Director Craig Gillespie’s remake of Fright Night is a movie whose success is contingent on just how well audiences remember the original film.
For those not overly familiar with the 1985 William Ragsdale-starring horror comedy of the same name, it might seem that Gillespie and writer Marti Noxon have done a great job creating a fast-paced horror film that has some seriously cool action set pieces. Those that are familiar with the original film, though, will realize that there is one essential ingredient missing from the remake that was could be found in spades in writer/director Tom Holland’s original film: a sense of fun.
While the remake’s filmmakers do a good job of bringing a bouquet of original ideas to the table for a generation of kids whose vampire films have lacked any real bite, the movie feels incomplete without that tongue-in-cheek love for the horror genre that helped elevate the original film.
Anton Yelchin is Charley Brewster, the aforementioned dork who is currently experiencing social growing pains. As the film opens, Charlie, a senior in high school, has just moved on from the LARP-loving buddies he had grown up with. Charlie is now dating Amy Peterson (Imogen Poots), a strong-willed, adorably cute girl whose popularity in school is only equaled to the perhaps unrealistic amount of doting she deals upon her boyfriend. To Charlie, dating a girl that hot and that popular translates to needing to cut all ties with the horror movie-obsessed geeks he once hung out with.
Charlie’s withered friendships means he is caught unaware when its discovered what his former best friends were up to while Charlie was engaged in heavy petting with his girlfriend. It seems Charlie’s pal Evil Ed (a nickname never quite explained) has become convinced Charlie’s next-door neighbor is a vampire. Turns out, Evil is right.
Much like his predecessor Chris Sarandon, Colin Farrell steals the show as Jerry, a centuries old vampire that makes Charlie’s life miserable. For the role of Jerry, Colin Farrell made the wise choice to play the role as Nic Cage playing a vampire. Oozing with the animal magnetism of a rapist grizzly bear, Farrell’s take on the vampire is a mixture of the ferocity of an untamed animal sprinkled with the sleaze of your average Entourage cast member.
Jerry is digging the scene in his new Las Vegas home. In a city that never sleeps, he is able to properly enjoy the nightlife his species demands. It’s that over-eagerness to snack on his new neighbors that draws the attention of Evil Ed.
Played by Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Ed is surprisingly engaging as a character — managing to step out from under the shadow of original film actor Stephen Geoffreys who, in 1985, owned the role of Evil Ed (and, if being honest, still does). While Mintz-Plasse lacks that unstable dangerousness that Geoffreys’ brought to the role, the Superbad actor does manage to be a memorable, if brief, part of the movie.
It’s difficult to peg exactly what kind of horror movie Fright Night is. It follows the recipe of the original movie in mixing comedy with scares in an appropriately balanced manner. Never tipping too far in one direction of the scale, the new Fright Night has some outstanding action scenes that manage to be both impressively staged and tensely paced.
Farrell’s riveting performance (in which he goes full Nic Cage and un-tethers himself from the restraints on reality a self-conscious actor might have worked under) helps sell some of the film’s biggest scares. Farrell feels genuinely threatening in the film — working with computer and practical effects to transform the attractive actor into a demonic killing machine that never once gets overly goofy — despite toeing the line several times.
It’s in the script department that Fright Night fizzles. Noxon’s dialogue never truly comes off as clever as she tried for it to be. Banter between characters feels stilted and without the zest of a more tightly written horror-comedy. Worse, though, the film feels uneven in its plot structure. More a series of punctuation marks than a true, honest-to-god sentence, the film skips from memorable scene to memorable scene without becoming a memorable movie in and of itself.
David Tennant, despite showing some real promise as the Criss Angel-esque magician Peter Vincent, is largely wasted in the film — brought into the story’s action by a contrived coincidence that is never satisfactorily explored. Roddy McDowall, the original film’s Peter Vincent, brought a sense of sympathy to the role. He was a tired, washed up fraud that found a chance to do something worthy in life by teaming up with Charlie to kill some vampires. The only thing sympathetic about Tennant’s Vincent is the fact that the character was made victim to modern Hollywood’s desperate need to have everything so neatly wrapped up in a web of interconnectivity.
Slightly better utilized is Toni Collette as Charlie’s mother. Collette has some great bits in the movie and seems truly connected with the source material and her place within it. A fleshed out, vital part of the story, Collette is one of the biggest areas where the remake actually improves on the original.
The other major improvement is the film’s action. While the original had a great climax full of amazing special effects and action scenes, the remake spreads the wealth throughout the film – featuring quite a few impressive set pieces that keep the movie moving at an engaging pace from the very beginning.
Fright Night is not the film it could have been but it also manages to remain a really fun update of one of the better vampire movies made in the ‘80s. There’s enough to recommend about Fright Night to justify the film being made in the first place — and that’s a whole lot more than you can say about many of the modern horror remakes.
Stay away from the 3D, though. Dimly lit scenes rob audiences of appreciating some of cinematographer Javier Aguirresarobe’s clean looking work. It doesn’t matter how many blood spurts are thrown at the audience, the 3D is not a necessary add-on for this film.
Director: Craig Gillespie Notable Cast: Anton Yelchin, Colin Farrell, Tonie Colette, Imogen Poots, David Tennant and Christopher Mintz-Plasse Writer(s): Marti Noxon based on a story by Tom Holland
Robert Saucedo is an avid movie watcher with seriously poor sleeping habits. The Mikey from Life cereal of film fans, Robert will watch just about anything — good, bad or ugly. He has written about film for newspapers, radio and online for the last 10 years. This has taken a toll on his sanity — of that you can be sure. Follow him on Twitter at @robsaucedo2500.