by Steve Habrat
Another month, another horror remake coughed up from lazy Hollywood and this time it’s the prequel to John Carpenter’s 1982 chiller The Thing. August saw the remake of another 80’s horror flick, Fright Night, which was playful, spry, and hip. The Thing 2011 fits nicely along with the original 1982 classic, but after establishing no mood, it becomes a showcase for the latest special effects Hollywood has to offer and to be perfectly honest, they are not much to write home about. The creature effects are what made the Carpenter original such a standout. They were appallingly real where here they seem rubbery and computerized. In fact, they are only a notch above direct to DVD effects. The Thing 2011 is also the furthest thing from hip, seeming appropriately old school but never really utilizing the effect (the film begins with the classic Universal Studios logo). It’s drenched in fakery when it could have benefitted from a real scare. It’s also certainly not playful, never elaborating on the original story but rather simply resorting to rehashing the original plot with different actors. It only adds B-movie princess Mary Elizabeth Winstead gripping a flamethrower and a big, laughable UFO at the end.
Remember in the Carpenter original when MacReady (Krut Russell) and the resident doctor ventured into the charred ruins of the Norwegian camp at the beginning of The Thing 1982? The place looked like hell had rained down upon it. It was also especially creepy because our mind filled in what happened to these people. Well, Hollywood found it necessary to show us what happened and it doesn’t look that much different from what happened in the American camp. After a group of Norwegian scientists stumble upon a UFO and a crablike alien buried in the snow of the Arctic, American paleontologist Kate (Played by Winstead) and her partner Adam (Played by Eric Christian Olsen) are recruited by a Norwegian scientist named Dr. Sander Halvorson (Played by Ulrich Thomsen) to come to the site and help them remove the alien from the snow. She takes on the job and upon her arrival, she meets a pair of American pilots Carter and Jameson (Played by Joel Edgerton and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje). Once the scientists remove the alien from the ice and bring it back to the camp, it soon wakes up and breaks from its icy confines. It begins attacking the scientists one by one and duplicating the helpless saps. Paranoia rips through the group and soon the alien begins rearing it’s fangs and tentacles all over the place, ripping out from heads, arms, stomachs, etc. As the group awaits help to arrive, they desperately search for a way to figure out who is normal and how to quarantine the alien from spreading outside the camp.
This Thing isn’t a terrible movie and it actually has a bit of potential buried beneath the snow and ice. Winstead is a talented actress and her toughness is believable, but she’s not the reluctant hero the MacReady was. Edgerton also attempts to fit ol’ Kurt’s boots but he doesn’t fair any better. The film segues nicely into the ‘82 original and I will pat it on the back for that, but other than that it really seems to have no reason to exist. Furthermore, it’s empty headed and without commentary. The Cold War paranoia was part of what makes the original a classic to this day. It’s a frosted over mirror of paranoia, dread, fear, and suspicion. It comes as no surprise to me because the trailer boasted that the same people who gave George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead a CGI makeover produced this film too. The 2004 Dawn of the Dead was much more fun than The Thing 2011 and that is mostly because it wasn’t afraid to stray a bit from the original concept.
So what exactly is the potential here? For one, the characters could have been a bit more interesting. None of them grabbed me and when one of them crumpled into alien bits, I wasn’t filled empathy. I never really cared. The film could have also had some more memorable moments in the alien department. The original film works because it has moments of pure exhibition. Who will ever forget the severed head sprouting legs and trying to walk off? Or how about a dead man’s chest caving in and revealing a set of teeth, which proceed to bite off another man’s arms? There is nothing like that here and all we get is a computerized dog-like human that crawls around and has two heads. And how about the alien itself? Well, it would have been better left charred and on an autopsy table rather than actually seeing it scamper about the camp. It was creepy never truly knowing what it looked like. I could have also done without the end, which finds several of the characters chasing the alien around its massive UFO. The film climaxes with another perfect grenade toss, unfortunately missing a one liner as good as “Yeah! Well fuck you too!” And how about the blood test in the original? Here, there is nothing that suspenseful and instead we get a tooth-filling test. It never comes close to the unbearable intensity of the original scene.
