Stake & aches

‘Fright Night’ remake preserves original’s orgasmic bloodlust — and homoeroticism

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FOR REAL | Jerry (Colin Farrell) defies the power of the cross in the smart update of the ‘80s cult hit.

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | Life+Style Editor
jones@dallasvoice.com

The original Fright Night was one of the most subversively gay films of the mid 1980s: The suburban vampire Jerry had a suspiciously familiar relationship with his Renfield-like companion and more rayon disco shirts than any straight man should own. He also was more than slightly obsessed with his teen-aged neighbor Charley, although you could attribute that less to pedophilia than survival instinct.

But the original was also of its age, like lots of ‘80s pabulum — can you imagine a remake of Lost Boys? — a cult horror-comedy that didn’t really scream to be revisited. But since they have done so, this question is: Worth it? Yes. Pretty much.

Unlike many remakes, this new Fright Night — arriving in the August discount bin, just like its progenitor — sticks surprisingly close to the basic plot, with some sensible updates. Gone is Renfield, but Charley (Anton Yelchin) remains the virginal Everykid; Jerry (Colin Farrell) is no longer the suave metrosexual but a brutish laborer in a wifebeater, exuding bad-boy appeal with a lizard-like stealth; vampire chaser Peter Vincent (David Tennant) isn’t a washed-up horror actor but a Criss Angel wannabe on the Vegas Strip, where Jerry culls his victims.

Like Scream, the Fright Nights exist in a post-modern world where the characters are aware of the mythology surrounding the supernatural, gleaned mostly from movies. They joke about the Twilight books

Not all of the updates are improvements. Changing Peter Vincent from a film actor to a magician undercuts the subtle tribute to B-film icons Peter Cushing and Vincent Price, though Tennant’s Russell Brand-like whack-a-doodle performance almost rescues it. And director Craig Gillespie dispatches some peripheral characters without much sense, and the humor is not as prevalent as it was in the original.

But Gillespie keeps key (the seduction of Charley’s girlfriend, the unnerving “Welcome to Fright Night … for real” line), and the splatter effects — especially the unexpected moment where a “turned” human bursts into flame when struck by sunlight, enhanced by the cheesy ‘50s-style fascination with 3D “moments” — give the film a campy sensibility. And there are worse ways to spend a scary two hours than imaging the hunky Colin Farrell orgiastically sucking on your … neck. Hey, it doesn’t take a cape and an accent to woo everyone.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 19, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

Something WICKED this way comes

BiteMarks1rs
BLOOD-SUCKING HUNKS | It could be hard to run from these beefy vampires in ‘Bite Marks,’ a horror comedy starring Dallas native Benjamin Lutz.

Alt-gay gorefest Fears for Queers is back for seconds as vampire director Mark Bessenger presses the flesh

RICH LOPEZ  | Staff Writer
lopez@dallasvoice.com

Mark Bessenger may be the first person to coin the term “horror drag.” The film director, who comes to town Saturday for Dallas’ second annual Fears for Queers Film Festival, ponders over what queer audiences find in horror films. As he sees it, the gays love screams.

“Whether [it’s because] we identify with the monster as an outcast, or because people dress up in all that horror drag, I’m kinda surprised [LGBT-themed horror festivals] are not happening more often,” he says.

Bessenger’s first produced feature, Bite Marks, closes out the one-day fest, following a successful premiere at the San Francisco International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival last week. And even though Fears for Queers isn’t as big, Bessenger is glad organizers Shawn Ewert and Andrew Rose approached him for it.

“It’s like we were made for each other,” he says. “How often do you run into a gay film festival of horror movies? I can’t wait to see how Texans react. And to have it shown at the theater where Lee Harvey Oswald was apprehended?  That’s such a bonus.”

In Bite Marks, Brewster, a truck driver (played by Dallas native Benjamin Lutz), is dealing with his sexuality. While on the road, he picks up a hitchhiking gay couple working out some issues of their own. If you think the premise sounds suspiciously like the plot of a gay porn film, you are not alone.

“Even during casting, we were asked if this was a porno,” he laughs. “Without giving too much away, Brewster is hauling a shipment of coffins to a funeral home, but when the GPS misleads them, they find themselves in an abandoned junkyard — and the coffins may not be empty.”

