Fright Night (2011)
Directed by Craig Gillespie
Let's start off this review by just going ahead and addressing the elephant in the room. Yes, Tom Holland's Fright Night is by far one of the best vampire movies to come out of the 1980s, and like many of you horror fans out there, I have been completely apprehensive about DreamWorks remaking it ever since the film went into production late last year.
Sure, you had one of the most compelling genre writers behind the script ("Buffy the Vampire Slayer" alum Marti Noxon), an imaginative director at the helm (Lars and the Real Girl's Craig Gillespie) and an insanely gifted cast assembled to introduce a new generation of fans out there to the world of Fright Night; and yet, I still couldn’t help but be skeptical. After all, Holland's original film remains one of my very favorite movies (genre or otherwise), and initially I felt like a part of my childhood was being stolen from me.
But now that I've had the opportunity to check out the new Fright Night for myself (twice), I've definitely done a 180 on the subject. Not only is Fright Night a brutally fun horror flick. but it's also one of the best remakes I've seen over the last few years. And for those of you nervous about seeing another one of your favorites getting remade, don't worry too much- it's absolutely clear after seeing it that both DreamWorks and Gillespie approached this project with the utmost love and respect for Holland's original story.
In the new Fright Night Gillespie and company waste no time immersing viewers rather quickly into the world of Charlie Brewster (Yelchin). A former geek that used make backyard sci-fi movies with fellow outcast (and best friend) "Evil Ed" (Mintz-Plasse), Charlie finally has everything going for him. He's left his dorky past behind him (including Ed), he's no longer an outcast at school and he's dating Amy (Poots), the proverbial hot girl with a heart of gold.
In this incarnation of the Fright Night story, it's Ed that discovers Charlie's new neighbor Jerry (Farrell) is a bloodthirsty vampire who's snacking his way through their isolated subdivision on the outskirts of Las Vegas. After Adam, one of their close friends goes missing, Ed pleads with Charlie to help him uncover the truth about what happened to their long-time mate and asks him to do some investigating into the matter right after school. Charlie, who's desperately trying to put his geek past behind him, tries to blow Ed off, but Ed's having none of that- if Charlie doesn't show up, he plans on releasing their home movies to the entire student population, ultimately killing Charlie's chance at any kind of a social life.
Of course, Charlie's hesitation with meeting Ed stems from the fact that he's a bit pre-occupied with the fact that both his hottie girlfriend and his mom (Collette) seem to have both fallen under the spell of the new mysterious neighbor Jerry, who oozes both charisma and sex with every word that comes out of his mouth. Charlie can sense that there's something he doesn't like about Jerry but chalks it up to the guy just being a good-looking alpha male that may want to bump uglies with both his mom and girlfriend and no one really ever likes to see their girlfriend (or their mom) get hit on. After Charlie reluctantly leaves the leading ladies behind to go investigating with Ed, he gets the whole rundown on just how dangerous Jerry is from Ed, who had been following Jerry around for days along with the now missing Adam.
Ed explains to Charlie that Jerry is the culprit behind a recent string of disappearances in the area and through his reconnaissance he discovered that Jerry is much more dangerous than your average serial killer- he's actually a vampire. Charlie initially scoffs at the idea that a night stalker has taken up refuge next door to him, but Ed warns Charlie about Jerry, telling him, "This guy is a killer. He's the fucking shark from Jaws, and he's just going to continue to eat his way through the neighborhood until he's stopped." Ed desperately pleads with Charlie to help him kill Jerry, but like their friendship, Charlie just accepts Ed's stories as his inability to "grow up" and tells him to stop reading Twilight and ultimately blows Ed off, leaving him frustrated and emotionally wrecked.
And that's when things start to get really interesting.
The next day Ed has gone missing, and Charlie begins to realize that maybe there might be something to what his former best friend was trying to telling him. Charlie discovers Ed's research in his bedroom and sees for himself- Jerry is most definitely a vampire and an incredibly dangerous one at that. From there a cat and mouse game begins between Charlie and his fiendish neighbor once both realize the other is on to him, and the stakes (pun intended) continue to get raised for Charlie as Jerry threatens both him and the people he loves most.
A desperate Charlie reaches out to Vegas performer Peter Vincent (David Tennant), whose stage show at the Hard Rock Hotel centers around the occult, the supernatural and vampires in particular. Charlie approaches Peter in a last-ditch effort to figure out how he can defeat Jerry under the guise of a reporter asking Peter about vampire mythology as part of a feature assignment. But Charlie's journalist façade comes crumbling down once he can no longer contain his real reason for the visit, and in a fit of anger Peter throws Charlie out of his apartment, leaving the teenager to fend for himself against his bloodthirsty neighbor.
