Fright Night (United Kingdom/United States, 2011)August 17, 2011
Tom Holland's 1985 Fright Night was as much a love letter to horror fans weaned on Creature Double Feature as a legitimate genre entry - an imperfect yet entertaining vampire yarn that combined shocks, gore, camp, and humor into a whole. Some 26 years after its theatrical release, it stands up nearly as well as it did during its first run, which makes a remake a cause for head scratching. Aside from some cosmetic changes, little of what this Fright Night offers elevates it above the classification of "unnecessary." If a comment is to be made in its defense, at least sun-kissed vampires burst into flame rather than sparkle.
The element lost upon director Craig Gillespie and screenwriter Marti Nixon is that, although Charley Brewster may be the hero and Jerry the villain, the heart and soul of Fright Night is Peter Vincent. In the 1985 movie, he was the most interesting individual and had the only compelling character arc. Roddy McDowall owned the movie; his portrayal made Holland's production more than just a routine monster movie. The most grievous misjudgment in the 2011 version is the decision to marginalize Vincent. While the casting choice of ex-Doctor Who David Tennant to replace the late McDowall is at least intriguing (if not necessarily inspired), the screenplay reduces him to a colorful supporting entity. With Vincent limited to the role of forgettable sidekick, the conflict between Charley (Anton Yelchin) and Jerry (Colin Farrell) absorbs the entirety of the movie's focus, and it's a distressingly generic struggle.
If there was a brilliant conceit in the 1985 Fright Night, it was that Vincent, a TV horror movie host, was forced to face down in real life the creatures he dispatched with ease on television. According to Gillespie, TV monster movie hosts are things of the past, so he re-imagined Peter Vincent as a Las Vegas magician with a supernatural shtick. However, a TV horror host, like a news anchor and unlike a vampire, is regularly invited into our homes; we become comfortable with him. Not so with a Vegas showman. In the original, it was no stretch to believe that Charley, confronted with a vampire living next door, would seek out Vincent. In the remake, it takes a huge leap of faith to accept that Charley would go in search of Vincent in the first place and an even bigger stretch to think he would capture the self-absorbed illusionist's attention.
The underlying premise hasn't changed much, although there are plenty of new wrinkles. Charley is an average teenager who has put aside his geeky past, along with his former best friend, Ed (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), in order to hang with the cool crowd. He lives alone with his mom (Toni Collette); his dad having split at some unspecified time in the past when the going got tough. He has an impossibly hot girlfriend, Amy (Imogen Poots), who is far too good looking for someone like Charley to be kissing and fondling (although they haven't gone any farther). Then Jerry moves in next door. At first, there's nothing threatening about the guy: he's tall, dark, and handsome. Sure, he only comes out at night, but this is Vegas. Charley's suspicions are aroused when he doesn't show up on camera or in mirrors. Of course, it's not just that Charley knows, but that Jerry knows Charley knows. Realizing he needs some help, he arranges a meeting with Peter Vincent, who turns out to be little more than a liquor-swilling fake.
Those in search of an old school vampire movie - fangs, crosses, stakes through the heart, and so forth - will find all the ingredients here. To its credit, Fright Night is no Twilight (it even makes fun of the trendy books/movies). Jerry is a traditional vampire, although not nearly as interesting as the night crawlers populating the recent Let the Right One In and its English-language counterpart, Let Me In. Farell plays the character as more of an implacable monster than as the creepily charming bloodsucker that Chris Sarandon (who has a cameo here) brought to the screen. Sarandon's Jerry had a sardonic edge; Farell's is just a badass.
The storyline has been streamlined. Ed is dispensed with (for the most part) early in the proceedings. Jerry no longer is co-habiting with anyone (unless you count his playthings/snacks). And Amy does not remind him of a lost love; she merely represents a tasty way to lure Charley into a trap. Other than the unforgivable downsizing of Peter Vincent's importance, the story proceeds in much the same way it did in the original with Charley and Jerry's cat-and-mouse game seeming like a mismatch until the end.
Another issue is, not unexpectedly, the 3-D. It's shoddy work and it degrades the viewing experience. I can understand re-doing a foreign film in English (I don't always agree with it, but I understand it) or updating something old and decrepit (ditto), but there's nothing inaccessible about the original Fright Night; the remake seems like a lazy cash grab with the 3-D acting as grotesque and gaudy ornamentation. Any special qualities one could ascribe to the 1985 movie have been lost in translation.
Fright Night (United Kingdom/United States, 2011)
Cast: Anton Yelchin, Colin Farrell, David Tennant, Toni Collette, Imogen Poots, Christopher Mintz-Plasse
Screenplay: Marti Nixon, based on the screenplay by Tom Holland
Cinematography: Javier Aguirresarobe
Music: Ramin Djawadi
U.S. Distributor: Touchstone Pictures