In 1985’s Fright Night, Peter Vincent pointed out that ’80s movie-goers aren’t interested in seeing vampires (or vampire killers) anymore; “All they want to see is slashers running around in ski masks, hacking up young virgins.” In 2011, these words ring ever truer. The Twilight series has expunged any interest and menace that vampires once had, and not a lot of imagination or thought goes into today’s successful horror movies. To reinvigorate cinematic bloodsuckers back in 1985, the original Fright Night employed a meta, postmodern approach to vampires, and it succeeded marvellously. While 2011’s Fright Night failed to do the same thing for the noughties, it’s better than expected; a rare type of remake which takes off in new directions as opposed to slavishly sticking to the original template. Retaining the same basic premise, spirit, characters and comedy-horror tone of the 1985 film while updating the background details, era and setting, director Craig Gillespie and writer Marti Noxon have produced a worthy tribute to its forefather that’s unafraid to have its own voice.
A high school senior living in a desert community on the outskirts of Las Vegas, Charley Brewster (Yelchin) is plagued by typical adolescent dilemmas, maintaining a relationship with girlfriend Amy (Poots) while enjoying newfound acceptance with the “in crowd” and distancing himself from childhood best friend Ed (Mintz-Plasse). When locals start going missing under mysterious circumstances, Ed alerts Charley that his charismatic new next-door neighbour Jerry (Farrell) is in fact a vampire. Convinced through evidence gathering and first-hand experiences, Charley seeks advice from Vegas occult showman Peter Vincent (Tennant) who has posited himself as a vampire expert. With Jerry setting his sights on both Amy and Charley’s mother (Collette), Charley begins planning an attack, seeking to uncover Jerry’s weakness before the undead vampire cleans out the entire neighbourhood with his fangs.
Approaching Fright Night with the terrific 1985 film in mind would be improper, as this update is its own independent entity. It borrows a few beats from its predecessor and the story set-up is a bit familiar, but screenwriter Noxon plots a fresh path at about the halfway point, leading to an enjoyable reimagining of the original film’s proceedings. And this is, of course, the mark of a good remake: using the source as a springboard to land in unexpected destinations. Screenwriter Noxon is a long-time veteran of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer TV show, and she transferred to Fright Night the elements which made that series such a hit: smart dialogue and postmodern wit mixed with genuine horror and creepy imagery. Heck, there are even pop culture nods within the stinging dialogue, including a jab against Twilight. But the script is not airtight, as there are a few head-scratching holes. For instance, why don’t any of the characters buy a UV lamp to fight the vampires? And how did Peter get Charley’s phone number?
Craig Gillespie’s résumé only boasts the likes of Lars and the Real Girl and 2007’s dreadful Mr. Woodcock, making him an odd choice to helm this remake. But Gillespie’s handling of Noxon’s script is astonishingly assured and strong, smoothly guiding the action, horror and comedic scenes. The climax is particularly impressive; it’s a badass action scene which raises the pulse and keeps us on the edge of our seats. There are a few instances of shoddy CGI, but the visual effects are otherwise convincing. Javier Aguirresarobe’s cinematography is sumptuous as well (even though Aguirresarobe photographed two Twilight movies…), while the moody score by Ramin Djawadi represents an effectively atmospheric aural accompaniment (even though it’s a tad on the generic side, and is not a patch on the original film’s outstandingly memorable score).
Fright Night is also available in 3-D; a rather baffling creative decision. The 3-D is inessential, yet the movie was at least shot with proper 3-D cameras. Furthermore, the image is bright enough to endure the dimming which comes with 3-D glasses, and the multiple dimensions are used well to bring depth and convey space. Added to this, there are a few moments in which objects (or blood splatter) look to be popping out of the screen. Major kudos to Gillespie and Aguirresarobe for not just sloppily using the extra dimension as a way to inflate box office profits.
Fortunately, the acting is solid right across the board. Unlikely hero Anton Yelchin works extremely well as Charley – his baby face makes him believable as a former dweeb and a romantic lead, and he doesn’t look out of place when faced with more action-oriented elements. Yelchin has a great deal of charm and is an agreeable screen presence, which helps let this remake work as well as it does. Imogen Poots, meanwhile, is terrific alongside Yelchin, and the two share marvellous chemistry. Fright Night is Colin Farrell’s show, however; he sunk his teeth into the character of Jerry, creating a compelling, amusing and at times frightening villain. David Tennant is equally valuable as Peter Vincent, abandoning the more grandfatherly version of the character from the 1985 film to play a mix of Russell Brand and Criss Angel. Tennant is no Roddy McDowell, but he lightens up the film whenever he’s around, providing energy and comic relief.
Admittedly, Fright Night doesn’t work as well as its forerunner, as it replaces hammy, cheesy old-school charm with slick production values. It’s almost a given in this day and age, but the heart and flavour of the original film is lost, and the replacement aura is more on the generic side. However, of course, it’s up to personal taste and opinion to decide which version is superior. When all’s said and done, though, 2011’s Fright Night is fun and entertaining; an R-rated vampire comedy-horror flick which will appeal to teens without insulting more mature film-goers.