FRIGHT NIGHT (2011)
Directed by Craig Gillespie
Written by Marti Noxon (screenplay from Tom Holland’s story)
Starring Anton Yelchin, Colin Farrell, David Tennant, Toni Collette, Imogen Poots, & Christopher Mintz-Plasse
The original FRIGHT NIGHT was an ode to every horror fan. It presented Charlie Brewster (William Ragsdale), a normal, somewhat nerdy teen, in love with horror films, but not so much that he’s a social outcast. Seems he even has a girlfriend Amy (Amanda Bearse later known as Marcy Darcy from MARRIED WITH CHILDREN), who is toying with the idea of sleeping with Charlie, but isn’t sure if she can do it or not. Enter Jerry Dandridge (Chris Sarandon) who moves into the abandoned house next door in the middle of the night. Soon all of those years watching Fright Night, a horror movie TV show hosted by Peter Vincent (Roddy MacDowall) make it pretty obvious what’s going on. All signs point to Jerry being a vampire, especially when Charlie catches Jerry leading a girl into his house. In a bit of fun voyeurism, Charlie, hormones high from Amy blue-balling him, at first thinks he’s going to see something naughty, but he catches Jerry bearing his fangs and ready to chow down—that is, until he sees Charlie watching him. What transpires is an instant classic vampire yarn with bits of vampire stories tossed in, but modernized to the 1980’s enough to be called an original, as Charlie enlists his best friend Evil Ed and Peter Vincent to help protect himself from a vampire.
On the surface, the remake is quite similar. Charlie (Anton Yelchin) is a semi-nerdy kid, but somehow is able to get the attention of smokin’ hottie Amy (Imogen Poots) who wants to bone the hell out of Charlie but he’s hesitant to do so. Charlie is avoiding his former friend Evil Ed (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) who has suspicions about the guy who moved in next door to Charlie, Jerry (played by Colin Farrell). Soon accusations of the toothy kind are flung and Jerry starts to make Charlie’s life hell, as he did in the first film.
As I said, on the surface, these films are very similar, but the more you get into it, the films begin to distinguish themselves. Changing the character of Charlie is the main difference here. I understand studios don’t think that the audience identifying with a total nerd is going to fly with the cool kids who they hope to attract to the film, but making Charlie into a Ronald Miller-type, trying to fit in with the cool kids and shed his nerdy roots, made me immediately kind of dislike Anton Yelchin’s character. Yelchin is an extremely talented actor and I’m sure will be a megastar some day, but here because of some initial decisions in the script, he has no choice but to be the guy trying to be someone else than who he is. Pressured at every angle (horny girlfriend, creepy ex-friend, the cool kids at school, nosey mom) from frame one, New Charlie is a person pulled in many directions even before the vampire shows up. His hesitancy to make any decisions at all until it is too late is a character flaw that is tough to look over.
Making Charlie the one who is hesitant to do the deed with Amy is also something that’s hard to overlook as well. Her hotness aside, Charlie doesn’t really present much as to why Amy would want to be into him other than the script tells her to do so. In the original, up until Jerry’s fangy voyeur scene, Charlie is the one who is frustrated because Amy won’t put out, and then as she offers herself to him, he is distracted by Jerry’s presence and shows more interest in Jerry than her. The scene is mirrored in the beginning when Charlie is distracted by Peter Vincent’s horror show instead of continuing to make out with Amy. I don’t want to get too much into some of the homosexual overtones of the original (Jerry has a man-servant that he is pretty chummy with), but Charlie’s interest in Jerry over Amy is a running theme throughout the film, only resolved when Charlie must kill Jerry in order to get the girl. The metaphor isn’t too shrouded here.
Of course, hardly any of that is even present in the remake. Farrell’s Jerry lives alone and oozes sexuality towards Amy and Charlie’s mom (Toni Collette in a wasted role), serving more as eye candy for female viewers than a challenge for Charlie’s manhood. Yes, when Jerry makes his move on Amy, he is pretty blunt about making out with his girlfriend in front of him, but these broad strokes moves come late in the film. Seems director Craig Gillespie wasn’t as interested in exploring this challenge too much.