Written to be dark and brutal, Bessenger made changes during talks with his executive producer. Initially, the hitchhikers were straight, but changed to same-sex to broaden the demographic. (How often has that decision been made?) He also changed the tone to more of a horror comedy.

The decisions have paid off. Bessenger’s reaction from the San Fran crowd was enthusiastic.

“The feedback I’ve gotten has mostly been about the comedy,” he says. “I think they responded because of its gay edge and snappy lines. One funny thing was the more conventional horror scares I use, the audience wasn’t familiar with.”

Bessenger was thrilled hearing gasps in the audience and seeing people jump in their seats. Although he says his next film will be straightforward horror, the gay element isn’t lost on him. His approach has been to create the film and then figure in an LGBT aspect. He has no problem being the “gay filmmaker,” as that sensibility will creep into his movies regardless.

“Of course it depends on who I’m making the movie for, but because I am gay, there will likely be that aesthetic,” Bessenger says. “If I had done Avatar or Super 8, there would be something gay in there. Artistically, something of yourself has to seep in even if it’s just a line of dialogue or a reference.”

But making Bite Marks so gay was easier because all the lead actors were out, including Lutz, an SMU grad making his feature film debut. Lutz performed in Dallas with the likes of Kitchen Dog Theater and the Dallas Theater Center, but left for L.A. six years ago. But he’s downplaying his homecoming.

“I am really excited to see it on my home turf,” he says. “I can’t be nervous about reactions. I’ve done my work, it’s up there and there’s nothing I can do.”

But he had some nerves going into the part. Unlike the blue-collar Midwesterner Brewster, Lutz is a Texas boy; he worried if that would hinder his performance.

“I’ve never driven a truck or done certain things Brewster has,“ he says. “I was nervous I wouldn’t have a believable accent, but everything really fell in place. I felt like I was in really good hands with Mark.”

Both Bessenger and Lutz are at work on their next films, and Bessenger for one is excited about the continued growth of LGBT voices in film into something broader. He just wants them to scream as well.

……………………………

Fears for Queers’ lineup

DOA Blood Bath Entertainment teamed with out filmmaker Shawn Ewert and his company Right Left Turn Productions to bring back the second annual Fears For Queers LGBT Film Festival, consisting of feature films and short scarefests — all by queer filmmakers. The films — which all screen Saturday at the Texas Theatre in Oak Cliff — run the gamut from camp to terrifying.

In J.T. Seaton’s feature George’s Intervention, friends of George meet to help him with his addiction to  eating people. Considering George is a zombie, they may have trouble sticking around through the night.

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Cupcake, above, is likely the first zombie lesbian musical. The short fits in a chorus line of zombies amid a love story in the suburbs. A lesbian couple moves into Hobart, but the crabby pair of old ladies next door aren’t having it, but beware of that pale-looking mailman.

The Finnish film Metsästysmaata, below, takes two strangers led by a mysterious girl into the deep woods where no one can hear them scream.

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Lola Rocknrolla is back with cinematic screwballery in the short, I Was a Tranny Werewolf.

Bite Marks, below, closes the fest along with a Q&A with director Mark Bessenger, actor Benjamin Lutz in attendance.

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Proceeds from the festival benefit Youth First Texas.

Texas Theatre,
231 W. Jefferson Blvd. June 25, 2–7 p.m. $10. DOABloodbath.com.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition June 24, 2011.


—  Kevin Thomas

Stage reviews: ‘Inishmore,’ ‘Death Is No Small Change!’

TERRORIST AT WORK  |  A cruel Irishman (Matt Moore, right) plies his trade on a drug pusher (Matt Tolbert) in ‘The Lieutenant of Inishmore.’ (Photo by Mark Oristano)

Pussy gore-lore

‘Inishmore’ makes cat torture funny; Pegasus mounts a colorful black & white play

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  |  Life+Style Editor
jones@dallasvoice.com

The Lieutenant of Inishmore is a horror-comedy about a dead cat and a terrorist, which sounds neither horrific nor comedic, and that’s sort of the idea. An unbalanced 20-year-old lad named Padraic (Matt Moore), who was drummed out of the Irish Republican Army for being too cruel, learns his boyhood cat, Wee Thomas, is ill and rushes home to see him.

Wee Thomas isn’t actually ill, though — he’s already had his brains smashed out before the play begins, and his father (Jason C. Kane) and skittish local boy Davey (Tony Daussat), who may have done the deed, are just trying to let Padraic down easy. Because if Padraic finds out what really happened … well, that’s a road best not traveled.

