Worth A Look: 40.91%
Just Average: 22.73%
Pretty Crappy: 3.03%
6 reviews, 30 user ratings
|Fright Night (2011)
by Peter Sobczynski
Released during the summer of 1985 amidst a minor glut of horror items such as
“Lifeforce,” “The Bride,” “Day of the Dead,” “Return of the Living Dead,” “Warning Sign”
and “St. Elmo’s Fire,” “Fright Night” told the story of an ordinary teenager who
discovers that his new neighbor is actually a vampire. It wasn’t the first time that the
notion of relocating that most enduring Victorian era-archetype to the banality of
contemporary suburbia nor was it the best--if Stephen King’s novel “Salem’s Lot” was the best of the bunch at the time and “The Lost Boys” was the dumbest, it probably fell
somewhere right in the middle--but it was reasonably engaging and entertaining and
featured a good performance from Chris Sarandon as the friendly neighborhood bloodsucker and a hugely entertaining one from Roddy McDowell as the over-the-hill horror movie host who found himself facing down a real terror after a lifetime of reel ones. While not a smash hit by any means, it was moderately well-received by critics and audiences, went on to a long and prosperous life on cable and home video and, like most horror films of the time, spawned a patently unnecessary sequel that virtually everyone has forgotten ever existed, even those who participated in its production. I liked the film but never overly venerated to any great degree and therefore, when it was announced that it was going to be the latest horror title to undergo the remake process to entertain a new generation of moviegoers too lazy to look up the original, I wasn’t as aghast at the notion as I have been with other such announcements and when I sat down to watch the new version, I was more apprehensive over the fact that it was being shown in 3D more than anything else. Possibly as a result of these somewhat lowered expectations, I found myself enjoying the new “Fright Night” quite a bit. While it is no masterpiece by any stretch of the imagination, it is a fast, funny and occasionally freaky trip through admittedly familiar territory that contains a couple of great performances and some inventive bits of gore and is hobbled only by a 3D presentation so weak and uninspired that it almost threatens to undermine the entire enterprise at certain points.Living in a housing development just outside of Las Vegas, formerly gawky teenager Charley Brewster (Anton Yelchin) has become one of the cool kids in class as a result of having inexplicably attracted the attentions of school hottie Amy (the wonderfully named Imogen Poots). So absorbed is Jerry with both his new girlfriend and his new social status that he hardly pays attention to the fact that a number of his classmates have begun to mysteriously disappear without a trace. He barely notices when his single mom (Toni Collette) finds herself flirting with the new neighbor, suave night owl Jerry (Colin Farrell), right in front of him. He even finds himself ignoring the pleas of his former best friend, the uber-geeky Ed (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), that something strange is going on around them until Ed blackmails him with proof of his own nerdy past in order to get him to listen. It turns out that Ed has been paying attention to the recent disappearances and is convinced that not only were they all victims of a vampire but that the creature in question is Jerry--after all, with a largely transient population and a workforce containing a larger-than-normal number of overnight employees, Las Vegas and the surrounding area would be the ideal feeding ground for a vampire. Naturally, Charley ignores Ed’s warnings but when Ed himself disappears and Charley gets a look at some of Ed’s findings (such as videos of Jerry in which Jerry himself cannot be seen), he begins to harbor similar suspicions as well.
"Blood On The Tracts"
Those suspicions are confirmed when one of the hot-to-trot female neighbors goes over to Jerry’s for an after-hours drink and disappears. Charley calls the cops but they inevitably find nothing and so Charley takes it upon himself to break into Jerry’s
blacked-out house to find proof. In a secret area hidden away in back, he finds the
neighbor and tries to save her in a rescue attempt that goes horribly and messily wrong.
With no one else to turn to and with even Amy beginning to think that he has gone around the bend, Charley heads off to the Vegas strip to meet with Peter Vincent (David
Tennant), a Criss Angel-like magician with a show that rivals the immortal “Goddess” in
terms of sheer tackiness, who claims to also be an expert in dealing with the undead.
Alas, the allegedly fearless vampire killer is nothing more than a bewigged schmuck with enough money to afford an elaborate collection of arcane supernatural artifacts and a comely assistant whose office outfit consists of a bra and little else. Back at home,
Charley desperately tries to protect both Amy and his mom from unspeakable horrors but Jerry cleverly smokes them out of the house, in a manner of speaking, and chases them through the desert in a manner more reminiscent of the Terminator than Bela Lugosi. With his mother in the hospital and his girlfriend under Jerry’s seductive sway, Charley, armed to the teeth with vampire extermination tools and with a reluctant Peter Vincent at his side, goes after his foe for one last round in Jerry’s surprisingly roomy basement, one large enough to contain all sorts of icky surprises best left for you to discover.
