Wayback Review: Fright Night (2011)

Since yesterday’s The Finest Hours pass giveaway had me digging around for director Craig Gillespie earlier work; a re-boot of Fright Night.   So enjoy a little bit of retro from the August 2011 archives of Atomic Popcorn!

Movie Review — Fright Night

Look! Up in the sky! It’s a bird, it’s a plane it’s…something that’s distracting you from the fanged dude right next to you. Oops, too late. If you liked the original Fright Night, this new re-telling should have you jumping for joy. This is a remake that isn’t fresh and original, but it does hit all the right notes and should have horror fans happily shrieking with delight, and even jumping at a scare or two. Who’d thought a gal would want to stay away from Colin Farrell?

Welcome to your everyday, average suburb of Las Vegas. It’s plopped in the middle of nowhere, a  microcosm all to itself. The fact that it looks like it’s been built by the same guys that put up the Poltergeist subdivision doesn’t exactly bode well for our hero. That’d be Charley Brewester, a guy that has moved up the high school ranks from nobody to stud, with all the trappings, including a super-hot girlfriend and a group of broad-shouldered jockmeat pals. Charley’s former BFF Ed seems to think there’s something wrong with Charley’s new next-door neighbor, Jerry. But Jerry is a stay-at-home kinda guy who loves just about everything your usual adult dude living in a subdivision loves. Fixing up the house, painting all the windows black, and eating folks that won’t be missed. When homeroom roll-call is a pause-a-thon of missing kids, Ed stumbles on to something. But when Charley finally puts two and two together and comes up with vampire, there’s precious little to do except head to Vegas and beg a flashy “Fright Night” magician to help him out. This should go well.

The original Fright Night was a big hit back in 1985, and started up the careers of stars William Ragsdale (Justified) and Amanda Bearse (Married With Children). Not to mention the boost it gave to Chris Sarandon and Roddy McDowall. (The less said about Stephen Geoffreys’ post-Evil Ed career the better. Oh, okay; Butt Blazer.) This time around Anton Yelchin (Star Trek) plays Charley, Imogen “Please Change Your Last Name I Can’t Stop Giggling” Poots plays Charley’s girlfriend Amy, and Colin Farrell plays the vampire stud/neighbor Jerry. Toni Collette (The United States of Tara) brings her considerable talent to the table as Charley’s mom Jane. Amping up the acting ability in this remake was a wise decision. Though the original is still a horror fan favorite, being able to keep up with today’s tv and movie characters, whose quick thinking and uber-cool banter requires decent actors to make it not sound like another cable-ready sitcom. By casting actors that have experience with well-made tv and indie films, you get a better flow, even when they’re playing it strictly tongue-in-cheek. Add David Tennant (Doctor Who) who plays magician Peter Vincent (yes, he’s a magician here, not a late-night monster movie host) as the bastard love child of Criss Angel and Russell Brand, and the stage is set for one helluva ride. Tennant and Collette do such a great job playing it up for the cameras that it’s a shame they didn’t have a real scene working off each other, that’da been amazing.

Heeeeey, this cool back-and-forth banter between all these characters sounds an awful lot like Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Well duh; Fright Night was written by Marti Noxon (Buffy, Angel, Private Practice, Mad Men). She’s the master of the hip conversation, so it’s no surprise that the characters here are just as hep as the one’s you’re more familiar with. What’s great about this film is the choice of setting. In a Las Vegas suburb, apparently there are tons of folks that work strange hours, and that come and go based on availability of work. So someone who sleeps all day, and folks that disappear? Not really an issue. People react as you’d expect them to in real life; he’s a bit of a nutter, maybe a little psycho, but nothing supernatural is going on. But when Vampire Jerry starts eating on the street, things start to get all sortsa nasty. All props to the filmmakers for keeping standard vampire lore intact, which makes the story more fun to follow with that bit of the familiar around.

The effects in Fright Night are well done, from vampire fangs to re-healing to the poof of a dead vamp to the “no vamp on camera” shots. One scene, where a vamp almost gets beheaded and you can see behind the neck to the wall felt straight out of  Death Becomes Her, and it’s an amazing piece of work. Points deducted for the Monty Python-esque one-armed vampire in one scene though. I just wanted to tell the poor vamp to look under his shirt. The 3D works well here, giving you ashes of dead vamps floating all over the theater, and claws grabbing for you when you least expect it. It feels like old black-and-white B-movie 3D, and I mean that in the very best way. All cheese, no filler. Though gotta say I think it would have been better if Farrell had been allowed to keep his usual speaking voice, as the American accent he uses here seems put on and in some scenes he looks frankly uncomfortable speaking that way. But he looks like he’s enjoying himself playing a really, really bad guy. Unlike the original Fright Night, once people start to figure him out, this Jerry doens’t give a rat’s ass who knows what’s going on. He’ll attack anybody, anywhere, and if you don’t let him in? He’ll blow up your house. Like David Tennant’s rolickin’ Peter Vincent, Vegas Showgirl, watching Farrell/Jerry strut his stuff might be just as much fun as he had doin’ it.

There are a few tip-of-the-hat moments to fans of the original in this remake. Chris Sarandon has a thoroughly enjoyable cameo. Amy still wears a white dress at the big climax. The freaky teeth you see on the original are still around. Colin’s Jerry is just as suave as Chris Sarandon’s. But a few of the new twists to the movie, especially the hurry-up-and-wait reveal of Jerry and the undoing of Evil Ed, sucked a bit of life out of the picture. It’s hard to root for the good guys if we haven’t been given enough time to really like them. I felt a pull to root for them, but that’s because I’m a big fan of the original, not because there was any believable character development. There wasn’t time. I also fear the use of current pop hits like Foster the People’s “Pumped Up Kicks” will leave the movie feeling dated.

So what did I learn watching this remake? Anton Yelchin makes a badass Ghostbuster. A bottle of Midori fits perfectly in the pocket of a black satin robe. Stupid people still run upstairs to get away from bad guys. Peter Vincent is still a pussy. And if you put it all together, it makes for one enjoyable, if not exactly lingering, experience.

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