I don’t know if it’s intentional or just the weirdest coincidence, but three of the four films that were released on October 1st, 2010 in theaters are hitting DVD/Blu on February 1st, 2011. All were theatrical disappointments, partially due to overcrowding, so it’s kind of funny that they’ll be fighting for attention on the same day yet again. Chain Letter and Hatchet II, of course, never got wide releases and will see bigger audiences on DVD than they possibly could have in theaters, but Let Me In‘s box office failure was a surprise to me – whatever my misgivings were about it being an unnecessary remake, it WAS a good film and the best way to experience the story if you were a foreign language-phobe. So now that it’s on DVD, perhaps it will find its audience and renew the “WHY?” debate all over again. (The fourth film was Case 39, and adding to this irony, was the most successful of the four and yet hit shelves much sooner – as if it was the biggest dud).
Watching the film again, I did pick up on some minor changes that Matt Reeves made in his version, giving it a bit more of its own personality than I originally noticed or gave it credit for. Changing the character of Virginia to a younger woman is an interesting choice; her story is a bit sadder when it’s a younger woman instead of one who had already sort of “lived” and was coming up on retirement age (and in this process, removed the dumb “cats” scene, which is one of the few weak spots in the original). I also like the idea of Owen as a voyeur of sorts, watching neighbors with a telescope and such. And Father isn’t as incompetent here; he actually pulls off the first murder with minimal mistakes (and really, slipping on the snow and losing the blood is hardly a dumb mistake, unlike simply leaving the blood behind as he did in the original film).
But I also read the book since then, and thus became more confused why his film followed the original film so closely when there was so much unused source material he could have drawn from, such as Oskar/Owen’s borderline Walter Mitty-esque daydreams, or his friend Tommy. He also retained things that the original film had changed from the book, such as killing Hakan/The Father at the hospital, whereas in the book he survived for a while (granted this subplot in the book goes to some extremely disturbing areas, but it could have been toned down). I mean, you have one of the greatest character actors of his generation (Richard Jenkins) – why not keep him around longer when the precedent to do so was already there?
In short, there was plenty of opportunity to deviate from the film, but he never took advantage of that material (not to mention his own imagination – again, he even copied the look of the locations), and the film suffers a bit as a result – it recycles just a bit too much, and then there’s a novel involved, it makes it even more puzzling to me. I’ve long argued that Carpenter’s The Thing is NOT a remake, because it’s drawing from the original source material, not the 1950s movie. Ditto the various Dracula and Frankenstein movies – Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992) is not a remake of the Bela Lugosi film; it’s a big budget adaptation of the novel. However, Let Me In is most definitely a remake of Tomas Alfredson’s film, no doubt about it.
But again, it’s still a good film, and Anchor Bay/Overture has brought it to DVD/Blu with a decent set of supplemental material. Reeves’ commentary is essential viewing (listening?), as he points out some of the more subtle things he added to the film that help drive home a few points without beating you over the head with it, such as when Owen sees two teens on a date by the Ms. Pac-Man machine early on and then reuses the exact same angle later when he and Abby are playing (he also goes a bit overboard with his metaphors, saying that he specified it had to be a MS. Pac-Man machine because it’s a female who needs to feed to survive – dude, who cares). He also identifies a lot of surprising films that he looked to for inspiration, everything from Klute to Barry Lyndon (plus a few obvious choices such as The Shining), and reveals some terrific tidbits, such as the fact that Owen’s “killer” mask is actually a mold of Richard Jenkins. He rarely stops talking and he covers all areas – music, casting, plotting, locations, CGI – the whole nine yards. A must listen even if you didn’t like the film.
The rest of the standard extras aren’t as essential, but are interesting and well put together all the same. The process of creating the incredible “back of the car” shot of Father’s botched kill is explained in full detail, and the only drawback is that I can now spot when Richard Jenkins is replaced with the stunt double (the hair is different). There’s also a “before and after” look at a few of the FX shots, which I would suggest just putting on mute as there is no commentary explaining what we are looking at, but they DO leave in the source audio, which makes for a very jarring aural experience since it’s constantly cutting back and forth. Then there’s also a traditional making of that runs about 20 minutes, and three deleted scenes that wouldn’t have hurt if they were left in the film (particularly the one with the gym teacher), and Reeves provides optional commentary for those as well.
The only Blu exclusive extra, however, is a near total waste of time and poorly implemented to boot. Billed as a “Picture in Picture experience”, it’s simply 10-12 short making of featurettes (and one brief storyboard sequence) of little to no interest that pop up every now and then. There is no way to skip ahead to these things, and pretty much every single thing Reeves says he covered on the commentary and/or on the making of (his “Dial M For Murder” story is told at least THREE times on the disc). You can’t even fast forward through the movie to find the next one, as since they are PIP videos they don’t appear unless you’re playing normal speed (at least on my player). And all told they cover maybe a quarter of the film’s running time, so you basically have to watch the entire movie again in order to see these pieces that are more often than not repeating information you already learned elsewhere. A good idea in theory, but totally botched here. And since the Blu transfer is uncharacteristically underwhelming (it’s very soft – perhaps the result of over-zealous DNR?), I’d only buy the Blu if it was the same price or cheaper – nothing is worth paying more than the standard def DVD, unless you’re in love with Blu-ray’s smaller casing on your shelf (or if you must own a tiny reprint of the first issue of a four-part prequel comic series).
Stephen King called it the best American horror film in the past 20 years (I hope Frank “The Mist” Darabont kicked his bad leg for that one), but he also loved The Hitcher remake, which is defended by only one other person in the world (me), so let’s not put too much stock into that. I do not deny that Let Me In is a good film, even bordering on great at times (those horrible CGI attack scenes and annoying “I Love The 80s” approach in the early scenes knocks it down a peg or two, not even factoring the “remake issues”), but since the original film was damn near perfect and hasn’t exactly aged, I just don’t see why a talented filmmaker who could have written his own ticket after Cloverfield would make something that resembles another guy’s film so closely.
Film (as a piece of entertainment): 8/10
Film (as a remake of a 2 year old film): 5/10
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Overlooked Indie Horror Films You Should Watch: Volume 4