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Vampire tale gets a different spin

October 21, 2005|Kevin Crust;Kevin Thomas

"The Roost," writer-director Ti West's homage to low-budget '70s horror movies, places a premium on tension while taking a fresh bite out of the old vampire-bat tale. Full of genuine scares and impressively disturbing effects, the film follows the travails of a quartet of young people stranded on a stormy Halloween night in the Pennsylvania countryside who discover that traffic might not be such a bad thing.

Taking a shortcut on a rural road, Elliot (Wil Horneff), Trevor (Karl Jacob), Brian (Sean Reid) and Allison (Vanessa Horneff) strike something that appears to be a large bat, leaving their car in a ditch. They wander to a nearby farmhouse, where they discover the barn to be a haven for a colony of winged, furry flying things, and bad things begin to occur, foreshadowed by an unsettlingly furious flapping sound.

West punctuates the action with a framing device, featuring the understated Tom Noonan as the ghoulish host of a late-night television horror program, which is initially effective but eventually wears out its welcome.

The film was executive produced and includes a cameo by cult filmmaker Larry Fessenden ("Habit," "Wendigo"), though it lacks the quirky subversiveness of Fessenden's revisionist horror films and feels stretched beyond capacity at 80 minutes. West and his collaborators, cinematographer Eric Robbins, sound designer Graham Reznick and composer Jeff Grace, however, know how to craft a scary tale and mine their limited budget for maximum chills.

-- Kevin Crust

"The Roost," unrated. Running time: 1 hour, 20 minutes. At Laemmle's Fairfax, 7907 Beverly Blvd., L.A., (323) 655-4010.

*

These 'Kids' are not all right

The erosion of the freedom of speech in U.S. high schools is a timely idea for a movie, but Josh Stolberg's "Kids in America" is not it. Instead of a sharp, caustic satire, Stolberg and co-writer Andrew Shaifer have turned out a comedy so inane and tedious that it buries its premise and its various worthy points under too many arch and improbable shenanigans and endless dialogue, much of it seriously under-inspired.

Julie Bowen plays a close-minded, dictatorial and politically ambitious high school principal whose increasingly censorious policies spark a rebellion, fueled by a progressive teacher's assigning his students to collaborate on a video that will "change the world."

Gregory Smith and Stephanie Sherrin are the film's likable leads, and among the more familiar faces in a large cast are Rosanna Arquette as Sherrin's mother, Elizabeth Perkins as another parent, George Wendt as the school's football coach and Nicole Richie as a cheerleader.

-- Kevin Thomas

"Kids in America," PG-13 for sexual content, mature thematic elements and language. Running time: 1 hour, 31 minutes. In general release.

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