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December FRIGHT Edition
Andy Reviews Both Versions of FRIGHT NIGHT on Blu-Ray
Plus: Twilight Time's RAPTURE and More
Tom Holland’s FRIGHT NIGHT (***½, 106 mins., R, 1985) was released at the tail end of summer 1985 and became an instant sleeper hit. Not just a silly “teen vampire flick,” “Fright Night” captivated many critics who appreciated the film’s characters and sense of humor, along with its salute to old-fashioned horror, particularly at a time when slasher films had become all the rage. With Richard Edlund’s special effects giving the film a modern sensibility, the film bridged the gap between the old and the new, and remains a viewer favorite in the genre 26 years after its original release.

Holland’s original script works as a clever variation on “The Boy Who Cried Wolf,” with high schooler Charley Brewster (William Ragsdale) suspecting that his new, smooth-talking, suave neighbor Jerry Dandridge (Chris Sarandon, just brilliant here) is a vampire. Jerry, who sleeps by day and has a curiously protective caretaker (Jonathan Stark), actually is a vampire, but one who simply would like to live a typically quiet suburban existence – and who offers Charley the choice to either overlook his undead lifestyle or cause trouble.

Charley has trouble convincing anyone of his plight – neither his mom, girlfriend (Amanda Bearse) or off-kilter high school pal “Evil Ed” (Stephen Geoffreys) take him seriously, but once Brewster can’t stand to let a vampire live in his neighborhood, Jerry begins to take a personal vengeance on the young man. In a last-case resort, Charley turns to aging horror TV show host Peter Vincent (Roddy McDowall, in one of his best performances), an old ham who likewise doesn’t believe Charley...until he sees that Jerry doesn’t cast a reflection in a mirror.

Holland’s film is well constructed, old fashioned in its monster love, amusingly written and splendidly cast. I know Amanda Bearse may have gone onto become a lesbian activist but she's perfectly convincing as a hetero teen in this film, but more over -- Chris Sarandon is sensual and overpowering as Dandridge, and Roddy McDowall contributes unquestionably one of his finest performances ever as Vincent, the TV vampire hunter who has to take on the undead for real at Charley’s behest. McDowall brings an enormous amount of heart to the film and his relationship with Ragsdale’s sympathetic Charley is appealing, giving the picture an enhanced emotional component.

Holland pushes all the right buttons in this film, whether it's a Hitchcock "Rear Window" homage, or a truly sexual seduction sequence where Sarandon gets to Bearse -- or in the grade-A (for their time) Richard Edlund FX that close out the film. The movie manages to be "R" with fairly light gore and adult elements which aren't gratuitous -- about the only thing that heavily dates the movie is Brad Fiedel's brittle synth score, which sports a memorable love theme in his “Come to Me” track but otherwise fails with its sledgehammer approach to dramatic underscoring (thankfully there's the memorably bouncy J. Geils Band theme song which finishes the movie on a similarly dated, yet much more melodic, note).

“Fright Night” debuts on Blu-Ray this month in the form of a 3000-copy limited edition from Twilight Time, sold exclusively online at Screen Archives. The 1080p AVC encoded transfer is just sensational, offering no seeming use of DNR and preserving the film’s wide Panavision cinematography. The DTS MA 5.1 sound is likewise satisfying, and both an isolated score track and a pair of trailers round out the release – one which I imagine won’t last long, so interested viewers are urged to get their orders in soon.

Also available (not coincidentally) this week is the new Dreamworks remake of FRIGHT NIGHT (**½, 106 mins., 2011, R; Touchstone/Buena Vista) from writer Marti Noxon (a “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” veteran) and director Craig Gillespie. This 3-D remake thankfully isn’t a disgrace and does offer some amusement, though its deviations from Holland’s original script end up hurting the picture dramatically.

Even though Anton Yelchin looks several years too old to be playing a high schooler, he delivers a fine performance as the new Charley Brewster – a kid who used to be on the outside but now has an “in” with the cool crowd thanks to his attractive girlfriend (the fetching Imogen Poots). In this remake, Charley has moved away from his geek-obsessed best friend Ed (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), who is the one convinced that Charley’s new neighbor – Jerry Dandridge (a second-billed Colin Farrell) – is a vampire. Ed fails to convince Charley of Jerry’s true nature until he goes missing and Charley finds Ed’s evidence that Jerry is a member of the undead.

