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On DVD/Blu-ray: BYZANTIUM (2013) and FRIGHT NIGHT 2: NEW BLOOD (2013)

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BYZANTIUM
(Ireland/UK - 2013)

Many reviews of Neil Jordan's vampire film BYZANTIUM said it felt like the director was taking a second pass at his 1994 big-screen version of INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE.  Considering the film's past/present structure, that's a valid statement but it doesn't really represent the whole film.  BYZANTIUM, scripted by Moira Buffini and based on her play, is frequently derivative in the way it feels like it belongs in the same Anne Rice universe but also in its similarities to the Swedish vampire hit LET THE RIGHT ONE IN (2008).  It manages to become its own beast, so to speak, and despite the occasionally slow pacing, the overlength, and the sometimes confusing structure, it overcomes its obstacles and ends up an interesting if inconsistent work.  Clara (Gemma Arterton) and Eleanor (Saoirse Ronan) are a mother-daughter vampire pair passing themselves off as sisters in present-day London.  Clara works as a stripper, procuring her own victims among the drunk and belligerent men for whom she provides lap dances and, if the money's right, sexual services. Where Clara is ruthless and does what she needs to do for nourishment and money, the sympathetic Eleanor is quiet and withdrawn, feeding on humans but only those who are already about to die and who ask her to end their pain.  When a mystery man from their past turns up asking questions, Clara decapitates him and the two flee to a downtrodden seaside resort town that Eleanor senses they've visited before.  There, Clara latches on to lonely, schlubby Noel (Daniel Mays), who recently inherited a rundown hotel from his late mother.  She turns the hotel into a brothel called Byzantium as local men gradually start to vanish.  Fed up with her mother's lifestyle, Eleanor goes off to school and tries to live as normal a life as possible, befriending sickly Frank (the perpetually sickly-looking Caleb Landry Jones of ANTIVIRAL) and writing down her story for him.  Frank gives the memoir to their creative writing teacher (Tom Hollander) and soon, more men from Clara's past are on the scene.  In Eleanor's story, we learn that she and her mother are over 200 years old and that Clara was a prostitute servicing some Napoleonic-era soldiers who were part of a vampire order called the Pointed Nails of Justice.  Clara tricked her way into joining this He-Man Woman-Haters Club, and they've been after her and her daughter since.


BYZANTIUM has a great opening half hour, but then meanders a bit when it gets bogged down in the 200 years ago backstory and even more when one of the soldiers (Jonny Lee Miller) tells his own story within the flashback.  It picks up again in the home stretch, but the final scene between Clara and Eleanor feels rushed considering the emotional buildup to it, as one interpretation of the film could be as a metaphor for a concerned mother (it's not often you see vampires being concerned about money and keeping a roof over their head) learning to let go of her child.  Even with its problems (sorry, but "Pointed Nails of Justice" just sounds too goofy for a serious film), it's just nice to see a vampire film for adults that isn't populated with brooding hotties headed straight for the Teen Choice Awards.  A terrific Arterton has the showier role, attacking it with sometimes feverish gusto while avoiding the easy pitfall taking it over-the-top, but it's Ronan's Eleanor who's at the heart of BYZANTIUM, effectively conveying the human side of vampirism, showing no malice or desire to harm anyone and struggling with the anguished burden of eternal life.  With one foot in the arthouse and the other in the multiplex, BYZANTIUM sometimes takes on too much and becomes too unwieldy for its own good, but it's an interesting take on the vampire genre that will certainly find a cult following rather quickly.  (R, 118 mins)


FRIGHT NIGHT 2: NEW BLOOD
(US - 2013)

Ostensibly a sequel to FRIGHT NIGHT (2011), which was a remake of FRIGHT NIGHT (1985), FRIGHT NIGHT 2: NEW BLOOD has nothing to do with FRIGHT NIGHT (2011) and is actually another remake of FRIGHT NIGHT (1985), with elements of that film's sequel FRIGHT NIGHT PART 2 (1989).  Does that make sense?  Just by breaking that down, I put more thought into FRIGHT NIGHT 2: NEW BLOOD than the filmmakers did.  Directed by Eduardo Rodriguez (STASH HOUSE) and written by Matt Venne, whose screenplays for WHITE NOISE 2 and MIRRORS 2 have apparently made him the go-to guy for in-name-only DTV sequels, this "sequel" has hero Charley Brewster (Will Payne) pining for his ex Amy (Sacha Parkinson) while they, and his buddy Evil Ed (Chris Waller) are on some group exchange student sojourn to Romania, where production services can be cheaply procured by budget-conscious Hollywood studios unwilling to spend any more coin on a Will "Who?" Payne-headlined movie than is absolutely necessary.  They're attending a seminar on European art history taught by the sexy Prof. Gerri Dandridge (Jaime Murray of HUSTLE and DEFIANCE), who, of course, is a vampire but Charley can't prove it to anyone. 

 
This mostly follows the template of Tom Holland's 1985 classic, with the twist of turning Jerry Dandridge (previously played by Chris Sarandon in 1985 and Colin Farrell in 2011) into "Gerri" Dandridge and utilizing both the legend of Elizabeth Bathory and riffing on Julie Carmen's "Regine Dandridge" (Jerry's vengeful vampire sister) from FRIGHT NIGHT PART 2 (1989).  It's all a rather slipshod affair with a mostly uninteresting cast (only British TV vet Murray seems above the material), and thoroughly unlikable characters.  Waller plays Evil Ed as a smirking douchebag until the plot requires him to be a horror geek, and Peter Vincent, so brilliantly played by Roddy McDowall as a has-been TV horror host in the 1985 film (in a performance that, believe it or not, briefly generated some Supporting Actor Oscar buzz) and acceptably by David Tennant as a Vegas magician in 2011, is here a cynical, hard-drinking, asshole reality-TV monster hunter played by Sean Power.  It's hard to imagine McDowall's Peter Vincent telling a vampirized Evil Ed to "Kiss the cross, bitch!" which is pretty much the level of this loud, stupid, and boring film.  The only real surprise FRIGHT NIGHT 2: NEW BLOOD offers is Evil Ed telling the Bathory story and having it play out onscreen in animated graphic novel form.  It doesn't really serve a purpose, but it's something, I guess.  Bland actors, dull performances (in their defense, they're all British or Irish and with the exception of Murray, using American accents), and the mandatory shitty CGI splatter.  What a forgettable, pointless waste of time. (Unrated, 99 mins)


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