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'Let Me In' vamps till ready

Studio turmoil is threatening release of the U.S. remake of Swedish vampire film.

July 09, 2010|By Steven Zeitchik, Los Angeles Times

With "The Twilight Saga: Eclipse" topping $200 million at the domestic box office, you'd think it would be easy to roll out a movie about a young vampire in love. But "Let Me In," the English-language remake of the cult hit "Let the Right One In," is finding itself in a situation more fraught than Count Dracula at an afternoon blood drive.

Tomas Alfredson's Swedish-language original, based on a script and novel by John Ajvide Lindqvist, told the story of a pre-teen loner named Oskar and his tender friendship with the oddball, sexually ambiguous Eli, who is revealed to be a vampire. With its carefully paced narrative, Gothic mood and metaphor for adolescent sexuality, the film attracted a cadre of American fans and the attention of both sales agent/producer Hammer Films and distributor Overture Films.

The companies decided to co-finance a remake, casting hot up-and-coming actors including Chloe Moretz ("Kick-Ass," "(500) Days of Summer") and scheduling an Oct. 1 release.

But the project almost immediately met with an Internet backlash. Fans first objected to the very general idea of the remake and then to specific choices, like the decision to shoot in New Mexico, which devotees perceived as not frigid enough to stand in for the wintry Stockholm suburbs of the original.

Filmmakers have done their best to defuse the skepticism, opting, for example, not to age the characters into their later teens in a bid to piggyback on the success of Summit Entertainment's "Twilight" series. They also point out that, contrary to Hollywood's penchant to remake mega-hits, a "Let the One Right In" reimagining was necessary if a mainstream audience was to discover the story.

"We're incredibly admiring of the original," says producer Donna Gigliotti, "but to be honest with you, that picture grossed $2 million. It's not like we're remaking 'Lawrence of Arabia.'"

A new wrinkle, however, emerged last week when Overture parent company Liberty Media announced that Overture's top executives and co-founders, Chris McGurk and Danny Rosett, would be leaving the company. Overture had been on the sales block for months as Liberty's John Malone looked to exit the film business. Chris Albrecht, the head of Overture sister company Starz, was named to oversee the film division.

All these moves threw into question the fates of three upcoming releases, most notably "Let Me In," which had been set to roll out on at least 1,200 screens.

Sources familiar with the situation say that there is serious fear — and a real possibility — that with new management and a spirit of heavy cost-cutting at Overture, the movie's release could get downsized. In that scenario, the number of screens and marketing budget would be drastically cut, limiting its commercial reach. (It's worth noting that Albrecht demonstrated an affinity for vampires during his time at HBO — he was instrumental in developing the network's hit series "True Blood," part of the current vampire craze.)

There's also the possibility that the movie could go to another studio. Sources confirm that there have been preliminary discussions among some of the "Let Me In" financiers to try to take the picture elsewhere, but that move likely would involve legal wrangling — and in any event would require a willing distributor to step in. "It's a very ripe title, but who out there is picking it up?" said one film distribution veteran. "One of the only viable companies is Summit, and they kind of have a little vampire franchise."

An Overture representative declined to comment on the status of "Let Me In" but did say that as of now the company is moving forward with plans to release all three of its upcoming projects, including the vampire remake. For her part, producer Gigliotti said that Overture is "saying all the right things."

At Comic-Con International in San Diego this month, Overture plans to make the full-court publicity push for "Let Me In." Stars Moretz, Kodi Smit-McPhee and Richard Jenkins will present the film with director Matt Reeves.

Publicly, everyone associated with "Let Me In" is maintaining their game face. But perhaps fittingly for a vampire movie, behind closed doors, the fears remain.

steve.zeitchik@latimes.com

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