Noxon and Gillespie both pay tribute to the original (recycling some lines and even giving Chris Sarandon a brief cameo) and reprise the film’s playful tone in their remake, one that was greeted with generally positive reviews but bombed at the box-office (failing to make even $20 million total domestically). This new “Fright Night” isn’t a dreary, humorless film like most of its modern genre contemporaries, and is content to embrace the original’s playful sense of fun throughout (especially with its 3-D special effects).

When the picture deviates from its predecessor, though, it sadly goes off-track: Jerry is less a cool customer here than he is a vampirish brute. In a telling difference from the original, once Charley crosses the line with Jerry, Dandridge doesn’t just trash his car (as in the original) but actually blows up his house! The dramatic structure also shifts the film completely away from Charley’s attempts to convince his friends that his new neighbor is a vampire, while Peter Vincent is here portrayed as a Crissangel-like magician in a wacky performance by David Tennant, who at first seems to be channeling Russell Brand. He eventually won me over, but the role doesn’t have nearly the emotional component that McDowall provided to the original.

Although it doesn’t compare favorably with Holland’s film, the 2011 “Fright Night” isn’t a total waste of time, and its 3-D effects are quite excellent in Touchstone’s combo-pack Blu-Ray edition. The 3-D BD really looks great, and since the film was conceived with 3-D in mind, its use of the third-dimension results in a few effective moments that utilize the technology. For standard Blu-Ray owners the 1080p presentation is also just fine, while extras include five deleted/extended scenes, bloopers, music videos, a digital copy, a couple of featurettes, and the “uncut” version of Charley’s high school “movie” “Squid Man.”

Also New on Blu-Ray

RAPTURE Blu-Ray (***, 104 mins., 1965; Twilight Time): Twilight Time’s second Blu-Ray limited-edition release this month is a real find: the first-ever video release of the 1965 20th Century-Fox Cinemascope drama “Rapture,” a movie so obscure it doesn’t even appear in Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide.

Set on the French seacoast – evocatively shot here by cinematographer Marcel Grignon – “Rapture” tells the story of an unusual 15-year-old teenager named Agnes (the marvelous Patricia Gozzi) who lives on a Brittany farm with her domineering father (Melvyn Douglas) and their housekeeper (Gunnel Lindblom). We first see Agnes as a girl-child who still plays with dolls, but her adolescence blooms once an escaped fugitive (Dean Stockwell) takes refuge in their home, donning the clothes of a scarecrow Agnes had made. At first she even believes Stockwell to be the living incarnation of the scarecrow, but soon finds herself being drawn to him as her burgeoning sexuality begins to show.

“Rapture” is an odd film, no doubt about it. Stanley Mann adapted a novel by Phyliss Hastings for this Fox production, directed by John Guillermin (later of “Towering Inferno” and “King Kong” fame) yet produced with a mostly French crew. Gozzi is a revelation here in the difficult role of Agnes, seeking to escape her confined existence but knowing nothing of the outside world – that Gozzi starred in only one other film before retiring from acting makes this Blu-Ray release one of the first opportunities many viewers will have ever had to see her, and she’s positively captivating in the picture.

The movie’s rather melodramatic story, meanwhile, isn’t as captivating as its performances and its visuals, which look beguiling in Twilight Time’s BD edition. The black-and-white scope cinematography is sensational in Fox’s 1080p AVC-encoded transfer, while the mono audio includes an early, typically beautiful score from Georges Delerue, which is also isolated on an alternate channel.

Julie Kirgo’s notes put “Rapture” into the proper perspective as a “cursed” film that one imagines would have been highly controversial had anyone seen it back in its day. Adventurous cinephiles, Delerue lovers and Cinemascope connoisseurs now have the opportunity to see one of the more unusual studio-produced films of its era, in a splendid Blu-Ray edition from Twilight Time limited to 3000 copies. Recommended!

TORA! TORA! TORA! Blu-Ray (***, 1970, 145/148 mins.; Fox): Digibook packaging of Richard Fleischer’s solid – though not spectacular –1970 chronicle of the bombing of Pearl Harbor offers both the film’s theatrical release print as well as a slightly extended (by three minutes) Japanese version. The AVC encoded 1080p transfer is outstanding, crisp and unadulterated, while DTS MA audio does justice to Jerry Goldsmith’s score. Extras are a reprise of the fine 2006 DVD release, including a commentary with director Richard Fleischer and historian Stuart Galbraith IV; the AMC Backstory look at the movie; the documentary “Day of Infamy” with historian interviews; no less than 10 Fox Movietone WWII news reels (which are worth the price of this release alone), the original trailer and still galleries; and the History Channel’s superb “History Through The Lens: ‘Tora! Tora! Tora!,’ A Giant Awakes.”

