straining the budget with another series of optical composites or wire work, the filmmakers chose some great camera work to avoid showing Jerry Dandridge flying around early on.  This adds to the film, oddly.  Fright Night is subtle in what it does early on only giving you a taste of who and what Jerry Dandridge is.  It’s not gratuitous or flaunting his abilities.  It’s saving that for much later when it has more impact.  Of course, the special make-up effects are absolutely phenomenal, and on fully ghastly display.  The vampire make-up has multiple phases that all work to striking effect, and there is no shortage of genuine, strong scares or vampire gore.  We get a couple of chilling, unsettling sights in this film which proves that Fright Night truly lives up to its title by giving the audience a gruesome, frightening thrill ride.  In that final act, Charley and Peter aren’t just dealing with Jerry Dandridge, they have multiple fearsome adversaries to battle through in order to survive.

Tom Holland wrote a very smart, clever, and sharp screenplay.  It’s a great premise in which one moment Charley’s watching corny old vampire movies on late night television, and the next he finds a vampire living next door to him.  Every element of plot and character is interwoven very tightly to allow for that consistent pace and flow I mentioned before.  The comedy in the film dynamically fits in very well with the startling horror aspects.  When the horror kicks in, it’s high gear all the way, and done with immense talent and skill.  He brings out amazing performances and chemistry amongst his actors to create a richly cohesive piece of cinema.  Holland really knew how to build suspense and tension to give the terror a strong pay-off.  Even the seductive, sexual aspects are given their due build-up to pay them off for the characters and audience.  I can’t comment much on Tom Holland’s filmography, but between Fright Night and Child’s Play, he has more than sold me on his talent for horror.

Overall, the original Fright Night is extremely hard to beat.  I’m not opposed to ever watching the remake, but I also have no desire to go out of my way to do so.  Tom Holland made a purely fun and excellent horror film here that is rich with character, style, terror, and a smart story.  Even the 1989 sequel Fright Night, Part II could not rival this film’s innovation and intelligence.  You surely cannot go wrong with this delightfully scary film.  The performances are amazing all around giving you several wonderfully conceived and executed characters to invest yourself in, and a marvelously realized vampire villain that will surely satisfy on multiple levels.  Fright Night is a bonafide classic of the genre in my eyes, and I am surely not alone in that sentiment.  If you’ve never seen the original, you will be doing yourself a great favor by doing so.  I’ll also clue you in on the two pirate audio commentaries that were recorded by Icons of Fright featuring, among others, Tom Holland, William Ragsdale, Stephen Geoffreys, Chris Sarandon, and Jonathan Stark.  They are great insightful listens, and they’re FREE to download!


Outlander (2008)

Sometimes, you see a trailer for a movie, and you just have to take a chance with it.  Make a real commitment to what you perceive as an awesome piece of cinematic work, and sometimes, it truly pays off beyond your expectations.  Of course, my luck being what it is, it was not easy tracking down a DVD of this movie in-store.  I ultimately found it in a re-sale store about twenty miles away.  Yes, I could have done an iTunes rental, but I felt so strong about how great this film would be that I felt a purchase was inevitable.  Beyond just the trailer, I have enjoyed some strong works from Jim Caviezel dating back to The Count of Monte Cristo and Frequency to the current hit CBS crime thriller television series Person of Interest.  Caviezel always brings a rich depth to his roles that is highly investing and entertaining.  So, that further fueled my interest as well as the fusion of science fiction and fantasy elements.

709AD, a space craft streaks across the night’s sky and crash lands in Norway with the only survivors being the warrior Kainan (Jim Caviezel) and a deadly alien stowaway.  Before he can track down this enemy, Kainan is captured by viking warrior Wulfric (Jack Huston), and held prisoner in the local village led by King Hrothgar (John Hurt).  He is questioned about his presence, and says he was hunting dragons, but in truth, it is a fiery bio-luminescent beast called a Moorwen from a planet his people attempted to wipe out and colonize.  Grudgingly accepted into the clan after saving the King’s life, Kainan confides in Hrothgar’s fiercely beautiful daughter, Freya (Sophia Myles), about his past.  As the Moorwen wreaks terror and destruction on neighboring villages, the threat of conflict between the clans escalates and Kainan is called upon to kill the creature.  They forge a strategy and weapons to defeat it, but victory will come at a cost and Kainan will find a new future for himself.

Getting right to the point, what satisfied me the most about this movie is how perfect the storytelling and character arcs are.  Every story or character element is introduced, evolved, and paid off with great emotional weight and impact.  As the bond between Kainan and the Vikings strengthens and expands, I felt the need for where this story should end, hoping for the characters to take the paths I anticipated for them.  Nothing is ever lightly given in this movie, nor is any plot development handled weakly.  Every emotion and character evolution is earned by the dedication of the actors and the filmmakers’ to this powerful adventure.

The visual effects are surprisingly awesome and consistent.  There were only two extremely quick moments where the CGI looked a little undercooked, but they are “blink and you’ll miss them” moments.  Every other instance is exceptionally good, and listening to the audio commentary you’ll learn how extensive and seamless these digital effects are.  The Moorwen is wonderfully realized with a brilliant bio-luminescent design making it appear as if it’s made of fire.  It burns throught the darkness of night attracting the attention of its prey. so that it can attack swiftly.  It comes off almost like a creature of legend, like a dragon, but it does have a little more science fiction edge to it.  In its few revealing moments, personality and intelligence come through in its face and actions as well as a fearsome demeanor.  This is a welcome choice as I wholly support the idea of the creature having personality like the Predator or Alien.  It makes them more memorable and effective.  The scenes on the alien planet are especially well done with a striking sense of scope and interesting, unique design.  Lots of creative thought was put into it to give it its own identity to offer up an epic sensibility for the film.  The amber color scheme of the planet is a nice contrast to the greenish-blue daytime scenes on Earth.

