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Fright Night – Review of the remake

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Don’t say “Fangs for the memories, Fright Night”

— sink your teeth into this remake

                                                                                                                   By: H. Blain

 

The following is spoiler-heavy if you’ve not seen the original.  Just a warning.

It’s 10:15 at night, I’ve got Sisters of Mercy’s 8-minute opus Temple of Love going and I’m going to talk about the latest in the long line of remakes being spit out of Hollywood these days.

FRIGHT NIGHT. Not the original from 1987 of course…the new sexy one with the hip soundtrack and Collin Farrell as the vamp-next-door, Jerry. Wait a minute…Jerry?!  That’s not a proper vampire name. Of course it’s not; it’s how you go unnoticed even in the middle of one of the sunniest places in America, Las Vegas. But I’m getting ahead of myself here.

The new movie opens with a flourish of music that is both reminiscent of old TV horror-host shows and better than those ever were. A teenager is stumbling in a house that looks like all the others in this desert suburb of the shiny city, and as he leaves one room you barely see an arm flopping onto the floor, with flecks of blood on it. Soon enough the Fright Night logo comes up in bloody red lettering that drifts towards the very little bedroom community where the latest attack has taken place. We’re never given the name of this little hamlet, and it doesn’t matter. This is the kind of neighborhood where all the kids know each other from childhood and the moms wave as they walk the dog attached to the stroller. It’s not the kind of place where something would be wrong.  {This, of course, is where evil lurks. In the heart of the ‘burbs. It’s like no one who actually lives in the suburbs has ever seen a horror movie set there. Did no city planner types ever see Poltergiest?!? Don’t you know all bad things come from/go there? Sheesh.}

We see Charlie Brewster, (Anton Yelchin) trying to get his dirt bike working as the sun comes up on a school day, and having to get a ride from his teasing girlfriend Amy (Imogene Poots, who we first noticed in 28 Weeks Later).  At school there’s the usual roll call, and a few kids are missing and you can probably bet they met the same fate as the boy in the beginning. But Charlie doesn’t notice. He’s too busy trying to be way cooler then he used to be to pay attention to what his former best friend “Evil” Ed is trying to tell him. Ed’s trying to tell him people are missing, but in Vegas, a town with transience built right into its bones, it is not a big deal.

The Ed and Charlie relationship here is not as friendly as in the original, as Brewster’s trying to distance himself from the obvious geeky past, (and Christopher Mintz-Plass is again in fine form as “Evil” Ed, an earnest dork of a young man who’s just trying to stop the evil that’s moved next door to his former best friend) and it’s only due to Ed’s threats to release embarrassing videos to the cool guys that Charlie even starts listening to him.

Breaking into the house of a missing friend with him, but finding nothing, he leaves Ed to his own fate and goes home. One of my favorite lines is by Mintz-Plasse as he’s trying to convince Charlie of the danger. He says, “He’s not brooding, lovesick or noble. He’s the shark in Jaws!” It’s a nice riff on the ever-present Twilight fandom, and it lets you know that Ed’s been paying close attention and his instincts are right on. We never do know how Ed started realizing that “something strange was afoot at the Circle K”. That’s not important, however.

Marti Noxon had a tight script in mind, and this film hits all the beats right on time. Noxon’s a long-time fixture in Hollywood, writing and producing in both genre and regular works and though she’s left a few projects over the usual excuse of creative differences, she does know to write good dialog. Her stuff just feels natural as it’s spoken.

It’s only when he doesn’t show for school the next day does Charlie starts to become concerned for Ed.  When Jerry comes over to borrow some beer for his date that night and Charlie makes a point to not invite him in he catches the eye and later the ire of Jerry, putting himself and his single mom, Jane (Toni Collette) in danger. Tensions run high in this scene, and I could hear people at this screening softly rooting for Charlie to “not let that fool in!” and other sage advice.

In conversations with Ed about Jerry Dandridge’s dark nature the name Peter Vincent had come up a few times and Evil was so sure that Peter would be able to help in stopping him, that this is where Charlie starts.  In the original Peter Vincent was played by Roddy McDowell. He’s an older vampire-hunter from the golden age of Hammer films and dresses a bit like Sherlock Holmes and Van Helsing. He tells the audiences of his late-night film show, Fright Night (with a wink and a nod) that he’s the master of the macabre and that all the undead are afraid of him.

This version has him being an even worse (is that possible?) version of Criss Angel. David Tennant is all leather pants and long hair and overdone eyeliner.  He’s also a drunkard who has an amazing collection of books, artifacts and weapons that just are all conveniently in his penthouse when Charlie comes to visit and convince him that he needs help. His Vegas show is called Fright Night and is filled with squibs and aerial rigs and lots of hot vampire babes. They’re no more real than that goatee he’s sporting.

