AUGUST 15, 2011
Ignoring quality, Fright Night falls exactly in the middle of the remake spectrum in terms of approach; it’s not a total overhaul like Dawn of the Dead or Prom Night (again, we’re ignoring quality here), nor is it a scene for scene redux like Let Me In or Quarantine. It feels familiar throughout, but doesn’t really directly copy anything either, even the few lines that are brought back (“You’re so cool, Brewster!”) have a different context. And the best scare in the movie only works if you’ve seen the original – once it again it opens on a TV showing Peter Vincent, and then the camera starts panning over to the bedroom. Fans of the original will expect to see Charley and Amy making out, but instead we discover we’re in the middle of an attack on some anonymous neighbor. Unfortunately, that’s about as good as it gets, and as the movie goes on it just has less and less of its own identity.
Tom Holland’s Fright Night was a lot of things (and let me remind you, I’m hardly an expert on the 1985 original; if you recall it actually served as an HMAD entry because it had been so long since I watched it): fun monster movie, engaging 80s comedy, etc – but one thing that really shined through was that Holland wanted to pay tribute to both a type of horror flick (specifically Hammer films) as well as honor the sort of icons that that AND this current generation has failed to create: the closest thing the 80s had to a Vincent Price or Peter Cushing was Tom Atkins, and most of his movies only got appreciated later on. You can see Tom Holland sitting there and saying “I want to make something today that honors the guys that inspired me!”, in other words. But here? You can just sort of see a bunch of execs sitting around looking over what hasn’t been remade yet, coming across Fright Night, realizing that they didn’t have much else to go on, and decided to make it in 3D and hope for the best.
And thus, while they carried over the plot, they forgot to bring the charm or even any real POINT. Colin Farrell is actually pretty good as Jerry; not as suave and romantic as Chris Sarandon’s version, but more of a dark and mysterious type of guy that women want to just plain fuck. Unfortunately, he’s a lot more likable than the film’s hero, since they’ve turned Charley into an asshole who mocks his former best friend in front of his cool new pals, shuts out his girlfriend, etc. I assume the idea is to give Charley an arc, start him off as a selfish prick who learns to man up over the course of the movie, but they never truly deliver that change – just because he walks next door with a crossbow doesn’t make up for the fact that the only reason he even knew about Jerry in the first place is because “Evil” Ed had to blackmail him in order to get him to hang out for a few minutes and fill in the exposition.
This is another major issue. One of the remake’s few genuinely good ideas is that Ed and Charley are former best pals that have drifted apart, and you get the sense that by hunting this vampire they’ll regain their broken friendship and even make it a bit of a tragedy. But no! They have one scene together, most of it spent arguing in between Ed explaining everything (Charley’s such a douche in this he doesn’t even notice Jerry’s strange behavior, Ed has to spell it out for him), and then Ed is killed/turned a few minutes later. Worse, Ed then disappears entirely until the 3rd act, which just doesn’t make any sense to me. First of all, Jerry doesn’t have a Billy Cole type character in this one, and thus he is the only viable threat during the entire second act. I know screenwriter Marti Noxon worked with Joss Whedon a lot and thus it’s not entirely inconceivable to think that they’d pull a shock twist and kill Jerry off at the end of the second act and make Ed the Big Bad, but by this point in the movie we have already been assured that being clever or daring was not an option*.
So anyway, by the time Ed shows up in vampire mode you’ve probably already forgotten about him (the original was a bit long itself; this one’s actually longer), and there’s certainly no sense of tragedy to his fate, nor does Charley even seem too hesitant to take an ax to his former pal. No attempt to reason with him, see if there’s any humanity left in there, nothing. He shows up and then they start fighting, swinging weapons and CGI bloodspray flying in our face.
