Movie Review: It’s Fright Night Again

Science/Fantasy Monday: It’s Fright Night Again

I’ve been doing a lot of these Sunday morning movies (gotta love AMC’s $5 morning movie tickets!). This past Sunday was Fright Night.

I was looking forward to this movie for a couple reasons I love movies that mix classic horror elements with dark comedy (like Zombieland), and I love David Tennant, who plays Peter Vincent in the movie.  So I went to this movie, not expecting anything brilliant or intellectual (because seriously, do you go to a vampire movie for intelligence or drama? No, you go for blood and gore, and in this case, some great one-liners), but expecting to have fun.  And I did.

Fright Night begins with a seemingly harmless cookie-cutter suburb outside Las Vegas, where high-school senior Charley lives with his single-mother.  The audience is allowed a little time to get to know Charley he’s recently ditched his nerdy best friend, Ed, to enter into the “cool” cliques, earning him his gorgeous girlfriend, Amy; he’s very protective of his mother after his father ran out on them an unspecified number of years earlier.  At the same time, the audience learns that Charley’s mother is a realtor trying to bring new people into their neighborhood, which is dying as more and more people move out.  To this end, she sells the house next door to a man named Jerry, who keeps odd hours and has blacked-out windows (you can see where this is going, yes?).  I don’t think I’m giving too much away (as it happens in the first 20 minutes of the movie) when I tell you that Charley’s old best friend, Ed, has been spying on Jerry, and tells Charles that his next-door-neighbor must be a vampire.  The next day, Ed disappears, and Charley begins to realize that he may have been right.  Now, Charley must protect his mother and girlfriend from the vampire next door, and enlist the help of Peter Vincent Las Vegas stage magician and vampire expert before he becomes the next victim.

Fright Night is a remake of an old 80’s campy horror movie of the same name, but I haven’t seen the original so I can’t do a comparison here.  Instead, I’m taking the movie on its own merits.

Charley is played by baby-faced Anton Yelchin.  Yelchin is only 22 years old, and is still fairly new to the scene, but he already has two huge blockbusters under his belt.  He played Chekhov in the newest Star Trek movie, and he played a young Kyle Reese in Terminator: Salvation.  If this doesn’t tell you something about his acting ability, his potential, and the good opinion directors obviously have of him, than nothing will.  He’s young, but he’s good.  And he’s going to get better.  Fast.  In Fright Night, he plays a conflicted, well-meaning, determined teenager with energy and empathy.  And I look forward to his next projects.

Jerry the Vampire is played by Colin Farrell not my favorite actor by any stretch of the imagination, but he does a surprisingly good job here, playing equal parts creepy and oddly funny, in a strange, off-kilter way.  Sometimes the way he moves, cocks his head, lifts his arms, and so forth is almost awkward (especially in the early scenes when Jerry is obviously trying to hide his identity from his neighbors), that you just can’t help but laugh at this vampire who can’t quite “play” human.

The girlfriend, Amy, is played by Imogen Poots (and there’s a regrettable name if I’ve ever heard one), who was pretty all she needed to be: pretty, mostly-believable as a high school student, and at least a decent enough actress not to drag down the script or the other actors.  She wasn’t bad, but she wasn’t anything to write home about either.  But honestly, the part didn’t require that she be a fantastic dramatic actress anyway, so no harm done.

And, of course, David Tennant (of Doctor Who fame) played Peter Vincent.  Now, this character was interesting, and Tennant’s portrayal was hilarious: he’s a Las Vegas stage magician (long black wig, lots of black eye-liner, and black leather, you know the type), but he’s also an expert in the paranormal, who is well known for his collection of artifacts and information about vampires.  You quickly find out, too, that for all his knowledge of vampires, he’s terrified of doing anything about them, and would much rather run and hide.  Tennant plays him up as crass, foul-mouthed, arrogant, more than a little cowardly an absolute mess.  And he’s hilarious.

As for special effects… Well, it was filmed for 3D, but I didn’t see it in 3D because I just don’t like it.  I think it’s mainly a gimmick.  However, the usual movie special effects were fairly effective.  Lots of blood-splatter, a severed arm or two, and the like made an appearance.  And the vampires (yes, there were more than one by the end), did more than just look human in feeding frenzy, their faces transformed into almost shark-like gaping mouths with lots and lots of sharp teeth.  The CGI for this effect wasn’t the best ever, but it wasn’t bad, and the touch of campiness added more to the fun than anything else.  (At least the vampires didn’t sparkle.)