This is playwright Martin McDonagh’s bloodiest dark comedy, a gorefest that has more exploding, gooey brains and missing eyeballs than a Freddy Kruger film. It would be even more disgusting if it weren’t so funny.

But this production could be funnier. Daussat in particular is an unmined vein of comic gold. Davey, the long-haired, hyperbolic, possibly gay town idiot cannot be ratcheted up too high on the hysterical meter. He needs to come out like a Roman candle, befuddled but frantic, but Daussat never achieves that level. I’ve also heard a more authentic accent in Irish Spring ads (or, for that matter, family reunions).

By the second act, the show hits its rhythm: Not only does a crew of terrorist rivals (Clay Yocum, Evan Fuller, Ian Ferguson) add energy and better brogues to the mix, but the bloodletting rises to horrendous levels (by the end, actress Kayla Carlyle looks like she’s just come from Carrie’s high school prom). Director Terry Martin and special effects whiz Steve Tolin don’t shy from the excess, which is where this play really succeeds. McDonagh’s genius is being entertaining and disgusting at the same time. Who doesn’t wanna meet that challenge?

The selling point of Pegasus Theatre’s “black & white plays” has always been their black & whiteness — a masterful effect that makes everything onstage appear grey, as if from a 1940s B-movie. Each new play deals with famed but bumbling private eye Harry Hunsacker (Pegasus founder and playwright Kurt Kleinmann), the Mr. Magoo of crime solving who loveably stumbled on the solution with the help of his “best friend and paid by the hour assistant Nigel” (Ben Bryant). The mysteries — convoluted potboilers that do keep you guessing — are usually hit-and-miss affairs, rising and falling on the jokes and casts.

It’s ironic, then, that the b&w effect the night I saw the latest, Death Is No Small Change!, it had some flaws (a blue light from a Tesla coil, a few patches of uncovered skin) but the production itself was just dandy. Director Susan Sargeant keeps up a brisk pace (until the inevitably talky explanation), and stages the comings and goings smoothly.

This is probably Kleinmann’s best play, with surprisingly strong characters for a melodrama, performed nicely by the actors (many of them Pegasus vets): The ghoulish butler Sebastian (hysterically overplayed by David Benn with Karloffian creepiness) and the mad scientist (given Shakespearean bravado by Mario Cabrera) are especial standouts, getting into its William Castle-like “spooky mansion” ethos. They turn it into something Pegasus shows usually aren’t: Colorful.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition Jan. 14, 2011.

—  John Wright

Love at adjustable speed

The campy comedy ‘Scott Pilgrim’ is whiz-bang fun, while the studied romanticism of Julia’s ‘Eat Pray Love’ lacks passion

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | Life+Style Editor jones@dallasvoice.com

Scott Pilgrim
POW! BAM! | Combining the campy fun of a gay comedy with the frenetic editing of an action film and stylized look of a graphic novel, ‘Scott Pilgrim vs. the World’ may be the sleeper of the summer.

SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD
Michael Cera, Kieran Culkin, Chris Evans, Jason Schwartzman.
Rated PG-13. 105 mins.
Now playing wide release.

Michael Cera’s progression from endearingly awkward teen into young adulthood has made him decidedly less endearing. The halting, fumbling shtick that served him so well in Arrested Development, Juno and even Superbad established a unique style — he is his own adjective: Cera-ish — but it has grown old, and quick. Gimmicky stuff, that, like a magician with only one hat trick.

It doesn’t help that, as a 22-year-old dime-store lothario with superhero powers in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, his body is shapeless, with the muscle tone of an 11-year-old girl. His awkwardness is now downright ugly, like a weird hybrid of Stephen Hawking and some severe flightless waterfowl. It gets to the point were, if he were to stand on one leg and bury his head in the sand, everything would seem to make more sense.

But — and, as with Oprah, it’s a big “but” — you somehow manage to get beyond the uncomfortable feelings of watching him and enjoy director Edgar Wright’s quirky, high-speed fantasy romance. All despite Cera. Even though he’s kinda good in it. I know. It’s complicated.