The main problem with the remake is that the pacing of the entire first half of the movie is off. Instead of playing up multiple subplots, director Craig Gillespe handles each one as if checking off a checklist. Clearly he is more interested in the triangle between Charlie/Amy/Jerry and rushes right to that, hurrying past the story between Charlie and his friend Ed in the first twenty minutes.Christopher Mintz-Plasse does a nice turn as a modern version of Evil Ed, but doesn’t have that hurky-jerky-ness of Stephen Geoffreys’ take on the character that made his small role so iconic in the original. The almost Riddler like manic laughter made Geoffreys’ Evil Ed stand out as someone to be pitied and fearful of. Mintz-Passe is good at what he does, but lacks any of that in this role. The fact that he’s not seen as a friend but more of an annoying reminder to Yelchin/Charlie’s uncool past makes him even less likable. And Farrell’s speech about being an outsider, which was absolutely perfect in when Serandon delivered it to Geoffreys in the original, feels more like something that the director knew needed to be said, but he didn’t know how or why it was important and rushed right through it.
Farrell is one of the best aspects of the film. Although vastly different from Serandon’s performance, at least it seems Farrell is having fun with the role. Though the elegance and complexity of the character is completely lost (Farrell’s Jerry almost immediately reveals to everyone that he’s a vampire, while Serandon’s Jerry toys with Charlie more through most of the film), I found myself liking Farrell’s great white shark of the suburbs performance quite a bit. Farrell’s performance is less nuanced, but he does have an animalistic snarl throughout, playing up his sexuality towards Amy and Charlie’s mom and marking his territory every time Charlie is around.
Crucial to both stories is Peter Vincent. Roddy McDowall delivers his role passionately in the original, giving the character power and weakness as we see the former great cinematic vampire hunter growing long in the tooth and being written out of his own show. McDowall offers up a fantastic presence here as he slips in and out of his on-screen persona while encountering the real monsters. McDowall channels all of the good Van Helsings in movie history with all of the power, cheese, and grit that comes with the character he has formed his life around. Though not an awful performance, instead of basing his character on Van Helsing, David Tennant seems to be channeling Aldous Snow and Chriss Angel; two characters as less powerful as they are interesting in the remake. On paper, the conflict is still there with Tennant struggling to care about Charlie’s predicament, then finally embracing his monster hunter roots. Played out, it pales in comparison because you just can’t fuck with McDowall’s performance. Putting eye shadow and tight leather pants on Peter Vincent is like flames on Optimus; unnecessary and only for show.
One of the coolest aspects of the original was that not only was it a fun story filled with fun actors, but it was also a showcase for some of the best practical special effects of its time. The original used everything from puppets to animatronics to gobs of make-up and goo for its gore and scares. People melted, bats flew through windows, werewolves morphed, crosses burned into foreheads, and fangs were bared a plenty. All filmed right there in front of the actors. Now I’m not a CGI prude, but when its unnecessary, I take offense. Look at Farrell’s CGI-ed face compared to Serandon’s make-up effects. One gives you nightmares, the other is a mushy mess of a nightmare. Serandon’s acts beneath all of that make-up. Farrell isn’t even there anymore when his multiple layers of teeth are bared. Serandon’s presence in the scene is what makes it scary, even though it was a bit hard for him to talk in those giant choppers. Animating over Farrell’s head immediately makes it less effective.
This disconnect not only occurs when Farrell fangs out, but when the rest of the vamps do as well. The CGI use overall is pretty uninspired in the entire film, resorting in gobs of blood splashed in our faces to amp the 3D effect, which by the way is completely unnecessary in this film. For most of the film, there is hardly a need for the 3D, with the 3rd dimension only utilized when blood is thrown at the camera, and that blood is CGI-ed in. If you have to see the remake, see it in 2D and save your money. The 3D option doesn’t enhance this film a tick.
I don’t want to completely pan the remake of FRIGHT NIGHT, although I’m not a fan of remakes in general, I’ve definitely seen worse. With a rushed narrative, unnecessary and ineffective effects, missed opportunities as revisiting interesting themes, it definitely pales in comparison to the original, though the cast is very strong with Farrell’s performance (albeit ultimately different from Serandon’s take) leading the pack. In the end, the main distinction between the two films is that FRIGHT NIGHT 2011 is an ode to a better film from 1985 while FRIGHT NIGHT 1985 is an homage to all of those horror films we all loved as a kid.