The original Fright Night, a moderate hit in 1985 and a horror movie classic, was a clever mash-up of scares and laughs—like Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window with a vampire twist. If it weren't for the violence, the "my neighbor is a vampire" plot could play like the whimsical premise of some kid-friendly Halloween story.
With Hollywood intent on remaking '80s movies these days—The Karate Kid, Red Dawn, Footloose, and Dirty Dancing, for starters—it's no surprise that Fright Night gets a makeover. Aside from a clever script and some excellently creepy makeup effects, the movie hasn't aged well. And after recent reboots of Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street, why not make a more fun and intelligent horror film?
The characters and plot essentials remain the same. Charley Brewster (Anton Yelchin from 2009's Star Trek) is the teenage son of single mom Jane (Toni Collette) and the boyfriend of local beauty Amy (Imogen Poots). His nerdy friend Ed (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) calls attention to recent disappearances at school and offers an unexpected conclusion: Charley's new next-door neighbor Jerry Dandridge (Colin Farrell) is a vampire and he's feeding on others in their town.
At first Charley dismisses the theory. But then Ed disappears and Charley begins to notice weird happenings around his neighbor's house. When no one else believes you, whom do you call for help? Why, Peter Vincent, vampire hunter, of course.
This is where things deviate from the original, which took place in generic suburbia. This one occurs somewhere just outside of Las Vegas, and even feels like a decadent Sin City version of Fright Night. It's enough to make you wish for a more "innocent" Fright Night—one that doesn't need to add heaps of profanity and sexual references on top of the R-rated violence.
This is also a significantly different Peter Vincent from Roddy McDowell's 1985 version, a late-night horror movie host who happened to know something about hunting vampires. Now Vincent (David Tennant) is a Criss Angel-styled Vegas magician … who happens to know something about hunting vampires. Not a bad update considering that late-night horror movie hosts are almost a thing of the past. But it changes the story from a likable washed-up actor/vampire hunter who seeks redemption, to a jaded Vegas icon who seeks retribution while incessantly drinking and dropping f-bombs.
So it goes for the rest of the movie. There's lots of bloodshed—it's a vampire flick!—but also lots of everything else, amounting to a movie that brings something offensive to every scene.
Still, there are some fun parts. The characters are perfectly cast, and thanks to writer Marti Noxon (TV's Buffy the Vampire Slayer) and director Chris Gillespie (Lars and the Real Girl), the film's first half has plenty of clever scenes. The prologue is well-executed (ahem) as a teen attempts to undo the safety lock on the family handgun to ward off an unseen killer. Gillespie's camera often darts and weaves to follow the action, first with Charley's suspenseful escape from Jerry's house and later with playful 360 degree rotations of the Brewster car while attempting to evade Jerry's pursuit. And there are several scenes that play with the vampire legend in fresh ways.
I particularly enjoyed the introduction of Peter Vincent, despite his unlikable nature—he's made up like a rock star, with long dark hair, mustache, goatee, leather pants, jewelry, piercings, tattoos. But as Charley talks to the magician in his penthouse, Peter strips all of that away piece by piece. It drives home the notion that there's (seemingly) nothing real about this guy, including his experience with vampires.
Compared to other recent 3-D films, Fright Night has fun with the technology. Lots of things come flying at the viewer throughout the film, and it's fairly effective.
But it's all compromised by increasingly silly action, beginning with Jerry the vampire digging up the Brewster house's gas line the backyard, and from there pulling it loose from the indoor appliances (?!?!), lighting it to cause an explosive fire. Or the Brewster car chase, in which Jerry is somehow able to attach himself to the bottom of the car (after being hit by it) and punch through the floor. Scenes like these feel like desperate attempts to try something different, even if they're nonsensical.
But mostly the movie is undermined by its unnecessary sleazy tone in dialogue and characterizations—like Superbad crossed with a horror film. This Fright Night could have been the rare remake that comes close to recreating the fun of the original. Unfortunately, it confuses current and clever with crude and crass.Discussion starters
- Charley and Ed grew up the best of friends. What changed in high school? What caused them to grow apart? How is Jerry able to use this to serve his purposes? What does this say about the effect our hurtful words and actions can have on others?
- Describe the relationship between Charley and Amy. In what ways is it inappropriate to say that they're dating? In what ways are they pursuing a relationship that goes beyond dating? What does Amy find attractive about Charley? How are examples like these indicative of the confusion that teens experience about romance today?
- In a pivotal scene, Peter explains to Charley the difference between being a coward and a realist. Charley responds, "I don't want to live until tomorrow if you're the man I'm going to be." What does he mean by that? How is this an illustration of our need to find purpose for living, even if it means dying?
The Family CornerFor parents to consider
Fright Night is rated R for bloody horror violence, and language including some sexual references. Vampires bite necks and draw blood; one vampire loses an arm and is nearly beheaded. Another one graphically regenerates muscle and skin after being hit by a car. A couple vampires explode when exposed to sunlight, which is especially startling/gross in 3-D. After the first ten minutes, there's profanity in nearly every scene, including excessive use of the f-bomb and crude sexual references. Additionally, Peter Vincent is seen drinking repeatedly and his girlfriend is regularly seen in skimpy lingerie. Meanwhile, Charley is seen a couple times planning to have premarital sex with Amy.
Photos © Warner Bros. Pictures
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