Finally, the writing (story by Tom Holland, screenplay by Marti Noxon, of Buffy the Vampire Slayer fame):  Again, you don’t go to this kind of movie expecting brilliant writing, touching drama, etc etc, blah blah blah.  And you’re not going to find that here.  The story is fairly formulaic, and everything that happens is pretty much exactly what you expect to happen.  There are no surprises here.  Also, despite the R rating, this is not a scary movie.  Sure, there’s blood (but more often than not, the camera pans away from what would be the really gory bits), and I think the R rating has more to do with the language (including Tennant’s hilariously excessive use of “fuck”).  If you’re expecting a horror movie, this isn’t it.  It’s more a dark comedy with horror elements.  But that’s what made it fun for me.  Quite a lot of this movie was just flat-out hilarious (sometimes including the blood-splatter).

Final verdict: If you liked Zombieland, you should like Fright Night.  It’s not as clever or original, but it is a lot of fun.  (And if you’re a David Tennant fan: he’s shirtless. ‘Nuff said.)

If you’ve seen Fright Night already, what’s your opinion?  Did you enjoy it?  Were you expecting something else?  If you’ve seen the original as well, how do the two compare?

Midnight’s Knife: Gabrielle Wrath

I’ve been thinking and thinking about whether or not I should post some excerpts of my WIP: Midnight’s Knife.  I’ve been ridiculously indecisive about the whole thing.  But, thanks to some enthusiasm on Twitter and here, I finally decided to just go ahead and put up at least one scene.  And here it is.   This scene is a bit long, but its one of my favorites and its a fairly complete entity.  This will probably be the opening of the first chapter, though I’m still debating if this the best way to introduce the main character, Gabrielle Wrath.  (For a summary, or two, of Midnight’s Knife, I direct you to Wednesday’s post.)

I would greatly appreciate any and all feedback.  I promise I can take criticism.  I’ve necessarily developed a pretty thick skin over the years.  I would like it best if you would be willing to give me some idea on what does work and what doesn’t (I’m hoping at least SOME of it actually works…).  Oh! And I should warn you now, there is some fairly graphic violence and a curse word or two.

And now, without further ado, a scene from Midnight’s Knife:

Gabrielle walked the streets of downtown, whistling, ignoring her surroundings, and swinging her keys in tight circles on the end of a lanyard.  It was ten o’clock at night, dark but for the street lamps and the occasional neon sign.  The soft soles of her flat brown boots rolled over the pavement without sound, and her brown leather jacket did not even whisper with her movements.  Her dark pixie-cut hair fluttered in the breeze, and her storm-gray eyes shimmered in the dim light.  There was little movement around her.  A couple men in business suits walking down the sidewalk on the other side of the street, probably on their way to a bar.  Or a strip club.  Cars going past her every few minutes, most of them trying to get out of downtown and home to their quiet suburbs.  To say she was bored would be laughable.  She had passed boredom days ago.  Weeks ago.  She was so far past boredom there were now several states between them.

She had arrived six months ago on a job.  She had finished the job in two months.  Then she’d spent a few weeks sight-seeing, relaxing, and walking through downtown at night looking for something to keep her busy.  But the charm of relaxing and sight-seeing had long since worn off.  Boredom did not even come close.

Her whistling stopped, and she put her keys back into her jean pocket.  She thought she heard something.  Something like breathing maybe.  But she shrugged to herself and kept walking.  Her face was unconcerned and incurious as she glanced around at buildings and street signs.  Looking oblivious of the danger a pretty young woman of twenty might come across on city streets at night.  Looking as if she had not a thought in her head.  One might therefore be excused for thinking that she, like any normal young woman, would be shocked and terrified to find two large arms lunging out from the dark of an alley to grasp her, one hand covering her mouth as the other clutched her around the waist.  The thing attached to the two arms expected her to scream and struggle.  Any normal young woman would have.

But Gabrielle was not any normal young woman.  She relaxed her body and allowed the arms to drag her backward into the alley.  Once out of the light of the street lamps, she dropped her body, twisted her hips, and let her assailant’s own momentum knock him off his feet.  Her assailant lay sprawled on his back, staring up at her in shock as she turned to look at him fully.  Her eyes could see him as clearly as if it were broad daylight, could see the dirty clothes, the yellow eyes, the elongated incisors.

“What the hell!” her attacker gasped, looking confused and stunned.

“You really should be more careful who you ambush,” she said conversationally.  She pulled a long knife from its hiding place in a carefully concealed pocket in her jacket and almost laughed when her attacker continued to gape at her.  This was hardly going to put a dent in her boredom, she thought bitterly.  Stupid clueless vampire.

“Who the hell are you!” the vampire demanded, half-fear, half-indignation.

“Who do you think, you idiot?” Gabrielle said scathing disgust.  “I’m a Sword.”  The vampire’s eyes widened in renewed terror as Gabrielle moved toward him in a blur of motion.  Just as she raised her arm to slide the knife through his neck, the vampire looked up and behind her.