So is the film, which is one of its many delights. Wright co-wrote and directed the Simon Pegg comedies Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, the latter of which may be the best genre film of its kind in the last decade. (It helps that there are few “of its kind:” It’s a bucolic cop-buddy-horror comedy, and completely brilliant.) There, Wright used Weed Whacker editing to highlight but also undermine the extreme violence. Scott Pilgrim, by contrast, takes its PG-13 rating and stylized action to look like a mild, mid-‘80s video game. It’s just as frenetic, but so whimsical as to be cartoonish. The entire film has “cult status” written all over it. Think Heathers for guys. Think Judd Apatow without the fart jokes.

Cartoonish isn’t far from true: This may be the best film yet based on a graphic novel. Scott (Cera) is a Toronto kid reveling in his post-high school status as a would-be Wooderson, romancing teenaged girls while pining for his ex, who went from nobody to Gwen Stefani superstar overnight. Scott has now set his sights on Ramona (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), a punkish girl with a past. That past includes seven exes (including a lesbian dalliance), who unite in an evil league to fight to the death anyone who tries to date her. And that’s Scott.

All of the battle sequences take on their own tone, from Bollywood production number to Battle Arena Toshinden showdown to Who Framed Roger Rabbit? catfight. Are all these events real or imaginary? Is the action, a la Ally McBeal, all inside Scott’s head or are ordinary folks vested with magic powers? Best to forget the logic of the film, which toggles breathlessly between fantasy and reality, and enjoy instead its giddy, camp energy.

This may also be the most mainstream teen comedy with off-handed gay-positive content to emerge from Hollywood. As Scott’s best friend and roommate Wallace — a gay predator who “converts” straight boys (and who platonically shares his bed with Scott) — Kieran Culkin may be the most well-adjusted and reliable character in the film, a testament to the abiding normalcy of homosexuality today.

Call it progress, call it funny, but call on it. Scott Pilgrim takes on the world and wins. And we are better for it.

Eat Pray Love
ALL YOU NEED | The romance feels formulaic in the lovely, glowing travelogue ‘Eat Pray Love’ with Julia Roberts and an uber-sensitive Javier Bardem.

EAT PRAY LOVE
Julia Roberts, Javier Bardem, James Franco, Richard Jenkins.
Rated PG-13. 140 mins.
Now playing wide release.

There’s nothing high energy about Eat Pray Love, although it is a fantasy of its own kind nonetheless. Throughout the film, light enrobes Julia Roberts’ flaxen hair like a perpetual halo, softly caressing her dewy skin, in virtually every shot of this romance, directed and co-written by Glee creator Ryan Murphy from the best selling memoir. After half a dozen years in which she’s done mostly ensemble and supporting work, this is the chick flick that could have reintroduced Roberts as a viable leading lady.

Could have, but probably won’t. Murphy can’t really escape his TV sensibilities — despite woozy photography, luscious settings and Roberts’ star power, it still seems bound to the small screen. And with the Carrie Bradshaw-style narration, upper middle class angst and a preoccupation with exotic locales, it tips its hand another way: It’s Sexless and the City.

Eat Pray Love uses a Goldilocks plot: Liz (Roberts) isn’t happy in her marriage (who would be, if your husband were a dud like Billy Crudup?), so she sets off on a world tour to find herself: First through hedonistic pursuits in Italy, then in spiritual privation in India, and finally the “just right” beauty and peacefulness of Bali. Thesis, antithesis, synthesis: It’s the definition of formulaic.

Formulas can work, of course, and in an inoffensive way, this one marginally does (as did Under the Tuscan Sun). It’s best with the “eat” part of the triumvirate. Certainly it captures the sensuality of eating in a way that made me instantly hungry.

But there’s sensual and there’s sensuous, and this movie is lacking in the latter. Most of the “love” component seems no more authentic than it did in Valentine’s Day, Roberts’ last film. James Franco, as a charming rascal who woos Liz after her breakup, seems rotely charming, as if tossled hair and a crooked smile do all the work. It’s programmatically romantic, which isn’t really romance at all.

“Pray” is even worse than “love:” The scenes of spiritual enlightenment are no more illuminating than an introductory yoga class, and Richard Jenkins, as a gruff Texan with plainspoken wisdom, merely annoys.

The most authentically delicious of the men (aside from the eye candy of a brief fling with a gigolo) is Javier Bardem as a crunchy Brazilian living in Bali. Bardem cries when he kisses his son and makes grand gestures with a full heart and you believe it in a way nothing else comes close to. He strikes the right tone: You don’t need to be teary to be heartfelt.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 13, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas