Fright Night

Tom Holland’s original Fright Night from 1985 is a movie that I’ve always loved and, as confirmed by a recent DVD viewing, still very much do. It manages to be both fun (and more than a little campy) at the same time it presents itself as a credible, even frightening horror film. It has, even to this day, some of the best vampire (and vampire-death) affects I’ve seen in movies (achieved, not for nothing, using “simple” makeup, costumes, prosthetics, puppets, and lots of stage blood – take that, billion-dollar CGI houses!). Of course, I had the knee-jerk negative reaction to news of a remake, but the casting announcements (David Tennant! Colin Farrell! Toni Collette!) were very interesting and not only gave me hope that it could be good, but as the release date neared actually got me quite excited to see it. And after last weekend’s viewing, I can finally and wholeheartedly confirm that it wasn’t completely awful.

Fright Night’s story is rather simple and fun – Charlie (Anton Yelchin), a suburban high school kid, comes to find that his new neighbor Jerry (Colin Farrell) is a vampire, and responsible for all the mysterious murders and disappearances in town over the last several weeks. Jerry, having been found out, comes after Charlie who, with the help of celebrity “real-life” (but not really) vampire hunter Peter Vincent (David Tennant), tries to save his mother (Toni Collette), his girlfriend (Imogen Poots), and the whole town from evil.

Remakes typically live or die by their casting, and Fright Night is no exception. Farrell and Tennant give the standout, spotlight performances here. Tennant is a revelation. As with most people I know him mainly from Doctor Who, so it was fun seeing him play a character so completely opposite to that persona, and so different from Roddy MacDowell’s performance in the original. Peter Vincent here has a brash sort of loud, lewd, Vegas-charm: Criss Angel by way of Russell Brand. Tennant clearly has a blast playing him. Bonus points to the filmmakers for not just going ahead and casting Russell Brand.

I’m glad to see that vampires can actually burn, not twinkle. “You hear me Twilight fans!”

One of the fundamental hurdles I have with most vampire fiction is that I just don’t find vampires sexy. Creepy, brooding, pasty, and stalker/paedophile are not exactly in my top 10 list of qualities that I find attractive in a person. Even if vampires in real life actually did fit the perfectly coiffed, dandy, foppish, lace collar frilly shirt romantic stereotype of Victorian literature (I tend to think that “real” vampires would more closely resemble the half-starved-wild-dog-look of those in 30 Days of Night), I still don’t see anything exciting or even amusing about their lifestyle. That said, however, I have to admit that Colin Farrell makes one sexy vampire. And though he definitely plays to the sexy-and-mysterious stereotype, when he (and various other characters) “vamp out”, they actually take on the beast-like, starving-dog look that I find pretty horrifying.

It’s too bad the rest of the cast are not given much chance to shine. I was very excited when I heard that Toni Collette was cast, as not only is she one of my very favorite actors, I imagined that it would open up all kinds of possibilities for the plot, perhaps even shifting Jerry’s attentions to her rather than focusing on Charlie’s girlfriend (Charlie’s mother was just a throwaway comic relief role in the original). Unfortunately, this was not to be, and both Collette and her character seemed barely even in the movie – basically a wasted opportunity. Anton Yelchin as Charlie is perfectly serviceable, but I saw nothing “star-making” or even particularly memorable about his performance. Same, Imogen Poots as girlfriend Amy, whose role is not much more than yet another Hollywood case of improbably-hot-girl-dating-dweeby-“regular”-guy. As Charlie’s best frenemy “Evil” Ed, Christopher Mintz-Plasse is…Christopher Mintz-Plasse. Trust me, you already know exactly how every one of his performances is going to be – either “McLovin” (everything he’s been in other than Kick Ass) or “dark McLovin” (Kick Ass and now, I guess, this).

Fright Night is written by Marti Noxon, a veteran of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, so you figure she knows a thing or two about vampires (and storytelling), and I did appreciate how the movie kept everything old school, vis-a-vis the “rules” of vampirism: reflections, sunlight, crucifixes, invitations, holy water, and the like (though technically, I think the silver bullets would have killed him). Unfortunately, there were several problems with the script (or possibly editing) that bothered me even after I left the theatre, whether they were rather obnoxious plot holes (who let Jerry into Peter Vincent’s apartment?), unexplained convenient-to-the-plot moments (why and to where did Jerry suddenly, briefly drive away after the cops visited his house?), and elements that were brought up in a manner which suggested that they would figure into the story later, somehow, but never do (Charlie’s sneakers – why?).

Meanwhile, and much to the detriment of the story, many other things seem to happen “just because”. While much of the fun of the original version was its nobody-can-find-out-the-truth aspects, here Jerry blows his wad fairly quickly, and doesn’t seem to care who knows who (and what) he is. He blows up the house. He kills an innocent passing bystander (a fun cameo from Chris Sarandon, who played Jerry in the original). He attacks our heroes on an open highway, causing Charlie’s mother to fall into a coma. These all just seem like story points that don’t really come from anywhere, don’t make any story-, character-, or emotional-sense. Ironically, the story might have been more effectively told had director Craig Gillespie toned down his “big movie” aspirations and hewed a bit closer to the smaller-scale storytelling for which he is better known (Lars and the Real Girl, Showtime’s The United States of Tara).

Again, Fright Night is not a bad movie, just not an especially memorable one. I doubt anyone would watch this twice, let alone repeatedly over the course of decades. While perfectly fine for today, it has little of the goofy charm of the original – Tennant’s performance is the only element here that makes this movie at all special to me, and raises my score by half a fork.


Posted on August 23, 2011, in Film Review and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Nice Review! The tone may be all over the place, but it still has a lot of fun to it with blood, guts, and gore flying at you with good performances from the cast, especially Farrell who seems like he’s just having a ball with this role. Check out my review when you can!

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