This movie review takes a look at the updated Fright Night (2011). Is it a bomb, or a great movie you can sink your teeth into? Only one way to find out!
There’s a scene in Scream 4 where Hayden Panettiere (the cheerleader from Heroes) is forced to rattle off a laundry list of horror films that have been remade for Ghostface. The list includes: Halloween, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Dawn of the Dead, The Hills Have Eyes, Amityville Horror, Last House on the Left, Friday the 13th, A Nightmare On Elm Street, My Bloody Valentine, When A Stranger Calls, Prom Night, Black Christmas, House of Wax, The Fog and Piranha.
It wasn’t until I heard them all at once, that I even realized just how many unmemorable attempts there have been to replicate or imitate the thrills, chills and kills of horror classics in just the past ten years alone. But it was cool to hear that trend being called to the carpet by a director who had no less than three of his own films on that very list. And that wasn’t even a complete list - not by a long shot. I can easily think of at least a handful more: The Hitcher, Sorority Row, Willard, and The Omen. Not to mention the Asian invasion of horror flicks like The Ring, The Grudge, Pulse and the Swedish slow burn masterpiece, Let The Right One In all have gotten the remake facelift treatment.
Now it seems that we have to add the 1985 horror comedy cult classic, Fright Night to that list; a film that - if I had to be honest - I barely even remembered from the 80’s. Which is not to say that it was a bad film, just that it probably never really appeared on my radar in the way that most of the aforementioned films did. And you’re talking to somebody who saw such throwaway fare as Monster Squad and Student Bodies about fifty times on HBO.
Horror remakes are different than horror sequels in the way that they endeavor to introduce an existing character to a completely new generation, as opposed to flooding the cinemas with ready-mix, easy bake sequels. It’s a unique distinction to be sure, like the difference between mules and donkeys. Now I’m willing to be the contrarian in this moment by freely admitting that I don’t have a problem at all with remakes - horror or otherwise. Maybe it’s because I’m an artist and a writer, but I’m actually fascinated to see what kind of dish people will cook up with the same ingredients. And as long as the film has something new to bring to the table, then I’m all about it.
I can remember when the news that Gus Van Sant decided that he wanted to do a remake of Psycho as his follow-up to Good Will Hunting. You could hear the sounds of people sharpening their axes and pitchforks for miles around as they eagerly lit their torches. Where I believe that the film ultimately failed was not in its execution but its storytelling. One of the primary stipulations handed down to Van Sant from the studios was that his remake had to be a shot-for-shot remake of the original, eliminating the one thing that any director worth his salt would ever want to give up - their voice. So the movie, at the end of the day, became neutered to any innovation that probably would have been needed to make the film his ‘own.’ For examples of how directors were able to bring something new to the table, check out Zack Snyder’s resurrection of Dawn of the Dead or Rob Zombie’s stab at the Halloween franchise.
I would have to say that the main thing that impressed me the most about Fright Night was the storytelling and the performances. The pacing is light on its feet and (wisely) never tries to offer the audience anything in the way of dense folklore or vampire mythology. Yet it’s not boring in the least and at a lean runtime of an hour and forty-two minutes, Night never has you feeling like it’s overstayed its welcome.
During that time it doesn’t shy away from the gore or action and it does so without ever venturing into Saw territory. Opting instead for genuine jump-out-of-your-seat scares rather than the bloodbath gorno approach. Even the special effects don’t get in the way. Fright Night feels like the illegitimate lovechild of 30 Days of Night and The Lost Boys, combining the gory brutality of 30 Days and at the same time embracing the tongue-in-check hi-jinx of The Lost Boys.
Screenwriter Marti Nixon (a name some of you may recognize from the Buffy the Vampire Slayer series) has a history of walking that delicate tight rope of mashing up mayhem and mirth effectively, while bringing a relevant contemporary sensibility to the whole film.
For those of you unfamiliar with the original the plot, the story begins with Charlie Brewster, played with just the right amount of adolescent cockiness, by Anton Yelchin (Star Trek, Terminator Salvation) who suspects that his charming and nocturnally inclined next door neighbor may truly be a creature of the night. Yelchin has been making a habit lately of stepping into roles originated by other actors, first playing a young Pavel Chekov and a young Kyle Reese in Star Trek (2009) and Terminator Salvation (2009), respectively. Charlie is enjoying his post-dweeb status as a senior in a Las Vegas suburb where families are transient and neighbors who work at night and sleep all day. And nobody seems to bat an eye when said classmates or neighbors go missing. Something I thoroughly enjoyed about Yelchin was that he wasn’t Zac Efron with a pair of thick sunglasses playing nerdy. He looked and acted as if he could have easily been shoved inside a locker not ten minutes ago.
When Charlie’s former best friend Ed played by the perpetually nebbish but always enjoyable Christopher Mintz-Plasse (Kick-Ass, Superbad), warns him about Jerry, he brushes him off for the sake of his hot girlfriend. Charlie is dead-set on leaving his D&D make believe days far behind him. That is until Jerry starts to put the moves on his mom, Toni Collette (Little Miss Sunshine, Showtime’s United States of Tara), a lonely single mom who would love to have Jerry over for a drink. Colin Farrell (Alexander, Daredevil) is great as Jerry, the heartthrob vamp next door.
It was not only enjoyable to see him back in the mainstream after spending the last several years in Indie Land which such films as The New World, In Bruges and The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, but great to see him playing a baddie like he did in this summer’s Horrible Bosses. And he wears it well. Whereas, Chris Sarandon in the original had the good looks, Farrell also brings an undeniable swagger to the role. Making his character just as seductive as he is dangerous which makes him that much more menacing.
Much the way I felt about Scream 4 earlier this year, just when you expect the teenyboppers to steal the spotlight from the wah-wah-wah two-dimensional Peanuts like adults, it’s the adults that really shine. Farrell and Tennant steal the show as one chews the scenery while the other sucks it dry. It was so much fun to watch Farrell ooze gallons of sex appeal and danger enough to make those vamps on True Blood blush (if they could blush, that is.) I was definitely on Team Colin after I left the theatre. And David Tennant seemed to out-Brand Russell at his own game as a Criss Angel type Vegas rock star magician with a yellow streak hidden beneath herds of black leather. This film surely won’t win any Oscars or box-office records but it was an enjoyable ride from start to finish. Fright Night is like a deliciously satisfying large pizza with extra cheese, just the right amount of ham and plenty of red sauce. So pull up a seat, sink your teeth in and enjoy!