Considering the fact that it is based on a title that is probably not especially
familiar to its target audience of teenagers and not especially venerated amidst older
viewers other than those who automatically worship anything horror-related or anything
produced during the 1980’s, “Fright Night” was presumably chosen for a overhaul by
producers who figured that there might be some easy money in a brew that mixed together teen angst and vampires invading suburbia that was somewhat stronger in the sex and violence departments than the eternally tepid “Twilight” concoctions. To pull that off, the screenplay duties were presented to Marti Noxon and a better choice could not have been made. Although her name may not be instantly familiar to some of you, she is beloved by many as a writer and producer of the late, great television series “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” a show that effortlessly spun together bloodsuckers and brooding kids in smarter, funnier and more emotionally devastating ways before one commercial break than the entire “Twilight” series has accomplished to date. Although her screenplay conforms to the broad parameters of the original, it tweaks the details in enough intriguing ways so that it quickly stops functioning simply as a remake and begins to stand on its own two feet. One key change comes in regards to the conception of its young hero. In the original, Charley was a standard-issue affable teen straight from the Spielberg factory and William Ragsdale’s benign blandness allowed the darker and more flamboyant characterizations brought forth by Chris Sarandon and Roddy McDowell shine even brighter by comparison. This time around, borrowing a page from Tom Holland’s original screenplay that was abandoned along the way, Charley has been reconceived as a bit of a jerk in the way that he has allowed his newfound popularity in the wake of his unexpected romance with teen queen Amy to inspire him to cruelly dump former friends like Ed whose constant geekiness remind him of what he used to be. Frankly unlikable at first, Charley slowly begins to grow and mature as things get darker and stranger and by the time he has his final confrontation with Jerry, he has finally manned up in ways that make him a more-than-worthy opponent for the ultra-manly Jerry and allow him to deserve the rewards coming to him if he succeeds in the end. This isn’t to say that “Fright Night” skimps on the other expected elements--there is plenty of sex, violence and dark humor on display
and even an in-joke reference or two that will amuse fans of the original without
disrupting things for others--but to find a reasonably smart and complex screenplay at
the heart of what could have been just another mindless and soulless pillaging of a
familiar title is, if perhaps not a cause for wild celebration, at least enough to help
it turn out to be a much better film than it probably had to be and director Craig
Gillespie, whose previous efforts have included the wonderful “Lars and the Real Girl”
and the anything-but-wonderful “Mr. Woodcock,” does a surprisingly effective job of
bringing it to the screen in a clean, clever and efficient manner.
The other key element to the success of “Fright Night” is the surprisingly deft casting choices starting off with the presence of Colin Farrell as Jerry. When he first burst onto the scene, his combination of good looks, undeniable charisma and genuine talent made him Hollywood’s big new thing for a while and there was a point when it seemed as though hardly a month went by without him popping up on the big screen in some new project. There was some good work done during this time (such as his turns in “Miami Vice,” “Ask the Dust” and “The New World”) but there was a lot of dreck as well and after a while, he was becoming better known for his off-screen indiscretions than his on-screen performances. In recent years, however, he has straightened out and focused on his craft and his performance here, coming on the heels of his scene-stealing bit as arguably the most horrible of the “Horrible Bosses,” is enough to remind you why he became such a big star in the first place. He is charming and alluring as all get out without ever seeming to put much of an effort into it--practically everyone in the cast seems to virtually swoon in his presence--but he is also able to flip a switch and turn that charm into malevolence without even breaking a sweat; for all of his jumping, screaming and biting in the later scenes, he is at his creepiest when he is just sitting in the shadows watching Charley attempt to rescue his neighbor in an attempt that he knows is doomed to grisly failure. As Farrell’s antagonist, Anton Yelchin is good as well and if he is rather annoying and unlikable in the early going, it is because he is supposed to be annoying and unlikable in those scenes. In supporting roles, David Tennant never quite manages to top Roddy McDowell’s interpretation of Peter Vincent but gets some big laughs along the way through the way that he thoroughly embraces his character’s utter hackiness, newcomer Sandra Vergara (Sofia’s sister, for those of you scoring at home--no pun intended) is a hoot as Vincent’s endearingly foul-mouthed assistant and Christopher Mintz-Plasse is amusing as well as Charley’s pal, although his performance is yet another riff on his immortal McLovin character from “Superbad.” In the role of the increasingly beleaguered girlfriend, Imogene Poots is lucky that she has one of the best names in recent memory because when audiences leave the theater, it is hers that is likely to be on the lips of most of them, at least those of the male persuasion.Coming at a time when theaters are usually cluttered with junk that the studios are trying to squeeze a few bucks out of before the younger audiences go back to school and they shift inexorably towards awards season, “Fright Night” is a refreshing surprise and the rare genre remake that is just as good, if not better, than the original. The only thing that keeps it from being more than an admittedly superior entertainment is the unfortunate decision to release it in the agony of 3D. In theory, it would seem that with an emphasis on spurting blood, elongating fangs and thrusting stakes, a film of this type would be an ideal one for utilizing the process. The trouble is that this is a film in
which the main character by definition cannot survive in the daylight and must thereby
only appear in the evening or in rooms which have been blacked out against the sunshine. Since one of the drawbacks of the 3D process is that it winds up cutting the normal levels of illumination by roughly a third and as a result, there are many scenes in which the visuals are so murky that the simple act of watching the film becomes a nearly insurmountable challenge. This shouldn’t stop you from seeing “Fright Night” but it should hopefully steer you to seek it out in a venue that is presenting it in the
perfectly fine 2D format, a version that will let you see everything as it was presumably
intended to be seen and save you a few bucks off the ticket price in the bargain. Yes,
Colin Farrell may drink a lot of blood throughout the course of the film but in the end,
it is the 3D presentation that really sucks.
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originally posted: 08/18/11 18:34:39
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