The original Fright Night was far from being a cinematic masterpiece, but it did pull off the difficult trifecta of being funny, freaky and all-around fun. The movie (and so many other campy B-movies like it) has carved out its place in the hallowed hall of fan nostalgia, which is why the notion of remaking the film has been met with ire, anxiety, and more than a bit of annoyance.
So, do director Craig Gillespie (Lars and the Real Girl) and his cast manage to make their remake a worthwhile venture, while still honoring that which made the original Fright Night a cult-classic?
Short answer: Pretty much.
The premise is the same, though the setting has changed: Charley Brewster (Anton Yelchin) lives in a small development community just off the Las Vegas strip. It's a community where people come and go with the desert wind, and many residents are used to a lifestyle of sleeping through the day and working their nights away on the strip - so it's of little portent when more and more of the cookie-cut houses in the development start turning up vacant, or kids from Charley's school get marked down as perpetually absent.
Only one person is preaching doom: Charley's former best friend "Evil" Ed (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), a geeky spaz who Charley has left behind in his climb up the high school social ladder, a journey prompted by snagging his hot girlfriend, Amy (Imogen Poots). Ed tries to sell Charley on a crazy revelation: that Charley's new lothario neighbor, Jerry (Colin Farrell), is actually a ferocious vampire who has been preying on their isolated community. Charley, of course, thinks immature Ed is simply reading too much Twilight.
However, it soon becomes apparent to Charley that Ed may not be so crazy after all. But as Charley realizes the truth about Jerry, Jerry realizes that Charley has learned his secret. From there it becomes a battle for survival, one which Charley cannot win alone - and so he desperately seeks out the most unlikely vampire hunter one could imagine, illusionist Peter Vincent (David Tennant), to help put Jerry in the grave for good.
If you can't tell from the premise, this is the type of film which relies heavily on tone to avoid collapsing under the weight of its own silliness. Thankfully, director Craig Gillespie knows exactly what this film needs to be: light in the funny parts, tense and gripping in the scary parts, with an undercurrent of playful B-movie tongue-and-cheek throughout the proceedings. It also helps that Gillespie is a very competent director, able to create great set pieces, good action sequences, with a sharp eye for color, lighting, and space. The script by Marti Noxon is witty, winking and well-paced, and Gillespie manages to craft some truly tense and scary moments where appropriate. The general air of self-deprecation keeps the movie fun no matter what is going on, and the cast of actors all embrace that sense of kitschy fun in their respective roles.
Anton Yelchin and Colin Farrell are an unlikely, and yet extremely effective, pairing. Yelchin is good about conveying Charley's journey from being an ex-nerd playing cool, to a bug-eyed weirdo stricken with paranoia, to a ballsy fighter determined to protect those he loves. The young actor has skill and range and puts both on display without ever weighing the role down by taking things too seriously.
Farell looks like he's having a blast as Jerry, a character that allows him to play up both his pretty boy suaveness and bad boy menace with equal aplomb. It's clear that we're living in an age where the image of the vampire has taken a sharp turn sideways, because seeing a vamp who's nothing but cunning and ruthless is so familiar, and yet, so refreshing. As Evil Ed says at one point, "He's not lovesick, or misunderstood, he's the @#$%ing shark from 'Jaws'!" And it's a welcome return to form for bloodsuckers everywhere. Farrell chews the scenery (and his victims) and spits out bloody good fun.
One role many fans of the original will be critical of is that of Peter Vincent. The iconic character was originally played by legendary actor Roddy McDowall (Planet of the Apes), who was as hammy as he was fun. David Tennant (Doctor Who) steps into the role of Vincent and manages to make it his own, while still keeping the character equally hammy and enjoyable as the original. He gives Vincent great quirks which make him larger than life and memorable - an addiction to Midori Melon Liqueur, an understated (and hilarious) send-up of celebrity image and ego, etc. Tennant's Vincent steals many of the scenes he's featured in - though his foul-mouthed assistant, played Sandra Vergara, definitely steals a few moments right out from under Tennant.
Ironically enough, the more prominent female characters leave less of an impression than Vergara does, even though they are played by talented actresses like Toni Collette and Imogen Poots (28 Weeks Later). Christopher Mintz-Plasse is something of an established brand of character actor at this point, so his "McLovin" version of Evil Ed isn't quite as fresh or enjoyable - though he does get some time to ham it up too, later in the film.
Finally, the 3D format of Fright Night is well constructed - which is especially impressive, given that a lot of the film takes place at night. 3D tends to dampen color schemes, but not once did the movie get too dark or murky to make out what was going on - nor did it suffer from the depth distortion which plagues other 3D films. On the other hand: a lot of what takes place in the first two-thirds of the film doesn't require the added the dimension. People walking and talking and hanging around everyday environments is not something we need to see in 3D.
It isn't until later, when the action kicks into high gear, that there are some truly worthwhile 3D moments. The rest of the time, GGI gore spraying out at the audience is pretty much the extent of the effect's usefulness. I will say this, though: whether purposeful or not, the hokey 3D gore effects do add to the campiness and are just another layer of B-movie fun.
All things considered, Fright Night manages to give an old idea a fresh modern spin, but doesn't sacrifice the original's kitschy fun factor as a result. Definitely one of the better horror movie remakes out there.
If you are still on the fence about seeing the movie, take a look at the trailer. Once you have seen it, tell us how you would rate it by voting in our poll below.
Fright Night is now playing in 2D and 3D theaters everywhere.