Fright Night Directed by Craig Gillespie
Starring: Anton Yelchin, Colin Farrell, David Tennant, Imogen Poots, Toni Collette, Christopher Mintz-Plasse
Release Date: August 19, 2011
Horror fans are well aware of the gloom associated with many remakes of well-known films, but despite this, I was pleasantly surprised with Craig Gillespie‘s take on Fright Night. The new film certainly pays tribute to the original film, but definitely brings it into the contemporary age, with a faster pace and some solid performances from the lead cast members.
Fright Night follows a great deal of the same plot elements as its original namesake. Charley Brewster (Anton Yelchin) begins to have a sneaking suspicion that his new neighbor, Jerry Dandrige (Colin Farrell) is a vampire. Brewster seeks the assistance of famous “vampire hunter” Peter Vincent (David Tennant) in the fight against Dandrige, to protect his mother, Jane Brewster (Toni Collette), and his girlfriend, Amy Peterson (Imogen Poots).
The principal strength of the remake is in the substantial performances from both David Tennant and Colin Farrell, and even Anton Yelchin puts in a very convincing role that truly makes you want to cheer on his character as the film heads to its climax. However, having said that, it is Christopher Mintz-Plasse (McLovin!) who truly steals the show in his rendition of the character of “Evil” Ed Lee. In the original film, Ed was a lovable highlight who was depicted as a hilarious weirdo. Yet in the new movie, Mintz-Plasse brings the character into the 21st century, providing that “weirdo” element but adapted to his demeanor.
In effect, Ed Lee’s position in this new film is a cornerstone to the overarching plot. Where the original Fright Night was a tribute to (and perhaps a parody of) the late night cheesy horror flick on television; this version has deeper subtext, zeroing in on the conduct in which we as individuals aim to portray ourselves to others.
The original movie consistently reminded vampire fans that if you wanted a crucifix to succeed against a creature of the night, you must have faith. In this film, that faith is more or less steeped within the individual’s self-concept — of having faith in one’s self, and not having to rely on how one ‘performs’ in the presence of other people. It’s a key element of this movie that truly gives it a nucleus that was lacking in the original.
The first Fright Night, set loose on horror fans way back 26 years ago (damn it, now I know I am old), was trapped among the stereotypes that were almost prerequisites for horror films of the era. It was unleashed with plenty of camp and cheese, which was essential to the film; in fact, it solidifies itself as the foundation of the movie.
With the new Fright Night, the camp and cheese has gone (even the synthesizer soundtrack implemented in the original has THANKFULLY been disposed of), and in its place stands stronger, convincing, and fun performances, in addition to a little more depth and meaning.
The vampire lore employed in the movie also is noteworthy. The inevitable piss-take of Twilight was mildly amusing, but the vampire logic employed in Fright Night is more along the lines of The Lost Boys rather than the traditional Dracula motifs. Colin Farrell truly makes this creature his own, adding his own style and demeanor to it, while clearly throwing in some recognizable tributes to the likes of Christopher Lee from the Hammer Horror days. The vampire lore taken on board for Fright Night was an acceptable development for the remake and consolidated the impact of the new movie, while still including a tip-of-the-hat to the original.
And speaking of tips-of-the-hat, for enthusiasts of the original movie: Yes, there ARE apples!
As a Doctor Who fan though, I can’t help but gravitate towards and discuss Tennant’s performance in this film. To his credit, when he appeared on-screen I was not instantly reminded of his era of the Tenth Doctor — in fact, I immediately despised the character. At first I thought it was because his performance was out of place, but as his character developed, I realized that he truly had swayed to the viewers that he was a highly annoying celebrity. I’m very interested in learning about how the American audiences receive his work in Fright Night — as I anticipate with much hope that he gets noticed for some forthcoming film work. (Personally, I’d love to see him have a go at the new Ash in the Evil Dead remake, but that’s way off topic, and also just my ridiculous wishful thinking).
On the technical side of things, apart from the overbearing and unneeded aerial shots of Las Vegas (seriously, only a couple of shots were needed — this is Fright Night, not a tourism advert), a lot of the camera work done in this film is decent. The highlight of this work is used in the car chase sequence, where the camera and composite work is done so flawlessly, you will believe you’re in the vehicle with the main characters. The visual effects are excellent, with the exception of a few shots during the climax of the film that perhaps would have benefited from using some more ‘real’ make-up/mechanical effects blended in — an element of VFX that has unfortunately been ignored in recent years in favor of what has become considered to be more cost-effective.
Being a horror flick, it’s important to highlight the “scare factor” and “gore factor” for the fans out there. Regrettably, there’s not a great deal of frights in Fright Night, which is a shame due to its namesake. In fact, the movie progresses more in line with “The Hero’s Journey” tale used in an abundance of tales, with Anton Yelchin being more of a Luke Skywalker rising to the fight and David Tennant being more of a (albeit inebriated and swearing) Obi-Wan. In other words, Fright Night without the frights comes across as a “hero versus monster” action flick.
On the other hand, the gore dynamic is applied reasonably to the movie, without going too over the top. It is done so in a manner that adds to the “fun” element of the film. Yes, there is blood and a good amount of it, but don’t go in expecting waterfalls of gore. If that were the case, it would have greatly detracted from the movie.
Fright Night, while highly enjoyable, isn’t a perfect movie though. The coda stapled on to the end totally smacked of pleasing future audiences based on focus group feedback. The conclusion of the film would have come across much more significantly had this final sequence been removed, as it was rather an unnecessary addition. I also felt that while Imogen Poots, who plays Amy Peterson, was not up-to-par compared to her other work — she was very much a stand out in 28 Weeks Later and has put in distinguished performances in other films as well. I’m not saying she is terrible; quite the contrary, she was good, but I have seen better efforts from her.
Additionally, the 3D conversion did not do very much for me either; the on-screen aesthetic was, to some extent, ruined for me with the cheap-ass theater putting on quite a dim screening, making the darker scenes a little difficult to soak in.
But despite my minor nit-picking criticisms, Fright Night is indeed a lot of fun and stays true to the original, but with much added and welcomed strength. If you’re a fan of the original and/or a horror fan, check it out while it is in theaters, especially if you can catch the 2D version.