I’ve only seen the original Fright Night once, a couple of years back when I was filling in some gaps in my horror education. I didn’t think very much of it to be honest, and have only distant memories of it, so I didn’t really mind when I heard it was being remade.
For those who don’t know, both versions of Fright Night share the same basic framework; high schooler Charley Brewster (here Anton Yelchin) discovers that his next door neighbour Jerry (Colin Farrell) is a vampire, and enlists the help of famous vampire ‘expert’ Peter Vincent (Roddy MacDowall as an actor in the 1985 film, David Tennant as a Las Vegas magician in the 2011 version) so that he can kill ‘Jerry’ and save his Mother (Toni Colette) and girlfriend (British actress Imogen Poots). The two films hit most of the same beats and both owe much to Rear Window, though young audiences are likely to see it as horror version of Disturbia. However, the update works, and this energetic and entertaining film is one of the few truly successful remakes of the past few years.
Perhaps one of the reasons it works so well is that the screenwriter is Marti Noxon, who was a prolific writer and later became show runner on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. She doesn’t recycle Buffy speak here, but there are echoes of that show in Fright Night’s sharp and snarky writing (in particular the exchange about Jerry’s name could have come out of a Buffy episode, and there is also a Scooby gang reference). Characters are broadly defined, but largely well played. Anton Yelchin hasn’t yet become quite the recognisable name that he deserves to be, but this should help, it’s not his best performance but he’s a likeable protagonist and the former nerd who’s now got an impossibly hot girlfriend is a character type that a lot of us probably aspired to in high school. Yelchin’s no action hero, which means that there is at least a little tension inherent to scenes in which he confronts either Farrell or Christopher Mintz-Plasse, who again plays a McLovin’ like character in the first part of the film, as Charley’s nerdy former friend, but gets to play something quite different later on, to fun effect.
There is a sense of fun that runs through Fright Night, and it is embodied in the performances of its two biggest name actors. Colin Farrell clearly relishes playing Jerry’s gleeful evil – though he does make you question how, given how open he is about killing people (once doing so barely after dusk on a residential street) he has managed to avoid being identified in the past. In an early scene with Yelchin he oozes creepiness in a way that could mean ‘vampire’, or could simply suggest that Jerry’s a dick. You couldn’t accuse Farrell of being subtle (nor of having a perfect American accent), but he gets the tone of the film right with his performance. The same is true of David Tennant, who plays Peter Vincent as an alcoholic, ego-maniacal, boorish, and very funny Vegas magician. It’s a flamboyant and hugely entertaining turn, almost pantomimic in scale at times, but always good for a laugh. He may not have a great deal of screen time, but whenever he’s there Tennant owns the movie with his ridiculously entertaining (take that phrase however you like) performance.
Sadly the film’s two female leads, despite again turning in rather engaging performances and both being talented and likeable actresses, get a little sidelined. Toni Collette suffers most, with a somewhat thankless role as Yelchin’s mother, and while Imogen Poots shows off a great American accent and has one really striking scene towards the end of the film, she’s really more plot device than character here.
Director Craig Gillespie (whose last film was the sweet, sensitive, and very funny Lars and the Real Girl) is the real hero of the hour here. He gets the tone just right, allowing Noxon’s many jokes to play, but without letting the film lapse into parody, and helping the actors find the right tone as well. More than that though, and believe me, I’m as shocked as you are that I am about to say this… he uses the film’s 3D visuals well. I’m a dedicated 3D skeptic, and I still remain unconvinced that Fright Night needs to be in 3D, but I can’t deny that it does work, and that some of the film’s effects use the format to good (if slightly cheesy) advantage. Fright Night is, as you might expect, a dark film, but I didn’t experience any of the sort of detail obscuring fog that has dogged recent 3D movies, action (also a key part of the film) is also rendered well, and never has that smeary, indistinct, quality the format can convey. In terms of showing off with the 3D effects, Gillespie does so somewhat sparingly, but the moments he chooses – like a recently turned girl Charley attempts to rescue exploding into ashes – make for fun breaks of the fourth wall. Glowing ashes appearing to fall on the audience is a nice touch for a sunlight vampire death, and the kind of thing the 3D gimmick is made for. It still isn’t a storytelling device, but here it’s a device I can definitely live with, and I can see it adding to the fun of a first screening.
Fun is the operative word here. Fright Night isn’t deep, it’s not looking for Oscars, it wants to be an amusing comedy horror ride, something to distract you and your mates on a Friday night, and one those grounds it’s extremely successful. I laughed throughout the film, and though I was never scared, the horror set pieces (especially a club scene and the final confrontation between Peter, Charley and Jerry) are effective. It’s almost exactly what I hoped I’d be signing up for with this movie, and though it’s not perfect it definitely comes recommended. Have a pizza, have a couple of beers, take a mate or a date and go and have fun. 7/10