Posted on 8/21/11 12:48 AM
I'm not a big fan of vampires or vampire films. Oh,there have been the occasional entries in the sub-genre that have entertained me and had some staying power, but by and large bloodsuckers and their machinations put me off. I prefer the novel Frankenstein to the novel Dracula and I don't empathize with anything that lives as a nocturnal parasite, surviving by feeding on the lifeforce of human beings . Adding what usually amounts to turgid romantic melodrama to the mix puts me even further off, which will explain why Twilight and its sequels active my gag reflex.
However, in 1985 there was one horror film about a modern day vampire that defied all of that and ended up being not merely my favorite vampire film of all time, but one of the best all around horror flicks I've ever seen.
That film was Fright Night, a deft mix of horror and humor which told the tale of a high school student who discovers that his new next door neighbor is a vampire responsible for a series of brutal murders right there in mid 1980's suburban America (no romance for this creature of the night..he was more akin to a serial killer), enlisting the aid of an unemployed TV horror show host to battle the undead menace.
Few films before or since have managed to walk that line of paying loving homage to the sub-genre they represent while operating as an effective example of the same type of film in their own right as Fright Night does. It is by every definition a true classic which holds up astonishingly well today, making a remake seem like even more of a soulless cash grab without any point in existing than is usually the case.
But there has, of course, been a remake anyway. This time the action is relocated from middle America to a suburban tract community in the desert on the fringes of Las Vegas, where high schooler Charlie Brewster (Anton Yelchin) attempts to fit in with the "in" crowd and impress his too hot for him and he knows it new girlfriend Amy (Imogene Potts) while his divorced mom (Toni Collette) works real estate and flirts with the new neighbor, a nocturnal type by the name of Jerry Dandridge (Colin Farrel). After a young neighbor vanishes and a number of their classmates stop showing up for school, Charlie's once best friend Ed (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) deduces that there is something more sinister to Dandridge than his presumed life of just working on the strip at night and, before Charlie knows it, he's sucked into going toe to toe with a creature of legend, along the way seeking help from a Vegas illusionist with a vampire themed show who goes by the name of Peter Vincent (David Tennant).
Well, although it is by definition a cash grab (every sequel or remake is. No one has ever remade a movie or produced a sequel to a hit in an effort to lose money), the remake is certainly not soulless. Don't let any naysayers scare you off....the new Fright Night is a terrific film on its own terms
First and foremost among the reasons for this success is the cast. The cast, the cast, the cast. Did I mention the cast? If there's a dark, beautiful soul to this remake its all in the performances.
Everyone gets it right, with Farrel knocking it right out of the park as Jerry Dandridge. No kidding. He's clearly having a lot of fun with the character and it makes all the difference between merely hamming it up and chewing the scenery. He's equal parts charm and malice. There's a moment where he confronts Charlie at the latter's back door and launches into a diatribe about the boy now being a man and the underlying menace in the scene is tangible. As Farrel and Anton Yelchin exchange words, Farrel's eyes and body language suggest that ,underneath the casual cool facade Jerry erects, prowls an unspeakable animal..and Farrel conveys this dichotomy of bemusement and raw hunger with a thrilling sense of balance. I had watched my DVD of the original Fright Night again the night before I saw the new version and, much to my complete surprise, I actually think Farrel was a better Jerry than Chris Sarandon. Never, ever thought that I'd wrote those words given my reverence for the original film ..and I will always consider Sarandon's turn in the role to be one of the definitive examples of a screen villain... but there it is.
Anton Yelchin is solid as a different kind of Charlie. This time the character actually has more of a character arc and the young man at the end of the film isn't the same fairly mean-spirited kid we meet early on. In the early stages of the film,Charlie is seen as something of a social climbing opportunist and the cruel manner in which he treats his once closest friend during a tense sequence set after sunset is heart breaking. Over the past few years Yelchin has demonstrated some real chops in a variety of roles and if his turn in Fright Night is any indication, I expect a long career lies ahead for him.
Imogene Poots and Christopher Mintze-Plasse round it off nicely as ,respectively Amy and Evil Ed. Interesting thing I noticed about this interpretation of Ed- in the first act of the film ,he's more like William Ragsdale's Charlie from the original film than the new Charlie is, which I thought was a nice touch. And fans need not despair-Ed's signature line "You're so cool Brewster "gets slipped in there, just not in the way you think. As was the case with the original Ed, there's an element of sympathy for this one and though I wouldn't say he's as quirky as Stephen Geoffrey's take on Ed, Mintz-Plasse is actually more likable..he's that the kid you think is kind of a geek until you actually get to know him and realize he's really just a cool guy who prefers to do his own thing.
Now about Amy. Imogene's Poots Amy is a better character. She's more spirited, she's smarter and she's more likable. I was okay with Amanda Bearse ,but lets face it- her function in the original was to be the off again on again girl, show concern, then be in peril as motivation for Charlie to come to the Dandridge house for the climax. Other than that, she didn't really have a lot to do with the actual action until the last ten minutes or so.
Well,say farewell to that happy crap because this Amy is right there in the trenches next to Charlie . She's a fighter and the narrative is the better for it.
And David Tennant? What can you say? His performance is top notch,but what makes it brilliant is that it was written in such a way as to make it incomparable to Roddy McDowell's performance from the 1985 film. The only characteristics the two incarnations share in common are that name and the fact that they are entertainers with a connection to vampire lore. Beyond that, no two characters could be more different and- for the direction they took Peter in the new film - Tennant does a superb job .
I'd have given this a four star rating, but there is a hiccup: The CGI blood. Former KNB giants Howard Berger and Greg Nicotero do provide some prosthetics and a decent amount of old school fake blood, but whenever you see an attempt at a squib, it seems to be digitized. There are also some CGI vampiric transformations that run the gamut between creepy cool (theres at least one such moment-which transpires on a stretch of lonely desert road outside of Vegas- that managed to creep me out because the visual brought to mind what Batman's nemesis The Joker might look like if he had been possessed) and annoyingly cartoonish. I'd just like to go on record as stating that, where I can at least wrap my mind around the idea of why a filmmaker would employ CGI to grow fangs on someone,have them performing superhuman feats or depicting them bursting into flame, CGI blood squibs piss me off. Other films I've enjoyed also used this technique from time to time and it bothered me then, too. Nothing can or will ever replace the tactile quality of good old corn syrup and food coloring. Does this even save the production money? I don't understand the attraction.
Is it better than the original? No. But I'd compare it to Zack Snyder's Dawn of the Dead, which I also didn't think surpassed Romero's classic so much as excel at building its own unique creature with a foundation built on the same skeletal system.
Final thought: I saw this sans 3-D and it was fine. Yeah, there are a a few moments where objects are tossed at the camera (including a funny bit involving a pebble), but not enough to distract and definitely not to such a degree as to warrant dealing with a dimmer picture and ridiculous surcharges.
*** 1/2 out of **** stars