Fright Night (2011)
by Del Harvey
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Yes, they’re remaking everything in Hollywood. The executives have no faith, or perhaps the better thought is that they don’t know what an original film looks like when it comes along. Look at Stake Land from earlier this year, or Winter’s Bone from last year. Both films are excellent and far better than any 20 remakes stamped out of the big Hollywood machine, but both are indie features where the filmmakers struggled to get funds, attach name actors and get their films distributed. And the audiences loved these films. Be that as it may, we have once again been given our daily dose of Hollywood remake, this time the flick being Fright Night.
I will be the first to admit that I was not in the least interested in this rekae when I first heard about it. The original film, released in 1985, was something of a final gasp for Roddy McDowell and a first breath for Ms. Amanda Bearse (who went on to be the angry neighbor of Bundys on “Married With Children”), as well as nifty role for Chris Sarandon. But the biggest star of that film was Mr. McDowell as creature features film host Peter Vincent (the name is an homage to classic horror actors Peter Cushing and Vincent Price). It was campy yet big budget, but it was truthful to the horror genre and the vampire tale in particular, so I had no desire to see any Hollywood remakes, thank you very much.
Then, the posters started to catch my eye. Followed by the trailers. And I will admit, they caught my attention. In the updated story, Charley Brewster (Yelchin) is on the verge of breaking into that odd little entourage which acts like a magnet to teens everywhere, “the cool kids” click. Somehow he has earned the attention of one of the school’s hottest hotties, the blonde Amy (Poots). And he’s managed to upgrade his buds to a pair of real assholes (including Dave Franco). Unfortunately, he can’t seem to shake longtime pal Ed (Mintz-Plasse). We all know an “Ed”; one of those guys who somehow seems to have found his way to 15 or 16 without ever coming face-to-face with puberty. The guy all the other kids make fun of. And Ed just won’t go away.
Which, as it turns out, is a very good thing for Charley. Because without Ed’s foreshadowing of the very real disappearances going on in their little subdivision outside Las Vegas, then Charley would be ill-prepared when he finally has to stand, mano-a-mano, with his new neighbor… the hunky, all-too-handy night-shift construction worker, Jerry (Colin Farrell). And when Ed goes missing the next day, Charley is on the hunt to find his friend and discover the truth.
The director is Craig Gillespie, whose filmography includes “The United States of Tara,” “Lars and the Real Girl,” and “Mr. Woodcock.” Looking at that laundry list, I would not have imagined anyone capable of improving upon a camp horror classic. But he did, and in a very impressive way.
The updated film has its frightening moments, and the best part is that they all make perfectly logical sense and are psychologically accurate for the characters involved. The situations are quite believable and do not stretch the imagination to the point of breaking. In fact, I can find little to complain about with this remake, and for once I am very pleased.
There were two elements which surprised me. The first is that Toni Collette is in an entirely throw away role. They could have plugged anyone into her character and it would not have made a bit of difference. She’s a single mom and has the hots for Jerry; no big surprises there. She is seen maybe two or three times before the big confrontation with Jerry leads to her being hospitalized, and then we don’t see her again until the end of the film. That is a real shame when you consider what a talented and capable actress Ms. Collette is.
The other surprising element came through the Peter Vincent character, as played here by David Tennant of “Dr. Who” fame. Although the writers did alter the character greatly from the original, it is clearly Tennant’s estimable talent which elevates the character from a rather vapid and uninspiring drunk to that of Charley’s sidekick and brother-in-arms against the evil vampire and his followers.
Fright Night has been in theatres for a few weeks now, but it is still holding sway in the top five. If you have not seen in on the big screen, there is still time. Definitely go, and see if you didn’t get as big a kick out of this new take on an 80’s “classic” as I did.
Del Harvey is the founder of Film Monthly, a film teacher, a writer and a film critic in Chicago.
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