MR. POPPER’S PENGUINS Blu-Ray/DVD/Digital Copy (**½, 94 mins., 2011, PG; Fox): Beloved children’s book becomes a cookie-cutter, if serviceable (given its genre these days), kidpic with businessman Jim Carrey inheriting six (mostly CGI’d) penguins who turn his glitzy NYC apartment into a frozen tundra of their own. Mark Waters helmed “Mr. Popper’s Penguins,” which offers the predictable gags you’d anticipate seeing in any PG-rated children’s film these days (i.e. minor bathroom humor, slapstick comedy) with a dash of “heart” that comes off as cliched and predictable. The movie offers little incentive for adults to engage in its entertainment but younger kids might enjoy the film regardless. Fox’s Blu-Ray combo pack includes an AVC encoded transfer of the film with DTS MA audio, a DVD and digital copy, and extras including deleted scenes, a gag reel, numerous featurettes and a Nimrod & Stinky animated short.

ICE AGE: A MAMMOTH CHRISTMAS SPECIAL Blu-Ray (25 mins., 2011; Fox): Cute half-hour animated TV special finds Sid destroying Manny’s “Christmas rock” and trekking to the North Pole in order to make things right. Fans of the “Ice Age” movies will find this special to be quite appealing with the animation on-par with the theatrical movies. Fox’s Blu-Ray is a combo pack also sporting a DVD and digital copy, with extras including a sneak peek of the next “Ice Age” film (due out next summer) and a music video as well.

Also new from Fox is the complete SEASON 14 of THE SIMPSONS (483 mins.) featuring all the episodes from the series’ 2002-03 campaign. Included: Treehouse of Horror XIII, How I Spent My Strummer Vacation, Bart Vs Lisa Vs Third Grade, Large Marge, Helter Skelter, Great Louse Detective, Special Edna, Dad Who Knew Too Little, Strong Arms of Ma, Pray Anything, Barting Over, I’m Spelling as Fast as I Can, A Star is Born-Again, Mr. Spritz Goes to Washington, C.E.D’Oh, Scuse Me While I Miss the Sky, Three Gays of the Condo, Dude Where’s My Ranch?, Old Yeller-Belly, Brake My Wife Please, The Bart of War and Moe Baby Blues. All episodes are framed in their original 1.33 full-screen format (in good-looking 1080p AVC encoded transfers) and include commentaries on every episode, deleted scenes and tons of extras.

KUNG FU PANDA 2 Blu-Ray/DVD (***, 90 mins., 2011, PG; Dreamworks/Paramount): Typical Dreamworks animated offering failed to muster as much box-office as expected, perhaps because the original “Kung Fu Panda” was a much more good-natured animated feature than some of its “ruder” studio counterparts. This free-wheeling, good-not-great follow-up finds Po leading his “Furious Five” against the wrath of Shen (voiced by Gary Oldman), the heir of the peacock clan, in another fast-moving, colorful tale that ought to entertain young kids. Dreamworks’ Blu-Ray includes BD exclusive extras (a trivia track and two animators’ segments) plus deleted scenes, commentary, and copious other extras from the DVD edition, which is also on tap here along with a digital copy. The 1080p AVC encoded transfer is gorgeous and the DTS MA soundtrack sports a lively Hans Zimmer-John Powell score.

SMALLVILLE Season 10 Blu-Ray (929 mins., 2010-11; Warner): Very quietly, the WB – later CW – Network’s “Smallville” grew from a teen variant on Superman into its own, contemporary take on the Man of Steel’s early years. Along the way it became one of TV’s longest-running dramatic series, something that’s particularly notable in our modern era of eroding network television viewership – not bad for a show some pegged as “Clark’s Creek” when it initially premiered a decade ago.

