Fright Night, the remake of Tom Holland’s 1985 horror-comedy, delivers everything a horror fan could possibly want, and more.
With the Twilight franchise redefining, not to mention de-fanging the vampire mythos into teen-oriented melodrama, the vampire sub-genre has been in desperate need of new blood. Some horror fans have found that in HBO’s True Blood, an adult-oriented soap opera defined by its excesses, but others, still clinging to the traditional concept of vampires as ravenous bloodsuckers and not glamorous objects of desire, have remained patient, hopeful that someone, somewhere, would resuscitate the sub-genre with a much-needed dose of suspense, menace, blood, and maybe even some gore. Thankfully enough, the wait for horror fans is finally over.
Fright Night isn’t a shot-for-shot or beat-for-beat remake of the 1985 original. TV veteran Marti Noxon’s script follows the general parameters of Tom Holland’s original, but makes several, key changes. Before seguing to the pre-credits the audience gets its first meet-and-greet with Fright Night’s resident hero, Charley Brewster (Anton Yelchin), a high-school senior. Charley may not have everything, living alone with his divorced mother, Jane Brewster (Toni Collette), minus a deadbeat dad, but dating Amy Peterson (Imogen Poots), the hot girl at his high school, has done wonders for his social status. The change in social status, however, has left Charley’s one-time best friend, Ed Thompson (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), on the outside looking in.
Ed, however, hasn’t been idle. Ed and another, suspiciously missing friend, have been keeping tabs on Charley’s new neighbor, Jerry Dandridge (Colin Farrell). Jerry claims he works night shifts doing roadside construction. That story, along with Jerry’s muscular physique, is enough to pique Jane’s interest in Jerry, but a desperate Ed’s warnings, followed by his disappearance, convince Charley that Jerry isn’t human. Charley briefly turns voyeur, an element given significantly more play in the original, before assuming the worst about the inaptly named Jerry, eventually turning to Peter Vincent (David Tennant), A Criss Angel-inspired illusionist whose pyrotechnics shows revolve around gothic themes. Whether Charley can convince the courage-challenged Vincent in time to help him is one question, like the original, that doesn’t receive an answer until late in the film, but his treasure trove of exposition proves crucial to ultimately defeating Jerry.
Modernized and contemporized without the mix or balance of horror and comedy that made the original, along with the similarly themed Lost Boys, a cult-camp classic, Fright Night tips heavily toward horror, returning vampires back to their roots as monsters, seductive monsters perhaps, but monsters nonetheless. Gillespie and Noxon take Jerry one, potentially terrifying step further, making him a cunning serial killer, the almost mythic neighbor-next-door with a torture room or dungeon. Jerry stalks, seduces, and then keeps his victims nearby, draining them slowly. Another character jokingly refers to Jerry as a “snacker,” but the joke is delivered out of desperation and fear, as if jokes could ward off evil like magic talismans (they can’t). The humor in Fright Night, some verbal (jabs at Twilight), some visual (Charley using his smartphone to access info on lock-picking), and some character-based (mostly Vincent’s self-obsessed, self-indulgent behavior), give the characters and, with them, audiences, breathers before the next, potentially last, confrontation with Jerry.
Fright Night, however, isn’t short on tension or suspense. Featuring multiple heart-stopping break-ins and attempted escapes, each one capped with an appropriate, if often blackly comic, payoff, Fright Night rarely lags or drags, slowing down only for the aforementioned breath-catchers, exposition dumps, most handled deftly by Gillespie and Noxon, and in one, late-film change, sidelining one character to let another join the fray. And with horror veteran Gregory Nicotero, on practical effects (e.g., vampire makeup), Fright Night feels like a throwback to straight-edged, camp-free horror and simultaneously modern, if primarily because Gillespie relies on CG to augment makeup effects, backgrounds, and set pieces.
Finally, a note about Fright Night’s 3D: it’s dim, muddy, and murky. Like too many films recently, Fright Night was post-converted from 2D to 3D. It’s a blatant fact of movie-going life that studios will do anything to extract as much money as possible from their properties, especially opening weekend when the distributor-exhibitor split of a film’s grosses weigh heavily in favor of the distributor. 3D is just the latest gimmick to accelerate that opening weekend cash grab. In short, run, don’t walk, from any theater showing Fright Night exclusively in 3D. Patronize a movie theater that offers the 2D option, then choose said option.
Rating 4 out of 5.