Oh, yeah, the 3D. As with the script, all of the best moments are in the first act, as Craig Gillespie uses the technology not to throw shit in our faces (though I actually flinched at the first “Comin at ya!” gag, so kudos) but to have fun with the visuals of three-dimensional corners and furniture. Charley sneaking around Jerry’s place, or Ed trying to avoid him – these scenes provide terrific 3D, turning otherwise bland suburban homes into minor carnival funhouse arenas; I actually found myself trying to peer around corners and such. Unfortunately, the cat and mouse stuff is largely abandoned once Jerry blows up the house (an event that you see in the trailer that occurs much earlier than expected), and even when they have a potentially fun set, such as Peter Vincent’s weapons room, they never utilize it for anything good. Instead, they start using the technology for (admittedly impressive) sparks and embers flying around after a vamp is toasted, and endless (less impressive) digital blood splatters. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that you should SKIP the 3D if you head out to the theater (it is native, after all, not a post-convert), but it’s definitely not worth the extra dough in my opinion; if you have any issue whatsoever with the format, this will certainly not change your mind.
Back to Vincent, he was surprisingly one of the better things about the movie. I’m not familiar with David Tennant, but I enjoyed his work here, as he plays a sort of Russell Brand type, masquerading as a Criss Angel-esque douchebag (the scene where he slowly strips himself of the persona is one of the film’s highlights). There’s an idiotic back-story about why he has an interest in vampires (with a predictable and even more idiotic payoff), but for a character that was clearly reverse engineered from both the need to live up to the original and also for Charley to get some ancient weapon, it could have been a lot worse. Still, I wish Charley sought him out specifically FOR his weapons, not “how do you kill a vampire?” advice, as it seemed like an anachronistic leftover from the original; why couldn’t he just Google it, the same way he Googled how to pick a lock? Nothing about it is new (stake through the heart, sunlight = bad, etc), and thanks to Ed we know that this is the “real world” (Twilight is mentioned), so it’s not like vampires are some sort of foreign entity. It’s like they started coming up with ways to make the Peter Vincent character relevant for 2011 (he was originally a corny horror host, remember) but forgot to finish.
Oh, and while it got a big cheer, the cameo scene was completely pointless. I guess I can appreciate that it wasn’t too “winky” (people who haven’t seen the original won’t be distracted by the appearance, nor will they be “lost” at some in-joke), but it’s also extraneous; I am willing to bet that if it was just some random day player actor in the role, the scene would have been cut entirely. And there certainly seems to be some editing going on; Charley’s two pals get turned but disappear until the end (actually one of them remains MIA), Toni Collette’s character is sidelined (and shares only a single scene with pre-identified as vampire Farrell, despite the trailer and initial plot summaries hinting that the two would have some sort of budding romance), and the final scene redefines tacked on (so Charley just sort of hangs out in Peter’s Vegas penthouse now?). I heard rumors of reshoots; I’m curious if the changes were for better or for worse.
Also, and I’m sure it wasn’t intentional (again, they’re not that clever), but I was sort of charmed at how they seemed to be honoring their “remake-ness”. By definition a remake is a copy of the original (presumably better) thing, so it’s amusing to see James Franco’s brother and Sofia Vergara’s sister in small roles (the ultimate get would have been Frank Stallone or Jim Hanks). And while they don’t bring back J Geils’ awesome theme, they do spotlight a pretty great cover of The Jakes’ “Cough Syrup” by the band Young The Giant.
Ultimately the movie’s biggest problem is a total lack of personality or creativity. They didn’t really bring anything new to the table, and curiously dropped things that you’d think would be fun to see with improved visual effects (Jerry doesn’t turn into a bat this time). It’s not terrible or even BAD, per se, but it just has nothing to say or offer, and leaves no lasting impression. You might even argue with me now, but by the time it comes out on Blu-ray I’ll bet you’ll already forget why you disagreed. And no, the fact that "Jerry doesn't sparkle" isn't enough for me to give this a pass, and if it is for you, then you're apparently too easy to please.
What say you?
*One idea for the remake was to go meta and have Charley seek the help of actor Chris Sarandon (maybe they read HMAD!), who would have experience with this sort of thing given his starring role in the movie Fright Night. But that would have been creative and fun, so it was dropped.