Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Shocktober Revisited: Fright Night (2011)

Tonight I'll be taking a look at the 2011 remake of Fright Night, a film I've been looking forward too. That's odd, because I don't usually look forward to remakes, but the combination of an intriguing cast and a vampire-versed screenwriter had me on board. Was it a story worth revisiting? Let's see...

 Charley Brewster (Anton Yelchin) is a geeky teenager in the outskirts of Las Vegas trying to maintain a relationship with Amy (Imogen Poots), a girl he'd have had no shot with a year prior. It comes at the expense of his life-long friendship with "Evil" Ed (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), who has been desperately trying to get Charley's attention. Students have been going missing, and Ed is convinced that Brewster's next-door neighbor, Jerry Dandridge (Colin Farrell) is actually a vampire. Charley is eventually convinced, but it comes too late to help his friends, his mother Jane (Toni Collette), or even Amy. He turns to illusionist Peter Vincent (David Tennant) for help, but it may be too late to stop Jerry from destroying everything important to Charley...

 In the interest of full disclosure, I did not sit down and rewatch Fright Night in preparation for this remake. I have seen Fright Night several times (boy, that sounds defensive, right?), starting in high school and periodically on TV, and I really wanted to show it during a few Summer Fests but could never fit it in. However, I didn't feel like it was necessary to come in to the new Fright Night with the original fresh in my mind. There are a number of changes made between the 1985 version and the 2011 version - some superficial, some significant - and I was intrigued enough by the cast, as well as screenwriter Marti Noxon (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) and director Craig Gillespie (Lars and the Real Girl) that it seemed like a leap of faith worth taking.

 Strangely, the superficial changes are the ones that aren't so much of a problem: changing Peter Vincent from a horror show host to a Criss Angel-esque illusionist doesn't impact his role in the third act, although it complicates it in the same way a major change to the narrative does. Evil Ed's role in the film is basically the same, although Noxon adds an interesting narrative shift where Charley has outgrown Ed's obsessive nature, to the point that he now has to blackmail Brewster into investigating Jerry. The transplanting of the film to Las Vegas (actually Albuquerque, New Mexico) helps overcome some logistical issues - the neighborhood is sparsely populated with people who often sleep all day and work all night, cell phone reception is terrible, and a vampire like Jerry could easily sustain himself without drawing attention.

 While most of the changes to this version of Fright Night work pretty well, some of them hamper the story with respect to pacing. For example, there's no good reason for Charley to seek out Peter Vincent the magician - his website makes some superficial claims about Vincent being a "vampire expert," but it's not as though Brewster couldn't do most of the work on his own. In fact, he has, as a scene in the school library with Amy makes clear - Vincent only confirms his research. Beyond that, Peter Vincent's motivation for helping Charley and Amy comes waaaaay too late in the film and seems to exist to give Jerry and Peter something to talk about in the basement. Even the reason Vincent's show is called "Fright Night" seems perfunctory.

 It's a similar problem that Fright Night suffers from early in the film - everybody knows Jerry is a vampire, and Colin Farrell is playing him as the slightly creepy guy who toys with his prey, so getting Charley on board takes longer than it needs to. To illustrate the point, both films have a scene where Charley and Amy are about to have sex, but Charley is more interested in Jerry than his girlfriend. In the original, this happens at the beginning of the film, setting up that Brewster is already suspicious. In the remake, it happens at least half an hour into the film, after we've seen Jerry turn Ed into a vampire.

 Pacing and motivation issues didn't actually affect my enjoyment of the film, though; there's still plenty that Fright Night has going for it. The cast is uniformly ideal for their roles, with Colin Farrell being the standout as Jerry Dandridge, a vampire who clearly doesn't feel threatened by Brewster, Ed, Charley's mother, Amy, or Peter Vincent. He's cocky, dangerous, and slightly off-putting - there are weird touches with Jerry that elicited uncomfortable laughter from the audience. Anton Yelchin has an interesting line to walk as a geek who is trying not to be geeky, and Imogen Poots' Amy is a character that shifts from mostly inconsequential to very important as the story progresses.Toni Collette's Jane Brewster doesn't have much to do outside of the chase sequence which is, for all intents and purposes, the centerpiece of this Fright Night.

 Much has been made of David Tennant's Peter Vincent; I've heard people say he's making fun of Russell Brand, that he's too "over the top," and that this Vincent isn't as compelling as Roddy McDowall's. To the last complaint, it is true that Peter Vincent's role in the story feels less significant because he doesn't mean the same thing to Charley that host Peter Vincent did. To those who throw the Russel Brand comparison out there, aside from a British accent, lack of shirt, and what turns out to be a wig, the argument is superficial. He's playing a variation of the "David Tennant" tenth Doctor from Doctor Who. If you haven't ever seen the show, I guess it might be easy not to catch that, but he's much closer to the Doctor in Fright Night than to Criss Angel or Russell Brand. I actually enjoyed Tennant's profane, guarded Vincent - he's not trying to outdo McDowall, or even draw comparisons, and whether he needs to be in Jerry's house with Charley or not, Tennant is a welcome presence at the end of the film.

 A note on the 3-D: I opted to see Fright Night in 2 dimensions, in part for cost but also because an already dark movie made dimmer by glasses didn't seem that enticing to me. There are a handful of silly "at the camera" shots, and it seems clear that the car chase, where the camera circles around inside of the car (similar to Spielberg's War of the Worlds) is meant to be seen with "depth." That said, it really didn't make much of a difference, so I recommend seeing the film without the gimmickry, otherwise you might not be able to make out important sections of the story.

 In summary, Fright Night is an entertaining, if imperfect, re-telling of the other Fright Night, which I have not seen very recently. It's different enough not to bother purists and certainly has enough going for it that I easily recommend the film to anyone looking for a horror movie in the dog days of summer. When I get around to Horror Fest: The Remake (and it is going to happen in the next three years), Fright Night is going to play, and not on the "shitty but kind of funny" night like, well, Shit Coffin. It's somewhere between Piranha and The Hills Have Eyes as remakes go, but let's be honest here, that's not bad company to be in, is it?

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