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Fright Night (2011)

August 20, 2011

written by: Marti Noxon (screenplay) & Tom Holland (story)
produced by: Michael De Luca, Michael J. Gaeta & Alison G. Rosenzweig
directed by: Craig Gillespie
rated R (for bloody horror violence, and language including some sexual references.
106 min.
U.S. release date: August 19, 2011

Until recently, I had not seen all of “Fright Night”, Tom Holland’s cult classic from 1985. After viewing the vampire flick in its entirety, I discovered scenes that were familiar to me, and even though I enjoyed it, it felt quite dated. Putting into perspective the year it came out and all the other horror films of the 80s, I can see why a film that straddles comedy and horror quite well, would be well-received by fans of the genre. Not having the nostalgic lens that others my have, I didn’t balk at the idea of a remake. In fact, looking at the cast of this new film, I found myself anticipating a solid update and possibly an upgrade. Maybe the unlikely could happen, both films respectively standing on their own. 
 
The thing is, moviegoers have become fatigued by the idea of a remake, and rightly so. I feel the same way, but I’m not opposed to a legitimate re-imagining that takes what was done and makes it different or better. Director Craig Gillespie’s remake is different in many ways and is a genuinely entertaining creature feature with a cast that takes the material seriously, even when their script tends to feel slightly off at times. Whether the movie is better than the original all depends on how attached you are to it. For the most part, I surprisingly found this to be slightly superior to the first “Fright Night”.  
 
Instead of Southern California, the setting this time is a small postage-stamp development in the middle of the desert, just outside of Las Vegas. A perfect place for a vampire to feed, while working a night gig on the nearby freeway. It is in this community that we find teenager Charley Brewster (Anton Yelchin, “Star Trek”), living with his single mom (the great Toni Collette) and somehow dating Amy (Imogen Poots, “Solitary Man”), the cool hot chick at school. Having put his cosplay dorkiness behind him, Charley is now hanging out with popular kids like Mark (Dave Franco, Jame’s younger brother) and Ben (Reid Ewing, “Modern Family”), which means distancing himself from his longtime friend, Ed (Christopher Minz-Plasse, “Kick-Ass”) who has remained the local nerd.  
 
 
 
 
 
  
While such dejection is hurtful to Ed, he’s more concerned with the disappearance of a couple of classmates and links them to reports of biting attackers in the area. Immersed in all things fantasy-horror, Ed is convinced that the mysterious yet studly new neighbor, Jerry Dandridge (a darkly comic Colin Ferrell) is a vampire. Charley scoffs at the idea, embarrassed to even entertain Ed in such talk and finding it hard to believe that a guy named Jerry would be a bloodthirsty immortal. But Ed, having followed Jerry extensively, knows this to be true and all he asks is that Charley help him get rid of such evil. 
 
That all changes when Ed disappears and Charley starts to wake up and do his homework. He becomes highly suspicious of who his charming neighbor is and what he is doing. Jerry’s no dummy though, existing for thousands of years hasn’t just taught him about survival. He knows a thing or two about human behavior, thriving off their fears, trusting nature, and disbelief in the supernatural. Realizing he’s in over his head, Charley enlists the help of local Vegas magician, Peter Vincent (David Tennant), a man with a reputation of being a master of all things supernatural, but may just be a charlatan. It doesn’t matter, Charley will do anything to protect himself and the women in his life from becoming Jerry’s victims. With help from the reluctant Vincent and his extremely level-headed girlfriend (notching up more cool points), Charley becomes a vampire hunter, hoping to eliminate the neighborhood threat and get back to being the luckiest kid in high school. 
 
Holland’s general story is intact, but it’s been tweaked by Marti Noxon, who has sunk her teeth in this genre before, having written for the “Buffy, the Vampire Slayer” TV series. That show is known for balancing clever wit and authentic humor while spinning a unique take on horror conventions. The dialogue here may not be Buffy level quality, I did enjoy various winks and nods to the previous film as well as horror film tropes we’ve come to know. There is just enough characterization for these actors to sink their teeth into (yes, I went there), and they are more than game to embrace a genre beloved by many. 
 
 
 
 
  
 
But the big question is, how do these actors stack up against the original cast? It doesn’t really matter, but I’ll wager a good many will compare. As the main protagonist, Yelchin isn’t necessarily a standout (nor was William Ragsdale in the original), but he’s an actor I’ve enjoyed following and here he’s just as likable to me as Shia LaBeouf was in “Disturbia” (a movie I often thought of while watching this one). Colette is always fun to watch (she had me since “The Sixth Sense”) and Poots, an actress who has done well at jumping genres (“Centurion” and “Jane Eyre”), has become another actor I eagerly watch. She is certainly a step up from the previous Amy, played by Amanda Bearse (who would go on to play her own wacky neighbor in “Married…With Children”), in a vanilla role that had less to offer than what Noxon is giving Poots. That could be a sign of the times though. 
 
The performance highlights for this “Fright Night” though belong to an Irishman and a Scot. Both Ferrell and Tennant are fantastic in their roles. Ferrell is usually a standout in his films, but due to some of his more commercial work, people have seen him more for his looks than his talent. It’s evident in his body language and his line delivery that he is clearly having a blast here, making it easy for viewers to kick back and enjoy his work. Tennant has a following from his work as the tenth Doctor Who, and is an absolute delight as a combination of Chris Angel and Russell Brand, who has a TV show called “Fright Night”. He conveys more than the booze-swigging role provides, and while Vincent’s revealed connection to Jerry is unbelievable, it’s still great to see these two sharing screen time. 
 
 
 
  
 
 
Neither of these actors will make you forget what Chris Sarandon and Roddy McDowell did in the original, but their work is impressive just in the way they differ (as they should) and how they inject this remake with a freshness. 
 
I found myself appreciating the choices Gillespie (“Lars and the Real Girl”) makes in separating his film from the original. Gone is the enjoyable acknowledgment of late night horror clichés, which is replaced with the challenges we find Charley juggle, even without a vampire as a neighbor. Gillespie’s use of CGI is inevitable for a 2011 film released by a major studio, but what I appreciated is how the vampires resembled the previous film’s creatures when they go all out. Their exaggerated, toothy mouthes was a cool nod to the now-cheesy makeup work from the 1985 film. 
 
The movie has been released in both 3D and 2D, as are most current Hollywood releases. Having missed the 3D screening, I’m glad I opted for the 2D showing. It led to some laugh-out-loud chuckles when certain obvious visuals were clearly meant for the third dimension. I remain content in my decision to forgo the need to darken my theatrical viewing experience. There’s a confidant balance of humor and creepiness here as well as genre gore to suck you in (last one, I couldn’t help myself). Rest assured, this new “Fright Night” isn’t taking anything away from the beloved original and can easily be embraced all on its own. 
RATING: ***



3 Comments leave one →
  1. Wendi F permalink
    August 23, 2011 2:06 pm

    I really enjoyed it more than I thought I would. The Vegas locale made a lot of sense and making Peter Vincent a Kris Angel-type showman fits in a world without late night horror hosts. Colin Farrell can be so great when he wants to.

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