Now, if you've seen the original Fright Night, then you are well aware of how the events of the movie play out, and if you haven't, don't worry- I will try my best to not ruin anything in the new Fright Night for you. Let's just say that the updated Fright Night touches on all the right beats from the original story and blends them with a gaggle of inventive twists and surprises throughout the film which should delight both diehard fans of the original and newcomers alike.
In this day and age where horror remakes seem to get announced almost on a daily basis around these parts, this writer can't help but be skeptical about any kind of remake, let alone one of my favorite genre flick of all time. But somehow both Gillespie and writer Noxon manage to not only create an intense and darkly comedic update on Holland's classic story, but the pair have also managed to create the best straight-up horror flick of the summer with Fright Night 3D. As a fan of the original from the very beginning, I couldn’t have asked for a better remake than what DreamWorks has made here.
Noxon, who is no stranger to the world of vampires, has created an incredibly intelligent and chilling story with the new Fright Night, and that's part of why the movie works: She understood the soul of what made the original Fright Night so great and knew what needed to get reworked for new audiences in a way that won't be insulting to the diehards out there. There is plenty of heart still beating within the story, the horror delivers on all levels (gores, jumps and intensity) and the comedy moments in Fright Night work well with this darker spin.
In terms of casting, Fright Night is one of those rare treats where a cast is comprised of many Hollywood heavy-hitters and newcomers alike. Farrell continues to prove he's an engaging presence on the big screen with his performance as killing machine Jerry Dandridge in this updated Fright Night. Farrell doesn't try to take away anything from the performance of the original Jerry (Chris Sarandon) and incorporates a few new vampire habits with his take on Jerry that I found incredibly clever and surprising. And ladies, forget that Edward what's-his-name…Farrell's Dandridge is the new sexy vamp on the block, only he doesn't sparkle. He just wants to rip your throat out, drink your blood and move on to his next victim. Farrell does a great job balancing out the incredibly dark humor to Jerry's character with the ice cold vampire instincts that drive him to eat his way through his neighborhood, and here he proves that he's one of the more engaging actors working today.
As the film's main protagonist, Yelchin has his hands full playing Charlie. At first Charlie isn't exactly the most likable guy- he's selfishly left his best friend behind for the popular life, and he's been posturing for new girlfriend Amy so that she won't uncover his dorky past. But once Jerry sets his sights on taking away everything from Charlie, the teenager must now transition into adulthood and either put an end to Jerry or die trying. I've been a huge fan of Yelchin since his gut-wrenchingly raw performance in Alpha Dog, and he does a wonderful job of making you care about a character that, for the first two acts of the movie, is a total douchebag. It's Charlie's character arc in the film's third act where we see the reluctant hero transform into the man he so desperately wants to be.
The 3D in Fright Night is very much akin to the 3D you experienced this past weekend if you made it out to see Final Destination 5 in theaters. Like FD5, Gillespie uses 3D in Fright Night to give audiences an immersive filmgoing experience that not only gives off a feeling of intimate dread but looks amazing to boot. Don't worry; for you fans out there who like those "in-your-face" 3D moments, too, Fright Night has them as well and demonstrates that once again, if you actually shoot your project in 3D, you can make an incredible looking horror movie where the 3D lends itself well to the story unfolding on the big screen.
Fright Night definitely earns its R rating, too, as Farrell starts amassing a long list of victims that would make Charles Manson proud. The practical gore is good, and the digital gore is used minimally (during various parts of the third act mostly), which should make the gore enthusiasts out there happy to hear. The creature and vampire design work done on Fright Night by KNB's Howard Berger looks great even if I wasn't a huge fan of the digital alterations added to the prosthetics for "enhancement" purposes, but that's just because I'm more a fan of the old-school approach to bringing macabre creatures to life.
The one thing that may throw fans off a bit is that the new movie seems to move at a breakneck pace, and you get the first hour of the original Fright Night thrown at you over the course of the new flick's first 20 minutes. I understand why Noxon chose to go this route as the writer (audiences these days unfortunately aren't into plodding storylines that take their time to get going), and while I would have preferred to have things slowed down just a bit, I don’t feel like the frenetic pace of Noxon's story took anything away from my overall enthusiasm for the new Fright Night.
In a filmmaking climate where so many remakes stumble, Fright Night has managed to get everything right and make a fan out of me. With an exceptionally talented cast assembled, an innovative director at the wheel and one of the best genre writers attached, Fright Night is one of those rare remakes that has the ability to hold its head up proudly on its own merits (there are plenty of surprises in the last 20 minutes that should manage to keep fans of the original guessing until the very end) but also manages to loving pay its respect to its source material without ever taking anything away from the original film or trying to duplicate what made Tom Holland's classic film so special to its loyal fans.
4 out of 5