Fright Night Slays Us Madly While Paying Homage to the Original
Well, this is a pretty decent example of how to do a remake. Take the basic concept, switch a few things around to raise the emotional stakes, add some gory bells and whistles, and show some respect for the original. Yup. If Fright Night was a vampire, you’d definitely be seduced enough to let it gnaw on your neck. The slightest possible spoilers after the jump.
First off, I have to say, I was not thrilled at the prospect of seeing this movie in 3D, but it was the only way to see it in a theater that didn’t scare me in real life at a time that worked with my schedule this weekend. Trust me: it would be perfectly fine in 2D. Do not feel the need to see this in 3D. Is it good in 3D? Yeah, sure. But it’s completely unnecessary.
That said, this is a really, really fun movie. When I wrote about the original movie, I had a few questions about how the characters would be interpreted by new actors 26 years later. But I was kind of delighted to see the alterations that were made to allow for the changes that were made in Marti Noxon‘s script. For example, the neighborhood is not in your typical “leafy” suburb that could be almost anywhere. This neighborhood is in Las Vegas, a development in the middle of the desert, outside of the sparkling city where the nights blend into day without anyone realizing any time has passed. In other words, the perfect environment for a vampire who might need to get himself a paying gig during the hours he’s awake (at night).
Las Vegas also proves to be a great setting for this movie’s Peter Vincent, who is played by David Tennant. If we’re being honest, a lot of people are probably seeing this movie only because Tennant is in it. That might just be a good thing if it means people will see this movie, and even a fraction of those people make themselves familiar with the original. I was really wondering how Tennant’s (seemingly) over-the-top magician would compare to Roddy McDowall‘s meek cable TV horror host. As it turns out — and this is the tiniest bit spoilery — the characters are more similar than you’d think. Tennant’s Vincent drinks himself into oblivion to forget painful memories, not just to forget he’s kind of a fraud. Both Vincents hide behind these grandiose personalities, these fictional “vampire hunters” who are really just regular, unimpressive men. But Tennant’s Vincent has an even bigger fake personality, with more illusions (literally — because he’s an illusionist) and more smoke and mirrors. And as the old adage goes, the bigger they are, the harder they fall. He’s even more vulnerable and scared than McDowall’s Vincent, who was more afraid of being revealed as a fraud than as a coward, which both versions are. But long story short, Tennant plays a really interesting character here, someone you’re not quite sure you want on your side until he actually realizes he has something to offer.
So, who is Peter Vincent helping? Anton Yelchin is our hero, Charley Brewster, or at least, he’s the guy to whom the audience needs to relate. And he makes it very easy. Something that is changed in the remake is his relationship with his best friend, Evil Ed — here, they are former friends. Ed (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) is a part of Charley’s geeky past that he wants to forget (BOOOOOO), but it’s Ed that convinces Charley that his new neighbor, Jerry (Colin Farrell), is a vampire. And like in the original, Ed is attacked by Jerry, but this happens much earlier. And the emotional impact felt by Charley because of this is palpable and makes his battle that much harder to fight. Charley is like a lot of teenagers who feel the need to shed their “uncool” childhoods — and friends — in order to make their journey through high school a bit smoother. But Charley soon realizes that when it comes to life outside of school (and cliques, and popular people, etc.), his geeky friend was right all along and should have been trusted. (Let that be a lesson, kids.)
On to Jerry. Colin Farrell’s Jerry is lethal. He is crazy. Ed describes Jerry as the shark from Jaws (while making really great jokes at the expense of Twilight, it should be mentioned — smart, pointed jokes, and not some gratuitous mention of “that other vampire franchise”) and he’s right. Somehow, 2011’s Jerry is even more predatory and bloodthirsty than 1985’s. Maybe it’s the CGI gore that can make wounds bloodier and monsters more monstrous. But he was also a lot more unassuming. And a lot more persistent. For example, in the original, Chris Sarandon‘s Jerry knew he needed an invitation before coming into the Brewster’s home. This is easily remedied when Charley’s mom invites him in and tells him he’s welcome any time. But this time around … I’ll just say that Jerry doesn’t exactly wait for that invitation. And the consequences are bad. He is way more dangerous this time around, unrelenting in his search for blood. This makes for a really suspenseful movie, where you really wonder at times if this guy can ever be stopped and if the entire cast of characters — and the entire population of Las Vegas — is going to be turned into vampires. But at the same time, he is still really charming and seductive, and you’re almost okay with him biting and turning people.
Something they took from the first movie that I was wondering about was the dance club scene in which Jerry seduces and bites Charley’s girlfriend Amy (Imogen Poots). Much like in the original, Amy is no shrinking violet. But how were they going to pull off this pivotal moment of her getting completely overtaken in the middle of a dance club? Back in the tacky, carefree days of the mid-1980s, moviemakers had a thing for dance numbers. While the one in Fright Night was not as blatant as the one in another vampire movie released that year, Once Bitten, surely they were not going to have these two people doing some kind of choreographed number in 2011. And the way it was done was easy — they didn’t. The scene took place in a club, but you got the sense that Amy and Jerry weren’t doing something quite as conspicuous as dancing together in front of a crowd of people. But at the same time, the way it was shot was almost like an homage to the original. Like director Craig Gillespie was saying, “We’re not going to dance in this scene, but we’re going to politely acknowledge what the original scene looked like while we do this without dancing.”
This remake was an amplified version of the original, and it all worked. The 3D was almost completely unnecessary, but the effects made the movie a fun, gory, and scary romp with deeper, funnier characters. At the same time, it was completely respectful of the original movie. While it’s probably not wrong to assume that someone simply thought vampires were en vogue and that remaking Fright Night might be a good way to do a vampire movie without having to write an entirely new story, it doesn’t feel that cheap. It feels like fun, and like it had the blessing of the original.
And in case you heard that Chris Sarandon would be making a cameo, you heard correctly. I won’t spoil that, except to say that it’s pretty fantastic.