“You lied to me!” he wailed, as Gabrielle sliced halfway through his neck with one stroke to the left, and finished the cut with the return stroke to the right.  Oh shit, she thought, as she began to spin on the ball of her foot.  And then it all happened at once: the vampire she had just decapitated burst apart with a flash of bloody-red light, leaving bits of bone, blood, and dust in his wake; Gabrielle found a second vampire standing behind her; the vampire wrenched the knife from her hand with a deep growl and dropped it the ground beside him.

So much for being bored.

The vampire gripped Gabrielle’s arm and swung her against the brick wall to her right.  Hard.  Gabrielle’s spine struck the brick and all the air rushed from her lungs, but she managed to wrest her arm from the vampire’s grip and stay on her feet.  For just a second they stood facing each other, sizing each other up as quickly as some people blink.  This second vampire wasn’t like the first.  He was clean and neatly dressed for one thing.  His eyes were red, which meant he was getting much more blood than the first had been.  And he had obviously used the first vampire as bait, which meant he was both smart and ruthless.

“Can I help you?” Gabrielle asked, unconcerned.  She stood on the balls of her feet, her knees bent, her hands loose and ready at her sides, prepared to move in a flash if needed.

“I’ve been watching you for a week now,” the vampire told her.  “But others keep beating me to the punch, so to speak.  There always seems to be some other demon to keep you occupied for the evening.”

“It just sucks to get cock-blocked, doesn’t it?” she asked with a smirk.  The vampire curled his lip in anger and without another word lunged forward.  She ducked his attempt to get his hands around her throat, and gave him a right hook to the jaw.  The punch barely made him stumble, but she quickly followed it up with a straight punch to the nose, then one to the solar plexus, and a finally a knee to the groin.  He was a vampire, but some sensitive areas never changed.  He grunted and stumbled backward as he bent at the waist.

“Bitch!” he growled.  But Gabrielle didn’t wait for him to continue.  She kicked him in the side of the head, and as he collided face-first with the brick wall, she dove for the knife he had wrenched from her earlier.  But before she could get her fingers around the hilt, the vampire was on top of her.  His fingers dug into her throat.  She rolled and slammed an elbow into his face, but he did not let go.  She tried to pry his fingers open, but his vice-grip did not loosen.  Her throat closed and her lungs screamed.  Brightly-colored spots danced in her eyes.  The vampire’s teeth gleamed as he grinned.

Gabrielle let go of the vampire’s hands and reached her own hands out to his throat.  He laughed at this, but she gripped his chin and maneuvered one hand behind his head.  With one quick motion she twisted hard and heard his neck snap with a satisfying crack.  His motor control temporarily impaired, the vampire let go and fell sideways off her.  Gabrielle climbed to her feet, swaying a little and coughing as her lungs tried to catch up.  She knew she needed to retrieve her knife before the vampire recovered, but spots still filled her sight and she could barely keep her footing.

Too soon, the vampire’s head twisted back to its normal position and he came to his feet as well.  Laughing.  “You stupid bitch,” the vampire sneered.  “Snapping my neck is hardly going to kill me.”

“I’m perfectly aware of that, thank you,” Gabrielle said, her voice just a little breathless now.  She glanced around for the knife.

“Looking for this?”

He held her knife tightly in his hand.  Damn.

“Now what?” he gloated.

Without responding, she tackled him, slamming him first into the brick wall and then into the ground.  The vampire did not have time to react as she shoved him face first into the pavement, twisting one of his arms behind his back.  He grunted and struggled, but for the moment at least, could not dislodge her.  Before he had a chance to try again, she raised one knee high and then brought her leg down with all the force she could muster, pounding her heel straight into the back of the vampire’s neck.  Every vertebra in his neck shattered and she could feel each tiny crackle and snap through her boot.  The vampire let out a gurgle that could have been a groan and could have been a giggle at the fact that even this would not kill him.  But Gabrielle knew that.

Pressing one knee between his shoulder blades, she knelt down to him.  “You seem to think I need that knife to kill you,” she said.  “It may be the fastest and easiest way, but I assure you, it’s not the only way.”  With that, she reached out both hands and grasped his head.  Her fingers kept an iron grip on his skull and she twisted hard, like twisting a stubborn lid off a jar.  His head snapped to the side but for a few moments moved no farther.  But she kept twisting and pulling, her knuckles going white and his eyes going wide.

The vampire let out another gurgle that might have been “no” and could have been “oh.”  Gabrielle continued to twist and pull.  There were several loud pops as the tendons in his neck tore.  The vampire screamed.  Gabrielle gritted her teeth, knowing this was about to get nasty.  The neck muscles resisted and her arms trembled with the effort.  Then suddenly, as if a dam had crumbled down, the vampire’s head turned a full three-sixty degrees plus a few degrees, and came free as the skin ripped in a surprisingly clean line.  Blood splattered Gabrielle’s hands, arms, face, leather jacket, and jeans, and quite a bit of the pavement around them.  Blood bubbled out of the torn arteries for a minute as the vampire’s undead heart slowly came to a halt.  Then, as Gabrielle still knelt over it, the body burst apart as the previous one had – showering her in bits of bone and dust.

Slowly, Gabrielle stood and tried to brush some of the bone and dust off, but it clung to the wet, sticky blood, coating her in a disgusting sticky, gritty, grisly mess.  She sighed heavily.  Her jeans were definitely ruined.  And she wasn’t too sure about the jacket either.  But at least that was two less vampires to worry about.  Only, now she was bored again.

And there you have it, folks.  Please, please, please leave a comment! I’m not above begging.  In fact, I’m begging right now.

The Shadows of Our Fantasy Predecessors

In his book The Anxiety of Influence: A Theory of Poetry, Harold Bloom argues that poets are hindered by their necessary but complicated relationship with their poetic predecessors.  Bloom, of course, does not deny that inspiration for poets comes from many places, including the non-literary aspects of the poet’s life, but insists that the “poet within the poet” is mainly inspired to write by reading another poet’s work and will therefore tend to create work that is derivative of existing poetry (and therefore weak).  And because a poet must build an original poetic vision, not only because that is what every artist wants to do but because it is necessary for that artist and his/her work to survive in the future, the influence of those precursor poets are a constant source of anxiety for current poets.  Obviously, the great poets find a way to work past this anxiety and do manage to create something strong and original.

Now, the question remains: why exactly am I talking about Harold Bloom and poets?  Because, while the idea of the anxiety of influence may not work for all artists in all genres, I think it definitely holds true for those of us in the fantasy/sci fi genres.  Or maybe it’s just me…  Who knows?

Now, the question remains: why exactly am I talking about Harold Bloom and poets?  Because, while the idea of the anxiety of influence may not work for all artists in all genres, I think it definitely holds true for those of us in the fantasy/sci fi genres.  Or maybe it’s just me…  Who knows?

Okay, so even if it’s just me, let me explain a little.  I am constantly (I really do mean constantly) worried about how I can create something new and different in the midst of all that has already been written.  I worry, so I read more to learn more (about options, about creative solutions, etc), but that only leads me to worry more.  Here’s an example: many fantasy writers love writing about elves – seriously, who doesn’t love elves?  But elves are one of the greatest, biggest, most frustrating source of anxiety for us.  There’s Tolkien to contend with, first of all, because, let’s be honest, the first thing anyone thinks about when they think about elves is The Lord of the Rings.  At this point, even non-fantasy buffs are going to jump straight to Tolkien.  So, how can we write about elves without accidentally copying (or even just being accused of copying) The Lord of the Rings?  AND it doesn’t end there.

Elves are EVERYWHERE.  They have been tackled in different ways by Tad Williams, Mercedes Lackey, and J.K. Rowling.  They have become a staple in role-playing games such as Dungeons & Dragons and World of Warcraft.  They are all over the place in animation and comics.  And they have even made appearances in science fiction such as Heinlein’s The Puppet Masters, in which the elves are a race of beings who live on Titan (Saturn’s largest moon) and breath methane.  So, with all of this floating out there already (especially if you really just want your elves to be somewhat Tolkien-ish), what direction is left?  I have agonized over this question for years.  One answer is to simply not call them elves, give them another name.  This is what Tad Williams did in his Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn trilogy.  His elf-like characters are called the Sithi.  But we all still know they’re really elves.  Another solution is to make little (or not-so-little) changes/additions to the traditional image of an elf.  Of course, what exact changes will make it more interesting and original is a question I haven’t figured out how to answer yet.  In fact, I haven’t really found a solution for any of this yet.

This same problem holds true for quite a few other things.  For instance, vampires.  How do you write about vampires without simply copying the likes of Anne Rice, Charlaine Harris, or Stephanie Meyer – or, in my case, Buffy the Vampire Slayer?  And I’m sure if we all put our heads together, we could come up with half a million other fantasy themes, characters, and elements that give us all pause and make us ponder the shadows of our predecessors.

On a side note: this can also hold true in science fiction.  For instance, space operas often run the risk of all sounding the same.  And one of my personal demons is the problem of cyberpunk.  I love it, I love reading it, and I’d love to write it.  But every time I try, I just end up sounding like I’m mimicking (and badly) William Gibson and Neal Stephenson.

I don’t have solutions to any of these problems yet.  But I would love to hear what sorts of ideas/solutions anyone has come up with.  Or, if I’m the only one who worries about these things, please let me know so I can add that to the list of things I’m irrationally neurotic about.  Any thoughts?  Opinions?  Well then, press the reply button!  You know you want to.