Review: 'Fright Night' (2011)

By: Heather Seebach

Remakes are such a touchy subject among genre fans, especially when a contemporary filmmaker has the gall to tackle a beloved cult favorite. One such example is Tom Holland's 1985 horror-comedy, Fright Night. Like many other horror-comedies of the 1980s (e.g., Return of the Living Dead, Re-Animator), it is the kind of film that never should - and never could - be replicated. But you know Hollywood - no film is sacred. 

Personally, I am not against remakes in general. After all, some of the finest horror  films ever made were remakes (e.g., The Thing, The Fly). Still, I can understand why some hardcore fans get their panties in a twist at the very thought of a remake. And the fact that 2011's Fright Night is in 3-D, well, that's just a slap in the face. 

For those unfamiliar with the original film, it is about a teenager, Charley Brewster, who discovers that his new neighbor Jerry is a murderous vampire. He enlists the help of his girlfriend Amy and TV horror host Peter Vincent. The film has earned cult status thanks to great performances (Roddy McDowall!), a solid blend of humor and scares, and incredible makeup FX (including some of the most original vampires to ever grace the screen). 

The new film stars Anton Yelchin as Charley, with Colin Farrell as Jerry and David Tennant as Peter Vincent. Imogen Poots plays Amy and Toni Collette is Charley's mother. Not a bad crowd, eh? With a solid cast and director Craig Gillespie (Lars and the Real Girl) behind this, I went in with an open mind. So how does the remake fare? Unfortunately, not so great. I'll begin with what I do like about the film:

- I like that the filmmakers sought to make a different movie and not simply carbon-copy the original. While all the names remain the same, most of the central characters are completely different from their 1985 counterparts. The story follows the rough outline of the original but also strays off at many points. Much of this film does feel new, just peppered with elements of Holland's film. There is just enough fan service, as well, including a much-appreciated cameo. 

- I also like that the film went for a hard R-rating, and never holds back on the gore. Unfortunately, 90% of that gore was ruined (more on that later). 

- Finally, I love the hell out of Peter Vincent, played this time around by David Tennant. Admittedly, I am a giant Doctor Who nerd, so perhaps I am biased but I honestly believe he steals the film as a douchey, washed-up illusionist. I still prefer McDowall's original character, but Tennant's new take on the role is one of the better personas in the movie.

Now for the bad stuff:

- Nothing kills a horror movie for me faster than computer-generated gore. Fright Night has WAY too much of it. I can tolerate CGI creatures (although practical is always better), but there is NO excuse for CGI blood. Even more frustrating was seeing Howard Berger and Greg Nicotero listed in the credits. WHY BRING ON THESE AMAZING FX ARTISTS ONLY TO WASTE THEM?? *exhale*

- Having seen this film at a free screening, I had the misfortune of watching it in 3-D. Usually I avoid 3-D only because films shot in 2-D are often ruined by a 3-D presentation. However, that was not so much the issue here as the endless onslaught of 3-D gimmicks. Buckets in the face, hands coming at the screen, and so on. These sorts of gimmick shots are okay for a flick like Piranha 3-D where the gimmick is the whole point of the film. But for a film like Fright Night that strives to be taken seriously as a horror film (more so than its comedic predecessor), these moments are absolutely silly. What's more, the shots are so obviously forced for the sake of the gimmick that it pulls you out of the film - breaking the forth wall, so to speak. I HATE that. Proper filmmaking should never take a back seat to cater to stupid 3-D tricks. I reeeeaaally hope the 2-D version of the film is altered to not include those parts.

Everything else is pretty mediocre. There is a complete lack of character development at the start of the film - good for impatient viewers; bad for film snobs. I'm not sure if it's necessarily a terrible thing, jumping right into the vampire stuff, but it was certainly unexpected and strange. In general, Marti Noxon (I Am Number Four)'s writing could have been a lot better. The cast is generally enjoyable. Yelchin is very good, and as I said, Tennant steals the show. As Jerry, Colin Farrell is decent, but I'd hoped for more. He is nowhere near Chris Sarandon's portrayal in the original. 

Perhaps my love of the original film or my horror snob tendencies stopped me from really enjoying this one. I so wanted to love it but it just falls short. With more effort in the FX department, I could have at least considered it a guilty pleasure. I intend to give it at least one more shot in 2-D eventually but I am not holding my breath. 

SECOND VIEWING UPDATE (8/20/11): Upon second viewing, I had more fun with the movie. My complaints about the CG blood and the 3D gimmicks still stand. The 2D version had the same cheap shots of hands and balls and everything else flying at the camera. And the film does utilize quite a bit of practical fx (dead bodies, vampire teeth), the digital arterial spray still bugs me. At least the fangs look good and are in the right spot (canines, not incisors - I'm looking at you, True Blood!).

I think I overlooked the humor in Farrell's performance the first time, also. When he is trying to be dark and scary, it does not work so well; but when he is neighborly and so passive about his lifestyle, the creepy comes across so much better. In those scenes, he does quite well. However, there are a few scenes that just come across as awkward, drawn-out, and poorly written (the screenwriter is more to blame than Colin). 

I still wish there was more build-up prior to where the story begins, rather than it basically jumping right into "YOUR NEIGHBOR IS A VAMPIRE, RUNNNN!" Also, Gillespie has a few fun shots but some of his choices bug me, especially a long tracking shot in a car which was obviously to favor the 3D (grrrr) and comes across like something out of a FPS video game. More positives worth mentioning: the soundtrack is pretty cool, the opening and closing credits are fun, and again, Peter Vincent is hilarious, and I should mention that I love his hateful chemistry with his assistant Ginger, played by Sandra Vergara.

In some ways, comparing this remake to its original will doom it for all the ways it is different. And yet, all its differences are what keep it afloat. I like that it aims to be its own film and the references to Holland's film are subtle. But there really is not enough to make it great. I think general movie-going audiences have lowered their standards for vampire films thanks to pussified vamps like you-know-who. Yes, it's nice to see some throat-ripping monsters again in Fright Night, but Near Dark it ain't. But I did bump the rating up a bit to 3 stars (that's still only 6 out of 10 for those keeping track) because despite its flaws, it is a fun film and compared to most horror remakes, a breath of fresh air.

out of 5

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