Fright Night (2011)

12 Mar

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Smith’s Verdict: ***

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

First, I’ll state that I liked the original 1985 horror-comedy film “Fright Night” as a clever mix of horror and comedy. It wasn’t a masterpiece in the horror genre, but it was still kind of fun. But more importantly, I think this 2011 remake is just as good. Hey, seeing as how good vampire movies come in short supply nowadays, that’s good enough in my book…or review.

The main protagonist is a teenager named Charley Brewster (Anton Yelchin, “Star Trek” and “Terminator Salvation”). He used to be a high school nerd until he started dating the hottest girl in school—Amy (Imogen Poots, “28 Weeks Later”)—and avoided his nerdy ex-best friend Ed (Christopher Mintz-Plasse—yes, McLovin from “Superbad”). Now he’s a jerk who ignores Ed’s cries for help.

Why does Ed want Charley’s help in the first place? Well, he believes that Charley’s new next-door neighbor in their suburban neighborhood—a smooth-talking brooder named Jerry—is a vampire. He also believes that he has killed many people in town, including their friend (whom we saw get murdered in an unnecessary opening scene).

“That is a terrible vampire name,” Charley scoffs in disbelief. “Jerry?”

But it turns out that Ed’s right. Jerry really is a vampire, as Charley discovers a little later. Jerry knows that Charley knows his secret and begins stalking him before setting out to slaughter him, his girlfriend, and his mother (Toni Collette). Charley sets out to protect them (and himself) from the all-powerful Jerry. But he needs help, so he turns to a British illusionist named Peter Vincent (David Tennant, channeling Mindfreak) for help. He knows a lot about vampires, you see. The only problem is, he doesn’t believe they’re real. What he does believe in are his booze, his tricks, and his sex life. But who knows? Things could happen that could bring him in the middle of this madness.

Colin Farrell plays Jerry, and it’s a good, tough performance. He is menacing as an invincible fanged man, but seems normal as a man who is merely mysterious. He lives in a suburban house outside of Las Vegas—his windows are blacked out, but there’s no use in questioning why since most people who live near Vegas work nights and therefore sleep during the day. He seems cool and smooth to those who give a friendly “hello” (including Charley’s mother). But when he thinks that people know about his secret, he scares them until he knows for sure that they know (at least, that’s what I believe), and then if he believes they’ll become smart enough to fight him, he goes after them. That’s what happens with him and Charley. Jerry seems cool towards Charley, yet when Charley discovers that Ed may be right about him, Jerry seems to know that Charley may be a little suspicious and plays with his mind a little bit. It’s a chilling scene that sets up everything else involving Charley pushing himself (and those around him) deeper into trouble.

“Fright Night” has to be noted for its antagonist as an interesting vampire. As Ed puts it, “He’s not brooding or love-sick. He’s the shark from ‘Jaws.’ He’ll kill anyone who gets in his way.” That’s true, and it’s not cheated at. Chris Sarandon may have been a little more subtle in hiding his secret as the vampire in the original 1985 film, but Colin Farrell seems more threatening and menacing when it comes to showing himself as a vampire. But while Farrell has a menacing presence, he also has fun with the role by playing it with a dry sense of humor. It’s as if he’s messing with his prey and having a good time because he knows he’ll get it soon enough.

Now, I think I know what you’re thinking and yes, “Fright Night” does get back to the traditional vampire mythological traits—wooden stakes, crucifixes, fire, jokes about garlic omelets, sunlight that burns the vampires to ashes, bites to the jugular, etc. No vampire sparkles in this movie.

Anton Yelchin, as the hero, is a definite improvement over William Ragsdale’s boring performance in the original film. It takes a while to like him, but that’s really the point seeing as how Charley starts out as a jerk. Imogen Poots, as his girlfriend, is a somewhat improvement over Amanda Bearse’s whiny, annoying performance in the original film—sure, she’s prettier and doesn’t bug her boyfriend as much, but really that’s just it about her until the final half of the movie. (The less said about that, the better.) Toni Collette has a dopey-mom role, but that’s a lot better than the valium-high (and barely visible) mother in the original film. I wasn’t sure how Christopher Mintz-Plasse would handle the role that was played by Stephen Geoffreys with such hilarious intensity as the best friend Evil Ed in the original film. But he’s quite amusing in this remake, mainly because he makes it his own character.

And for those who have seen the original film, don’t think I’ve forgotten about Peter Vincent. Let’s face it—he was the best thing about the original “Fright Night,” played by Roddy McDowell in a terrific comic performance. Peter Vincent was a Hollywood B-actor who is out of a job because no one wants to see vampires or vampire slayers in movies anymore, and then gets involved in a crazy run-in with a real vampire. David Tennant plays Peter Vincent in the remake as more droll and self-indulgent. He’s a foul, rude, aggressive playboy who lives in a Las Vegas penthouse occupied with a lot of vampire artifacts (and silver bullets—you know, for werewolves). And when a vampire first confronts him, Peter does what the true Peter Vincent doesn’t do on stage for his horror show—scream and run. But eventually, he does team up with Charley and sneak into Jerry’s lair because he’s so drunk he’ll do anything. (I love the bit where they reach the basement and he says he’s probably not drunk enough for this.)

“Fright Night” is an ambitious, well-made horror movie with some real production value. However, it’s not a great horror film. There’s an unnecessary introductory scene that features a character that is so obviously going to be killed—I’m tired of scenes like that. The early scenes that show Charley interacting with his friends in high school don’t look or feel the least bit convincing. And while some of the CGI is impressive, more of it (like when Jerry transforms into an ugly beast or some vampires explode in sunlight) just seems so flashy and unrealistic. The prosthetic makeup is more impressive—Jerry’s two simple fangs look frightening enough. “Fright Night” is suitably scary, nicely acted (particularly with strong work by Colin Farrell and David Tennant), good-looking, and funny when it needs to be. I recommend this remake as an energetic horror film.

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