Cinematography is gorgeous.  A great deal of care and integrity were put into the photography of this picture giving it scope and weight.  Apparently, production was originally intended to take place in New Zealand with WETA Workshop doing effects on a larger budget, but to my eyes, I see no budget starved areas.  Ultimately being shot in Nova Scotia, Canada, the landscape is beautifully captured with some excellent aerial photography, and various shots which show the breadth and depth of the land which all sell a certain majesty of the film’s setting.  Gorgeous really does encompass it all.  The soft, warm lighting in the Viking Hall is like a master artist’s brushstrokes come to life.  The shadowy and fiery moments at night hunting the Moorwen establish a tense, fearful atmosphere that drives the emotional intensity of the story.  There’s plenty of subtle atmosphere to give the land life.  Outlander was shot with exceptional skill and scope by Pierre Gill, and I applaud his marvelous work here.

Jim Caviezel is an amazingly effective and powerful actor who brings a lot of relatable aspects to Kainan.  First off, there’s the courageous warrior who embodies a great hero’s journey.  He feels a need for redemption for what his people did to the Moorwens, and gradually, he seems to find that salvation with these people.  They come to trust in him and accept him as one of their own through a series of trials, both friendly and dangerous.  Caviezel offers up a growing humanity, an opening of Kainan’s emotions that allow an audience and the other characters to strongly connect with him.  Jim Caviezel also has a natural ethereal, soulful aura around him that serves the otherworldly aspect of the character well.  The strength of Kainan is constantly balanced with his own internal pain and doubts through the competence and thorough devotion of Caviezel to the role.  I simply love how much he digs into the character to bring out elements evocative of the heroes of Highlander and Predator.  Characters with a strong sense of honor, courage, and heart that come off as legendary heroes.  I would certainly say that Outlander could be categorized as a meshing of those sorts of films.  Caviezel himself said the film was “a light mix of Braveheart and Highlander.”  Many have mentioned comparisons to Beowulf.  By the film’s end, I viewed Kainan as a warrior of legend full of depth that was greatly worth investing myself in for 115 minutes.

The supporting cast really begins with Jack Huston.  He’s a great actor here that Caviezel works off of very well.  As Wulfric, Huston brings a youthful brashness to the story.  He’s a warrior with much ambition as the heir to his father’s throne, but he lacks the wisdom and experience to be ready to accept that role.  However, his impulsiveness and character is gradually tempered through this adventure.  Kainan and Wulfric learn much from one another, and they prove to be far better off for it.  They forge a kinship that fuels them into battle and further strengthens the foundation of the story.  Huston is charismatic and finely enjoyable.

I found Sophia Myles pleasantly surprising and powerful.  I really only know her from her role of the self-serving vampire Erika in Underworld.  Here, I absolutely love her!  Her introduction as Freya is strong and aggressive.  She handles the physical demands of Freya in stride in various fight scenes wielding a sword with expert competence.  She’s a woman who can defend herself and her people, if need be, and while she does have a softer, more heartfelt side, that is not how she wishes to be defined.  Sophia is a beautiful woman, especially with that red hair, who brings so much dimension to Freya.  She adds a fine texture and weight to this role which does have its tender areas of compassion and love opposite the pride and strength.  There is warmth and passion in her eyes, selling so much of how she relates and bonds with the male characters around her.  She holds her ground firmly with impressive depth and confidence while forging an amazing emotional core.

King Hrothgar is excellently portrayed by the engaging and insightful John Hurt.  Wisdom and honor mixed with conviction and compassion are what define his performance.  Ron Perlman has a smaller role as Hrothgar’s rival Gunnar which he infuses with gruff brutality and heartbreaking ire.  In general, the whole supporting cast maintains the depth and dimension that the leads established creating a very full and diverse world that feels realistic.

The production design has great detail and vibrancy applied to it.  Everything of the Vikings has a texture that speak of a culture with realistic history.  From the costumes to the sets to their props, they are all cohesive.  They create a complete world for these characters to inhabit.  Again, nothing feels budget starved.  There are large sets built to give scenes visual depth and wonderful lighting setups that bring it all to life.  The advanced technology of Kainan’s world is very well designed with a very consistent aesthetic.  For some viewers, it might take a little getting used to switching between the Viking world and the science fiction tech, but ultimately, everything meshes as well as anyone could expect.

The story here is amazingly well written and interwoven around its amazing characters.  Howard McCain and Dirk Blackman put together an inspired screenplay that turned into a fantastic, thoroughly pleasing feature film for me.  It is great that Kainan enters into a world of characters who have an established history, who have stories already in motion for themselves.  They are already on a certain path, and the arrival of Kainan and the Moorwen merely jump start those stories forward.  All of the character threads tie into each other and the main plot to create great arcs that culminate in something that legends are made of.

Director / co-writer Howard McCain crafted a film full of adventure, action, tension, suspense, excitement, drama, and character depth that thrives on the screen.  Outlander has beautiful and brilliant visual flare that give the film so much vibrant life.  There are so many deeply talented people involved in this film that make it so amazing.  The score by Geoff Zanelli supports the epic scale of this adventure, and enhances the emotion throughout.  This was a movie that easily fell below the radar due to a limited theatrical release by the Weinstein Company.  That is why I am writing this review so that it can gain some more exposure.  I could reiterate many points I made here to push this further upon you, but the best way to promote this is to say I loved it.  This is a thrilling action adventure with plenty of character drama to satisfy a wide spread audience.  The science fiction and Nordic elements come together through the emotional elements which bond the characters together tightly.  This is one film you surely need to personally experience to fully understand its strength, but in more simple terms, Outlander entirely kicks ass!