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Movie Review: ‘Fright Night’

August 19, 2011

Now this is how you do a remake. Culling plenty from the 1985 source material, Fright Night puts enough of an original twist on the story to warrant this 2011 update. It is the rare remake that improves on the original, and successfully modernizes the tale while staying true to its roots. The original tale was campy, frightening and fun. So is this version. Plus, there is no irritating synthesizer score accompanying the entire film.

Anton Yelchin takes over the duties of high school student Charley, a nerdy teenager who has somehow managed to nab resident hottie Amy (Imogen Poots) as his girlfriend. He lives with his mother Jane (Toni Collette) in a nondescript taupe hued suburban neighborhood in Las Vegas. When mysterious stranger Jerry (Colin Farrell) moves in next door, Jane is immediately captivated. However, Charley is suspicious of the new neighbor, and quickly surmises that Jerry is a dangerous individual. His former best friend Ed posits something much more sinister: Jerry is a vampire. Charley understandably scoffs, but after Ed (and other classmates) begin rapidly disappearing, Charley reconsiders the possibility.

Charley seeks out the help of Las Vegas showman Peter Vincent (David Tennant), a magician and self-anointed expert on the occult. The character is a delicious and obvious riff on real-life magician Chris Angel, and Tennant really steals the show every time he is on screen. Charley is dismayed when he finds out that every single aspect of Peter’s on-stage persona is a fraud, right down to his facial hair and tattoos. He fancies himself quite the badass, but instead of swilling whiskey he sips on Midori all day long. Midori. Who the hell drinks that stuff straight?

While the original film took its sweet time unraveling the mystery as to whether the neighbor (played by Chris Sarandon) was or was not a vampire, this film wastes no time establishing that Jerry is, indeed, one of the undead. This allows Jane and Amy to quickly get in on the action, and it works well. Jerry makes no pretense about the fact that he wishes to destroy the three of them as quickly as possible, though I was puzzled by his motives. He seems bemused when Charley first starts suspecting him, and I didn’t feel like that was enough for his relentless pursuit of the three.

Jerry is like the Terminator-he just keeps coming. Every time he seems down for the count, he comes back. Some of the best comedic moments arise when Jerry is injured-he thrashes around and contorts, and several scenes reminded me of  Evil Dead 2 or Drag Me to Hell in that respect. Pure campy fun. Despite my initial misgivings, I have to admit that the film was well cast. For the first few scenes, I didn’t buy Yelchin as a high school student. He seemed too old. However, as the film progressed, I became more comfortable with him in the role. Imogen Poots is a huge upgrade from Amanda Bearse in the original (she’ll always be Marcy D’Arcy to me). The real surprise is Farrell. He seems to be having a blast gnashing and hissing his way through the movie, and his zeal is infectious. He imbibes Jerry with humor, but still comes across as menacing and creepy. As mentioned, Tennant is a blast as well.

There are some gaping plot holes, but they are easy to overlook because the movie is so much fun. It’s a throwback to cheesy 80s vampire flicks, and it keeps its tone firmly in cheek for the duration. With Rise of the Planet of the Apes, and now Fright Night, August is shaping up to be the month of surprises. Craig Gillepsie (Lars and the Real Girl) has done an admirable job of fusing comedy and horror and introducing a new generation to Fright Night.

*A note on the 3D. Whoever decided that a movie that takes place entirely at night should be in 3D ought to be shot. The film is way too dark, and that is a pity. I would advise seeking out the 2D version. The 3D is decent, but it throws a lot of stuff “at” you. Remember Friday the 13th Part 3, and Jaws 3D? That’s what you can expect here. It’s fun, but the dark lighting kind of negates all that.

**After I saw this, I revisited the 1985 version. It holds up well, save for that damn synthesizer soundtrack and the clothing. I forgot how scary it was. I remembered it as being much more campy. Watching the original only reinforced my initial feelings that the 2011 take is a very worthy update. Well done.

Rating 3.5/5  Fright Night is directed by Craig Gillepsie, and written by Marti Noxon (screenplay) and Tom Holland (story). Starring Colin Farrell, Anton Yelchin, Toni Collette, Imogen Poots, Christopher Mintze-Plasse and David Tennant. Rated R.


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