MOVIE REVIEW- Boo-yah: Spooky flicks for spooky day


It's Halloween, the one holiday that sells more horror movie tickets than Hallmark cards. It's the season to hear "Boo!"-ing from trick-or-treaters, highway patrolmen, Republicans and others with a vested interest in scaring you.

Another kind of booing often comes from film critics, if we get a chance to review the new scream fare on display.

This year Saw VI and The Stepfather opened without press screenings and Cirque du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant was screened too late for review last week. Quality-wise, all three rank between the best of the lot, Zombieland, and the worst (and most financially successful), Paranormal Activity.

I sat through the new ones back to back to back on Sunday and was mildly surprised that the only one that was press-screened was the weakest of the three.

The Vampire's Assistant is an attempt to jumpstart yet another vampire franchise, but it's not as good as True Blood, Twilight or even The Vampire Chronicles. It's based on the first three books of 12 in a series by Darren Shan, which is also the name of the main character.

Darren (bland Chris Massoglia) and Steve (Josh Hutcherson, having minimal impact in the juicier bad boy role) have been BFFs since third grade. Steve is a bad influence on Darren, whom he teasingly calls "Mr. Perfect." When the Cirque du Freak, a traveling freak show, comes to their small town for one night, the boys are part of the small crowd that turns out.

It looks like it might be an entertaining, non-PC show, but we just get a small taste of it. MC Larten Crepsley (John C. Reilly), a vampire, rejects Steve for having "bad blood" but offers to make Darren his assistant and turn him into a "half-vampire."

The relatively benign Vampires are eternal enemies of the Vampaneze, who lure Steve to their dark side.  Almost from the get-go there's talk of a coming war between the two groups, but at the end we're still waiting for it.

Though not all it should be, the first half of the picture is tolerable while it's establishing the characters and situations; but the second half doesn't do much with them and seems to exist only to set up a sequel. What little action there is is badly shot and edited.

Perhaps most disappointing is Reilly, who would seem to be a perfect choice to play the theatrical Crepsley but is almost totally uninteresting.  And why, if vampires don't age, does he look so much older than the 20 he was when he turned?

Director Paul Weitz should stick to contemporary comedies ("About a Boy," "In Good Company") instead of wasting good actors like Reilly, Willem Dafoe, Salma Hayek, Michael Cerveris, Ken Watanabe, Patrick Fugit and Jane Krakowski.

The Stepfather is one of those unnecessary remakes that flaunt Hollywood's lack of originality. Taken by itself it's not bad, but it doesn't improve on Joseph Ruben's 1987 original in any way, and Dylan Walsh is not as good as Terry O'Quinn was in the leading role.

In this old-school suspense movie, Walsh is a psychopath whose family values don't allow for disappointment. He marries into ready-made families, kills them when things go south, changes his appearance and identity and moves on, killing anyone who suspects him in his current situation.

Relocating from Salt Lake City to Portland, he's soon engaged to divorced Sela Ward and getting along well enough with her two younger children. Then 17-year-old son Penn Badgley (Gossip Girl) comes home from his "school for screw-ups" for the summer, which he spends in the arms of girlfriend Amber Heard. The remake's raison d'etre is to keep the teen couple making out in bathing suits as much as possible.

Both of the above are rated PG-13 so they're relatively light on gore. If it's blood you're craving, your movie is Saw VI, which is surprisingly good for a franchise that should be totally worn out by now.

Jigsaw (Tobin Bell) is still dead but left enough "games" planned to keep his disciples– his widow Jill (Betsy Russell) and turncoat Detective Hoffman (Costas Mandylor)– busy. The victims this time are topical: predatory lenders and an executive of a health insurance company. The latter, William (Peter Outerbridge) is put through a series of challenges in which he must decide who lives or dies (just another day at the office) to save his own life.

There are plenty of flashbacks for those of us who haven't committed the details of the first five films to memory, and enough characters whose presence isn't explained until near the end that things get a little more complicated than necessary; but fans of the series shouldn't be disappointed.

And if you like coincidence, Charlie Clouser (whoever he is) wrote the original music for both Saw VI and The Stepfather, though both rely heavily on hard rock and heavy metal tunes to set their moods. Clouser should be having the happiest Halloween of all.