Vincent doesn’t want to believe Charlie, and you know it’s just a race for time before Jerry starts hunting him in the night. This film starts with gore at the get-go and doesn’t want to let the audience rest for very long. The setting of Las Vegas; with its fields of pre-fab houses and impermanence contrast nicely with the ’85 version’s homey feel. It makes sense for a vampire to hide out there with the excuse of working on ‘the strip’ at night and sleeping all day. This is no sparkly vampire full of woe and ennui. This guy’s a killer and it’s the best use of Ferrell’s naturally dark eyes in a long time. He’s so full of menace and sexuality and dude-next-door-ness that you can see why Jane Brewster is interested initially. Dandridge is a loner here, no thrall named Billy to help with body disposal this time around. But in a clever twist you see why that’s not even necessary anymore. It’s like maybe even vamps watch CSI: Vegas and know they better cover their tracks.

There’s a scene where Brewster sees firsthand what a monster Jerry is, and even though she’s being sucked dry, the victim keeps it a secret that he’s there. It’s a small and moving moment and a nice ‘us against them’ mentality. Charlie’s rescue mission is not as smart as he thinks it is, and this is one of the better uses of the 3D of the film. One of the others is the scene where Jane, Amy and Charlie are driving away in their SUV. The 3D gave it a very cinema verite’ feel and heightened the danger because of that.

Oh yeah. It’s in 3D. I didn’t expect that, especially for a screening. I was amused when the security dude came in with a warning to us all before it started about them using night vision goggles to see if anyone was pirating the film. I guess no one told them that you can’t tape a 3D film for the interwebs. It would look like shakey-cam crap. The 3D is not really necessary for most of the film, though watching vamps turn into orange ash and float around your headspace with the glasses on is pretty much the best part of that. It’s like being at a bonfire in someone’s backyard. The gore effects are done by the always reliable KNB team and look great, including the Danny Elfman/Joker-wide mouths for drinking blood.

You can tell that Tennant and Farrell are having an absolute ball in this role, and that Yelchin’s giving it his earnest all. The other characters are pretty much throwaways, even Amy, who does not much except pout and be in danger. It’s not Imogene Poots’ fault, it’s just the character. Though I am surprised after Noxon’s years of writing strong females that she only gives Amy one decent scene. Maybe it was being too slavish to the original. Maybe it was the director’s wishes. I don’t know.  Jane is pretty one-note as well and I get the feeling that Collette did this as a favor to Craig Gillespie, since they worked on US of Tara together. Dave Franco comes off as the generic asshole from high school that gets his comeuppance and he’ll be seen next in 21 Jump Street, to continue the remake-a-rama .

Fright Night is clever, funny, has some good boo-scary moments and earns its R-rating pretty quickly. I kind of wonder if all those years of being pent up in TV-land made Marti Noxon anxious to get all those f-bombs on screen at last. Overall, I enjoyed it for its own sake, and I can like the two different films all on their own merits. The 1985 film has more innocence going for it (though plenty great parts too), and this one more gore and better music choices.

Director Craig Gillespie (who has come from Lars and the Real Girl, and the United States of Tara to this) keeps the action flowing, the tension nicely high, and makes the whole thing a fun ride. He’ll next be helming the big screen adaptation of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. I hope he has as much fun onscreen with that as I saw here.

Don’t let your obsession with all things 1980’s or your hatred of all things remake-y kill your chance for a big screen horror-comedy that’s heavy on the quippy dialog. If it means that much to you to be against it ahead of time for one reason or another, just go see the cheap show matinee so those who have been dying to see Collin Ferrell sink his teeth into Imogene Poots can have the joint to themselves.  And I am totally going to find the song by Hugo at the end of the film; it’s a bluegrass cover of a hip-hop song that you just have to hear to believe. Sorry, Z, you know that “Good Man in a Bad Time” is too tied into the time it came from, even if you did want a cover of it by Vampire Weekend.  That’s just too meta.

Fright Night opens wide August 19 at your local megaplex. I also want to say thanks to Criminal Recordsin Atlanta for the hook-up. And for the love of Shatner, do not text or talk in the theatre when you see movies.

~H. Blain is a freelance writer living in Atlanta who likes reading far too late in the night, most types of comic books, all things cinema (including being excited by certain names in the credits that you usually ignore) and saw The Empire Strikes Back three times opening day  when she was ten years old. ~

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