Not every season was on-target, but the performances of Tom Welling as Clark and, especially, Erica Durance as Lois in the series’ second half (Durance will always rank for me as my favorite Lois Lane, mixing sex appeal and smarts with a deft sense of humor) carried the show through to a satisfying conclusion in this, “Smallville”’s 10th and final season. This last hurrah offers a bit of an up-and-down ride (more so in its early episodes than its later ones) with Luthorcorp’s Tess Mercer (Cassidy Freeman) trying to clone Lex while Clark struggles to maintain being a “hero” in a Metropolis where the good guys are being branded as vigilantes. Some of the latter comes off as heavy-handed political preachifying, but things go smoother as the show nears its terrific two-part finale, with Michael Rosenbaum finally coming back to reprise Lex.

Warner’s four-disc Blu-Ray edition of “Smallville”’s 10th season includes nifty 1080p transfers and DTS MA soundtracks along with two commentaries, unaired scenes, a couple of featurettes and a music video.

As “Superman Returns” and Tim Burton’s earlier, aborted take with Nicolas Cage illustrated, Hollywood has struggled to find a place for the Man of Steel after the Christopher Reeve era. “Smallville” lived through Bryan Singer’s disappointing film and, over time, forged its own, entertaining adaptation of the DC Comics characters, becoming one of the most durable, long-running comic-book adaptations of all-time in the process. Highly recommended!

Also New & Noteworthy

VIETNAM IN HD Blu-Ray (aprx. 5 hours, 2011; A&E/NewVideo): The History Channel hit a home-run with their “WWII in HD” documentary a couple of years ago, and have followed it with a three-part entry recounting the Vietnam conflict with loads of full color footage, newly remastered in HD.

What’s odd here is that if you’ve seen “Apocalypse Now” you’ll probably feel a certain familiarity not just from the images but also in how producer Lou Reda packaged the material. As with “WWII in HD,” name actors narrate the recollections and writings of soldiers involved in the various battles, though historical information is at a premium here – if you’re not well schooled in what lead up to the conflict you’ll likely feel a bit empty on that end of things, as “Vietnam in HD” is more about presenting gobs of color footage, some of it previously unseen, as opposed to a more balanced historical/dramatic approach.

A&E’s Blu-Ray does look excellent with its 1080p transfers and stereo soundtracks. In spite of its shortcomings, the program still comes strongly recommended for history buffs.

SWAMP PEOPLE SEASON 2, meanwhile, offers the sopohomore season of the History Channel’s popular reality series profiling the Atchafalaya Swamp and its various inhabitants. History’s four-disc DVD set includes widescreen transfers, additional footage and 2.0 stereo soundtracks.
SWITCHED AT BIRTH Volume 1 DVD (435 mins., 2011; Buena Vista): ABC Family has generated a number of hit series over the last couple of years, and while I plead guilty to being a regular viewer of “The Secret Life of the American Teenager” (my wife and I think it’s unintentionally hilarious most of the time), the network hasn’t seen its share of seriously good, family-based dramas until “Switched at Birth.”

This new series, which became an instant success upon its first broadcast last summer, manages to make traditional family soap opera storylines seem fresh because of its interesting premise. Prep school girl Bay (the terrific Vanessa Marano) has always felt like an outsider to her well-to-do parents (Lea Thompson, D.W. Moffett), and opts to take a DNA test where she finds out that she’s not adopted but was, in fact, switched at birth. Her biological mom is a hard-working hairdresser (Constance Marie) struggling to raise Daphne (Katie Leclerc), a deaf girl who’s Thompson and Moffett’s actual child. Marie and Leclerc eventually move in with their respective “other” family and how the group interacts with one another and faces traditional challenges – as well as adapts to Daphne’s hearing difficulties – makes for a sincere and surprisingly good program that’s freed from the trashy elements of other ABC shows (like “Secret Life”). The cast is uniformly excellent and the show well-directed and sincerely written, making it suitable for most kids and their parents.

“Switched at Birth” sees a “Volume 1" DVD release this week from Buena Vista with 16:9 (1.78) transfers and 5.1 Dolby Digital soundtracks, comprised of its 2011-aired episodes.

HOSTEL PART III DVD (88 mins., 2011, R; Sony): Not to be confused with “The Hangover,” this third entry (the first direct-to-video effort) in Eli Roth’s gruesome “Hostel” series finds four friends being enticed by a pair of escorts for a private party off the Las Vegas strip where they find themselves part of the Elite Hunting Club’s latest outing.

Scott Spiegel directed “Hostel Part III” which boasts Kip Pardue leading the hapless victims who find themselves being hunted down and mutilated in a movie that basically pushes all the “torture porn” buttons you’d anticipate. Sony’s DVD includes a 16:9 transfer of the unrated film plus a commentary with Spiegel and Pardue. For fans only.

