Sunday, October 30, 2005

DVD: Near Dark

Genre: Vampires
Released: 1987
Director: Kathryn Bigelow
Verdict: &&&1/2

Of the vampire movies that eschew capes, coffins and crosses, the nearly forgotten Near Dark is one of the more admirable efforts. In a last-minute shuffling of our pre-Halloween gathering movie choice, this 1987 gem supplanted The Ring Two (which I've been looking forward to seeing again for months, but whatever. Got to keep the peace.). I had thought this movie was from the '90s, and you'd be hard pressed to date it by the costuming and general look. The atmospheric Tangerine Dream music, however, does have a synthy '80s sensibility. Director/screenwriter Kathryn Bigelow (Strange Days, Point Break, Wild Palms) does nothing especially revolutionary with her modern bloodsuckers tale, but it is a gripping and, at times, quite funny take on the postmodern vampire. It was an inspired move to set the action in the rural American Southwest, allowing beautiful landscapes to complement the tale of young Caleb (Adrian Pasdar, star of the 1996 TV series Profit), who picks up the wrong girl – turns out she has an affinity for intense neck kisses. He is unwittingly drawn into the fold of a roving band of vampires portrayed by notable names such as Lance Henriksen and Bill Paxton. It's both humorous and sort of Mad Max to see them cruising about the dry landscape in a motor home. A quick vignette of scenes shows us the vampires on the prowl: One, a child (a nod to Anne Rice?), pretends to have a bike crash on a dark street so he can attack his rescuer. A great scene in a bar mixes the vampires with the colorful locals with humorous and gruesome results. Plot developments center on Caleb's family tracking him down, his attraction to the vampire who turned him and his struggle to overcome his resistance to kill, which he must do in order to survive. A blood transfusion figures into the resolution, which is a little too easy, but the movie never descends into silliness or gratuitous gore. For anyone interested in portrayals of vampires in the modern world, Near Dark has a surprising and mostly satisfying bite. // DVD notes // The special edition boasts a dts soundtrack and a second disc of extras.

TV: Surface vs. Threshold vs. Invasion

The newness is beginning to wear off the TV season, and I'm still tuning in for three of the six creepfests/mysteries I've given a shot this year (so long, Supernatural, Reunion and Night Stalker. I didn't even try The Ghost Whisperer. I mean, c'mon. It's Jennifer Love Hewitt.). I've been surprised to get drawn into NBC's sea creature series, Surface (Monday, 7 p.m. Central), which is the only one of these shows (not counting The Ghost Whisperer) that isn't aiming for full-on darkness and paranoia, although it has elements of both, such as the shadowy government figures attempting to discredit our oceanographer heroine, Laura Daughtery (Lake Bell, formerly of Boston Legal). In teenager Miles (Carter Jenkins) adopting one of the baby creatures as a pet, the series has found a lighthearted angle that isn't too goofy or insulting. Who didn't get a little misty eyed when, after Nim (that's what he named the lizard-like pet) takes a ride to the grocery store in back of Mom's SUV, gets lost, and Miles gets in a heap of trouble, the cute little lizard monster shows up at Miles' window that night and crawls into bed next to his buddy? And for humor, nothing in the other shows rivals the moment in Surface when Nim, temporarily housed in an above-ground swimming pool, snacks on a mean girl's poodle just after she has come on to Miles as a cruel joke. Verdict: &&&

Threshold (CBS, Friday, 8 p.m.), on the other hand, mines a few laughs from the idiosyncrasies of its cast -- the sensitive tech geek, for example, who doesn't want to carry a gun and needs help choosing wedding invitations -- but it's mostly doom and gloom, a never-ending apocalyptic crisis. This series needs to find a way to do something other than chasing down the zombie infectee of the week. And what happened to that piece of alien object they made such a big deal of digging up? Is it simply forgotten? Threshold has a strong cast, and it would do well to delve more into how being cooped up at the Threshold complex is wrecking their bowling nights and love lives while throwing in more cool alien stuff. Verdict: &&&

