Seeing an older movie seems like an easy enough concept, right? Sadly, many people refuse to look at anything that isn’t a new release. Remakes are the easiest way to recycle a successful idea and repackage it for a new generation.
When this examiner heard that one of his all-time favorite 80’s horror films, ‘Fright Night’ was being done over, it was disappointing. Why mess with something that was so successful? Sometimes being tied to a certain time can work in a film’s favor. Maybe that’s just a matter of personal nostalgia, though.
Read on. Maybe this will turn out alright after all. Then again, maybe not.
Charley (Anton Yelchin) is a teen in suburban Las Vegas who has a new next door neighbor. Charley’s mom (Toni Collette) takes a liking to this new addition to the neighborhood. His name is Jerry Dandridge (Colin Farrell) and there seems to be something a little off about him. Around the same time, a number of students and their families have started to go missing Charley’s old friend Ed Lee (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) convinces him to explore the house of their old friend who hasn’t been to school in a little while.
After this exploration, the two boys part ways, but Ed is harassed by a bully. He escapes his tormentor, but encounters Jerry who quickly reveals himself to be a vampire and bites Ed.
Charley notices that his friend is missing and suspects Jerry. He does some testing and investigating to confirm this but decides that he needs professional help to deal with the situation. The teen logically goes to the first person anyone would go to in Vegas, a magician who professes a deep knowledge of vampires. This magician is Peter Vincent (David Tennant). Their meeting doesn’t go well as Peter reveals himself to be a mere showman.
How will Charley deal with the new guy who is proving to be a real pain in the neck? Will he stay alive and keep his mom out of danger? Can he save the whole neighborhood and beyond from the blood sucker?
Like the original, this new ‘Fright Night’ isn’t especially scary. It’s more of a fun horror movie that you gather around watching with your friends. Part of the appeal is that the film is knowledgeable about certain rules of vampires. One such rule is that they cannot enter a residence without being invited in. That is a big theme. There is also a decent amount of humor early on, especially between some of the characters and how they interact. It even goes so far as to mention/mock ‘Twilight’ a few times which is always a plus and reveals how unscary vampires have become over the last few years.
Thankfully, the pace stays brisk throughout and the action sequences are mostly very well executed. One particular highlight is a tricky car chase that is confined to the fleeing vehicle’s perspective in a continuous shot. Whenever Charley explores Jerry’s house, expect things to get a little tense. Instead of the original where most people are skeptical about the neighbor being a creature of the night, it is revealed relatively early on to everyone that Jerry has fangs and knows how to use them.
At first, the Peter Vincent update into more of a Criss Angel type is a little off-putting. The character is obnoxious and unapproachable, though it does make sense in this day and age. People are drawn to spectacle more so than quaint late-night horror shows (has anyone seen the ratings for the new ‘Elvira’s Movie Macabre’? Exactly.) so that was a sad, but necessary change. Thankfully, there are some revelations and Tennant infuses his character with enough likeable attitude to make it work.
For all of the excitement some people had to see Mintz-Plasse as Evil Ed, aside from the beginning and a bit in the middle, he doesn’t get that much screen time. Until he plays something other than an awkward high-schooler, it’s going to be tough for him to shake his McLovin’ association.
A huge knock is the visual effects. There are some nice details here and there, but this was clearly made for 3-D. Some of the computer animated visuals look awful in 2-D and don’t translate well without the gimmick. Another problem is the artistic decisions regarding how the vampires’ faces are rendered. The original used practical make up effects. When they sparingly popped up, they had the potential to shock you. This handles it in an unwieldy fashion. They were clearly meant to take advantage of the theater experience but outside of that environment, it’s ineffective.
A very minor point, but it’s worth mentioning (maybe?) that the film mashes together quite a collection of international talent. The story is set in Las Vegas, but Charley is played by a Russian kid, his mom is played by an Australian, his love interest and mentor are both English, and the villain is Irish. It’s not a big deal because they all do their best to pass for American, but it’s a little funny if you think about it.
Jerry is an unflappable bad guy, but maybe you could make the case that Farrell plays things a little too cool at times.
Special features include: bloopers, a Kid Cudi music video and an extended scene.
Like with most of these remakes, ‘Fright Night’ is missing a little something the second time around. Still, it is very aware of the original and has some references for the old school fans while remaining fun in its own right. That’s more than a lot of recent films can boast, regardless of genre.
It certainly belongs among the better unnecessary remakes.
Rated R 106 minutes 2011
This post was written by:
J.J. Ellis – When J.J. Ellis isn’t writing as the Allentown DVD Examiner, his Decent Exposure Radio can be heard on the air every Friday night from 10:30 to midnight (EST) on WXLV 90.3 FM or wxlvradio.com!