Film Review – Fright Night
When thinking of the original 1985 film Fright Night, the first thing that comes to mind is Chris Sarandon, as the film’s antagonist Jerry Dandrige, standing at the top of his staircase mocking the late night monster show host Peter Vincent. “Welcome to Fright Night.” He says it with a jovial over-the-top manner that as a kid seemed terrifying, but as an adult comes off quite hilariously. Either way, I still think that film is a great example of the heyday horror films had in the mid ’70s to mid ’80s. It’s also a fine example of how to have fun being scared. For a while now, it seems horror films have lost sight of some of the aspects that made them box office giants in the past, such as the ability to enjoy being terrified for an hour and a half. I feel with Craig Gillespie’s remake we may see, in part, the way for horror films to return to that audience-respected stature.
Fright Night follows the story of teenager Charley Brewster, who discovers his next door neighbor is a vampire and goes head to head in a battle for the survival of himself and his friends and family. In the original film, Charley is a horror movie fanatic, and stays up late watching a local monster movie show hosted by and featuring films starring Peter Vincent (Roddy McDowell). His love of horror films obviously feeds his quick assertion that his neighbor is indeed a member of the undead, and also helps assure no one believes him. In the new Fright Night, Charley is the average teenager, a nerd who wants to be cool and has been given the opportunity, thus causing him to forsake his friends of the past. And as it so happens, his old friends are disappearing one by one. In another reversal from the original, Charley’s best friend Ed is the only who believes he knows the truth about Charley’s neighbor. In the original, Ed is the skeptic. Here, Ed, played by Christopher Mintz-Plasse, is the nerd with the weapon of knowledge, and Charley isn’t buying it.
One of the ways that the original Fright Night succeeds the most is in how it balances the survivalist aspect of a horror film with the slight demands of being a teenager, mainly the pains of young love. Or, in Charley’s case, the balancing act of keeping his girlfriend happy while playing duel with the neighbor. This aspect is played up much more in the remake, and actually serves to beef the story up more. To be honest, I was not looking forward to this film. I originally accepted the assignment because I was sure I was not going to like this movie and wanted to write an article detailing why remakes are typically a bad thing. When I walked out of this screening, my opinion was practically the opposite. Fright Night succeeds in that way you want a remake to. While it’s not quite at the level of, say, John Carpenter’s The Thing, it is a thoroughly entertaining remake. The pacing, which is something I am most critical of with movies these days, is slowed down quite a bit from the frantic, epileptic pace that permeates so many post-MTV generation films. Cuts are long, pan around the screen, and are not always in deep character close-ups. Being shot in 3-D means that certain shots as well as special effects were specifically designed to work best in 3-D. This is a double-edged sword; while the 3-D works better in this film than in films that were transferred to 3-D afterward, it’s still blurry at times, and overall fails to actually make the filmgoing experience any better than a regular 2-D film. However, some of the special effects shots I could see not working as well in a 2-D environment. Ultimately, I still hold fast to my belief that CGI blood is not nearly as effective, no matter how it’s used, than something physically tangible.
The acting in Fright Night is the movie’s strongest point. Colin Farrell is fun to watch as Jerry Dandrige, the good looking and charming smarmy next door neighbor. His performance is not nearly as boisterous as Sarandon’s; instead, he approaches the character with a more animalistic nature, sexual and menacing. Anton Yelchin is a solid actor and carries the film with a bit more confidence than William Ragsdale did. Charley’s best friend Ed is perhaps the original’s biggest hang-up. Don’t get me wrong, on a nostalgic level I have a fondness for Evil Ed, as he’s coined by Charley in the original, but it felt like much more of natural change-up to make Ed the creature buff, and Charley the skeptic. And, Christopher Mintz-Plasse is appropriately cast for the role. In the place of Amanda Bearse as Amy Peterson is Imogen Poots, who takes on what feels like much more of a presence in this film than in the original. Then, in the film’s highlighting role, is the British actor best known for playing the tenth doctor on Doctor Who, David Tennant. Tennant steals the show, and the film at those moments feels like it was designed to allow him to do just that. Updating the character of Peter Vincent from a late night horror show host and actor to a Las Vegas magician who specializes in the knowledge of vampires feels appropriate and works to this film’s advantage. Also to note, it’s always a pleasure to see Toni Collette, who plays Charley’s mom Jane, in anything, even if it’s for a short period of time.
The plot is changed quite a bit from the original, and in so doing sets the film up for more of an adventure horror experience. More time is spent with the duel between Charley and Jerry, giving the filmmakers more time to use the 3-D to create special effects shots that engage the audience. Some of these work great, while a few others feel lackluster at times. Overall, the film builds appropriately to its conclusion, hitting all the right marks along the way. If there is any complaint, it’s that knowing the original I could anticipate when those beats were coming. Perhaps those who have not seen the original will be more surprised? Walking out of the film, I was happy to see a solid horror film that was a blast to watch make its way back to the big screen. Here’s to hoping more are on their way.
Final Grade: A