Invasion (ABC, Wednesday, 9 p.m.), meanwhile, seems the most likely of these three to see a sophomore season and possibly beyond, although it isn't holding on to the big numbers of its cushy lead-in, Lost. The leisurely pace of this drama made for a tepid premiere but has proved to be an asset, creating a compelling slow burn as new layers of weirdness are unveiled each week. The creepiness of Mariel's (Kari Matchett) water fixation is trumped only by the mysterious behavior of her husband, Sheriff Tom Underlay (William Fichtner), whose allegiances appear shifty at best. This show has the strongest characters and cast of the new TV creepfests, and the creature aspect of the show at times has taken a back seat to its unfolding human dramas, which are complicated by divorce. But that's alright: It's a long TV season with plenty of time left to reveal the face of the alien and, perhaps, a glimpse at the true face of Sheriff Underlay. Verdict: &&&1/2

Sunday, October 23, 2005

DVD: The Amityville Horror (2005)

Genre: Incompetent horror remakes
Released: April 15, 2005
Director: Andrew Douglas
Verdict: &1/2

Ah, October. The time of year when pumpkins are splattered, long sleeves have their coming out and bad horror films get a couple of weeks of reverence. Anyone looking to pluck one of these nuggets from the video store shelves for Halloween viewing would do well to skip the 2005 retread of The Amityville Horror, a remake that's all gussied up for 15-year-olds with younger lead actors (Ryan Reynolds and Melissa George as George and Kathy Lutz), unnecessary gore and equally unnecessary noise. Enough rumbling bass accompanies each predictable gotcha sequence to make you uncomfortable, even if what's happening onscreen doesn't. But it probably will unsettle in unintended ways: For instance, there's no descent into madness for George Lutz; we see Reynolds staring into the furnace and fiercely chopping wood, and suddenly he's hearing voices that tell him to kill them all, just like his predecessor in this New York home with the menacing bedroom windows. Furthermore, who, at this point, is still chilled by a young child speaking of an unseen friend that the adults dismiss as imaginary? There is no subtlety here and no foreshadowing in this film's meager 80 minutes beyond the realtor declining to descend into the basement and George Lutz observing in an early scene that the room is cold. In a big, old house like this, shouldn't we at least have some creaking floorboards or noises in the attic before ghastly figures appear in mirrors and Mr. Lutz chops up the dog? These opportunities are missed, yet the film takes the time to add a completely unnecessary back-story for the source of the haunting. The original's portal to hell in the basement managed to be much scarier without showing people hanging by hooks in their skin. I will, however, concede a couple of inspired moves here, including the introduction of a slutty babysitter who has a history in the home and the use of Philip Baker Hall (Seinfeld's library cop) as Father Callaway. The sizzling of the holy water as it hits surfaces is a nice touch, and the Father Callaway sequence should have been longer. By the time Mrs. Lutz and the children stumble upon the newly made pine boxes with their names on them in the basement, this is more comedy than horror; the only mystery is how much noise and gore first-time director Andrew Douglas will thrust upon us in the conclusion to remind us that this is a horror movie. // DVD extras // C'mon, do you really care? There's quite a selection of deleted scenes.

// Next weekend's DVD review //
The Ring Two

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Books: The Ignored • Bentley Little

Genre: Thriller, but he's generally considered horror.
Published: 1997


Browsing Amazon for an interesting read, I noticed the books of Bentley Little and, in particular, his novel The Ignored. Had someone written a book about me, I wondered, without my knowledge? With titles like The Mailman and The Store, the books appeared to be very idea-driven in a Twilight Zone kind of way. In The Ignored, for instance, the protagonist, Bob Jones, feels ordinary and unnoticed, as if people tend to look right through him, and this starts to become literally true. Coworkers stop speaking; he can take a three-hour lunch, and no one's the wiser. Sweet deal, eh? But it's not a ticket to an easy life: Jones' parents die and no one bothers to tell him, and his sweetheart moves out in the middle of his freak-out over what he is. Jones eventually learns he is not alone and becomes involved in a group performing terrorist acts for "The Ignored," as they call themselves. The invisible-man concept leads to some funny moments, such as when Jones reports to work with a Mohawk and wearing outrageous clothes but goes completely unnoticed, and when he and his friends go to a court session and shout obscenities at the judge. Though I wouldn't call this a horror novel, Little does have a tendency to go for the occasional visceral shock, and there's a significant body count. It takes a little too long to really get rolling, and, in the latter half of the book, Little introduces several twists that are surprising but not necessarily satisfying. At its best, The Ignored is a sort of metaphysical meditation on the nature of existence – how thoroughly empty and hopeless life can be and anyone who ever felt like an outsider is apt to cheer on the ignored as they try to find their place in the world.

// Next books //
13 Steps Down • Ruth Rendell

Darkly Dreaming Dexter • Jeff Lindsay