An earlier effort from Spiegel, INTRUDER (88 mins., 1989, Unrated), has also been released on Blu-Ray this month from Synapse Films. This gory but fun 1989 shocker finds a killer hunting down the night shift at a Michigan supermarket in a film co-starring Sam and Ted Raimi along with special appearances by Bruce Campbell and producer Lawrence Bender. Buckets of blood and some effectively gory make-up effects make for a bloody good time for genre enthusiasts, who ought to be thrilled with Synapse’s Blu-Ray edition.

In addition to an all-new, 2K high-def rendering of the director’s cut, there’s a commentary with Spiegel and Bender; a new Making Of; extended sequences from the workprint; outtakes from the (lost) short film “Night Crew”; cast audition footage; a still gallery; the trailer; and a DVD copy for good measure.

ARABIA 3-D Blu-Ray (46 mins., Image): 3-D HDTV owners would do well to check out this IMAX presentation, narrated by Helen Mirren, which offers a breathtaking cinematic tour of Arabia, from the lost city of Madain Saleh through the shipwrecks of the Red Sea. Greg MacGillivray, who once shot the surfing sequences for John Milius’ “Big Wednesday,” offers a scenic tour with gorgeous HD cinematography, offered here in both standard HD and 3-D HD with DTS MA 5.1 audio.

CATCH .44 Blu-Ray (94 mins., 2011, R; Anchor Bay): Bruce Willis must need that fifth “Die Hard” movie badly, considering his second-billed turn in this tepid independent action flick from writer-director Aaron Harvey. Malin Akerman, Nikki Reed and Deborah Ann Wolf play three hit-girls who head to Louisiana to steal some drugs when they’re double-crossed in a rural café. Forest Whitaker also chips in an appearance that’s more significant than Bruce’s, and both of them ought to scratch this one off their resumes asap. Anchor Bay’s Blu-Ray includes a 1080p transfer, Dolby TrueHD soundtrack and a commentary with Harvey and editor Richard Byard.

Capsule Round-Up

LIONSGATE NEW RELEASES: CIRCUMSTANCE (105 mins., 2011, R) is an Iranian profile of the country’s youth culture. Maryam Keshavaraz’s film hits DVD this month with a 16:9 transfer, 5.1 soundtrack, commentary, a behind-the-scenes featurette and the trailer...Deigo Hallivis’ GAME TIME (101 mins., 2011, PG-13) chronicles a Wisconsin man who moves to NYC and becomes a basketball street star. Lionsgate’s DVD boasts a 16:9 transfer and 5.1 soundtrack...Kevin Spacey, Paul Bettany, Jeremy Irons, Zahacary Quinto, Simon Baker, Demi Moore and Stanley Tucci star in J.C. Chandor’s chronicle of the 2008 financial crisis, MARGIN CALL (107 mins., R). Lionsgate’s DVD of this barely-released, big-star vehicle includes a director/producer commentary, deleted scenes, a photo gallery and featurettes. The 16:9 transfer and 5.1 soundtrack are both top notch.

E ONE NEW RELEASES: Matthew Lillard, Efren Ramirez and Brett Davern team up to turn a Beverly Hills mansion into a funhouse of raunchy comedy in THE POOL BOYS (88 mins., 2009, R), a wacky farce co-starring Rachelle Lefevre with cameos from George Takei, Jay Thomas and Tom Arnold. E One’s Blu-Ray includes a behind the scenes featurette...John Landis’ latest feature, BURKE AND HARE (92 mins., 2010), didn’t see a theatrical release on this side of the Atlantic but his dark-comedic tale of the infamous grave robbers has hit DVD for the first time domestically courtesy of MPI and IFC. In addition to a 2.40 16:9 transfer and 5.1 soundtrack, “Burke and Hare” also offers outtakes, deleted scenes, the trailer and additional featurettes...New in the “Sundance Selects” DVD line is THE BLACK POWER MIXTAPE 1967-75 (96 mins.), a chronicle of the Black Power movement in the ‘60s and ‘70s from Swedish television journalists. The DVD offers a featurette, interviews, the trailer and more.

NEXT TIME: Some of the last discs of 2011! Until then, don't forget to drop in on the official Aisle Seat Message Boards and direct any emails to our email address. Cheers everyone!

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