The Thing 2011 pulls the same stunt as Dawn of the Dead 2004, making the audience sit through the end credits and watch brief flashes of the set up for the original film. Over these scenes, the original Ennio Morricone score slithers over the footage. I kept crossing my fingers for a cameo from MacReady but don’t get your hopes up too high. The Thing 2011 needed to discover it’s own identity and it never does. I never minded sitting through the film and spotting the references to the original, but it became tedious after a while. It never offers up any new information on the alien, just a few minor hints at how it duplicates its prey. None of the explanations are riveting and they slowly suck the terror out of the film. Much like the gooey, roaring antagonist, The Thing 2011 is just a duplication of the 1982 film. And just like any duplication or copy, there are a few imperfections that eventually give it away. And what does The Thing 2011 give away? It slowly reveals that the filmmakers had absolutely no idea how to build upon this story. Grade: C+
by Steve Habrat
To all the horror fans out there, you can all breathe a collective sigh of relief. The remake of Fright Night restores honor to the vampire genre and shifts it from the teenybopper chick flicks back to a jugular ripping good time. Granted, some of the weightiness that is associated with the genre is stripped away but the film packs enough blood, guts, and thrills to make up for all three of the Twilight abominations (and that Priest movie). I’ll forgive you if you had some doubts about this film. The original 1985 Fright Night is not the most well known fright flick in the genre but it does have a minor level of notoriety. Made during the surge of special effects, the film is now showing its 80’s crow feet and the remake is well aware of it. The original Fright Night is steeped in 80s pop culture and it’s only fitting that the amped up remake is a product of these times. Yes, the protagonists listen to Kid Cudi and Foster the People, wear throwback high-tops and skinny jeans, Peter Vincent Vampire Hunter is a Vegas magician act that is eerily similar to Criss Angel, and Jerry, the famous vamp, looks like he stepped out of the latest Diesel Jeans ad. Perhaps the filmmakers want this film to act as a relic in twenty-five years just as the original does today.
This spunky, vamp-com ranks among the recent remake movement as one of the best that I have seen so far. It sits nicely with 2004’s Dawn of the Dead, 2006’s The Hills Have Eyes, and last year’s The Crazies and Let Me In. It pays a nice tribute to the original film while also setting itself a part for these ADD-plagued audiences. Charlie Brewster (Played by baby faced Charlie Bartlett himself, Anton Yelchin) has it all: popular friends, a smoking hot girlfriend Amy (Played by the smoking hot Imogen Poots), and a warm, loving mother (Played by the underused Toni Collette). His popularity is increasing at his local high school and he is leaving his nerdy past, along with his nerdy best friend Ed (Played by McLovin himself, Christopher Mintz-Plasse) eating his cocky dust. After one of Charlie and Ed’s best friends disappears, the two take it upon themselves to play detective and investigate. They make a shocking discovery that Charlie’s charming new neighbor Jerry (Played by a never better Colin Farrell) is really a vampire who is chomping through their town’s citizens.
If you haven’t been floored by the recent parade of sappy vampire books, tacky television shows, and subpar movies (except that chilling Swedish film Let the Right One In and the American companion Let Me In), Fright Night may be a bit of a tough sell. Yet the film breathes new life into the genre that Stephanie Myer drove a stake through with her creation of Edward Cullen. Sure, there is a romance here that will quench the thirst of the squealing teenage girls that will certainly flock to see this (the whole film is loaded with current pop culture nods), but this is actually an adult vampire vehicle with an effectively calm Farrell behind the wheel. I personally don’t think he’s had more fun playing a role in his entire career. He struts into scene and utters a breathy “Hey guy” which reduces Charlie to jelly. You chuckle every time he pops in but your chuckles are quickly silenced by the unpredictability that radiates out of him. Romanticized vampire he ain’t, especially when he rips a gas line out of Charlie’s back yard and sends a flame through it to blow up his house. He doesn’t even break a sweat when he walks to up to the burning house and coolly tells Charlie “I don’t need to be invited in if there is no house.” Let me tell you folks, it doesn’t get any better than that in a vampire romp. I wanted to let out a cheer.
Fright Night is a relentless fun house that is marred by a weak introduction. I found the awkward, cliché heavy chitchat at the beginning rather indolent. What smoothes these few waves over is the presence of such dedicated actors, all who appear to be confidently invested in their characters. I rooted for Charlie and I found myself hypnotized by the nerdy Ed. Amy is a character that could have been reduced to gratuitous sex appeal but Poots plays her with some assured, playful depth. I certainly can’t write this review without mention of David Tennant’s flamboyant Peter Vincent. He vamps it up quite nicely himself and almost gives Farrell a run for his money. The film certainly packs the gore, which will please the fans hungry for some wildly imaginative vampire slayings. Plus, it’s all in eyeball aching 3D. This was another downfall of the movie—the 3D does strain your peepers and I had to lift up my glasses to let my eyes readjust before putting them back on.
Fright Night is not an exceptionally scary movie going experience. You will not be left cowering in terror or enduring many sleepless nights. You will, however, have a blast watching this candy colored rollercoaster ride. If you are a diehard fan of the original, you should be left satisfied. Farrell deserves some recognition for his dedication to Jerry. I honestly would happily see it again just for his performance alone. Fright Night is not a great film but just a really good, really fun monster movie. You’ll overlook its flaws, especially if you are over the age of twenty and Edward Cullen is not your idea of a compelling bloodsucker. This film deserves three cheers for its savage gut punch to those pretty boys. Grade: B+