Hollywood is head-over-heels in love with remaking movies from the 80’s right now. So far we’ve had everything from “Footloose” to Total Recall” remade with a modernized story and gloss. Many more already have release dates or are in production. As someone who grew up in the 80’s watching the original pictures, I’m still waiting for one of these recent remakes to really blow me away and make it feel worthwhile.
So along comes “Fright Night”, a 2011 version of the 1985 vampire film that I truly loved. The original was a fun and occasionally creepy horror flick that played around with elements of vampire, werewolf, and haunted house movies. It had its share of old-school special effects and classic horror cheese while also maintaining a thoroughly compelling narrative. So I had a natural curiosity and concerns about the remake. Would the Hollywood modernization process be able to capture what made the original so entertaining? Well, not exactly.
The remake’s story is built upon the clever premise of the original “Fright Night” film. Charley Brewster (Anton Yelchin) and his mother Jane (Toni Collette) live in a small suburb of Las Vegas. An attractive single man named Jerry Dandrige (Colin Farrell) moves into the house next door. Over time we find out that Dandrige is a vampire and Charley, his mother, and his girlfriend Amy (Imogen Poots) are right in his new neighbor’s crosshairs.
There aren’t many other significant ways that this “Fright Night” resembles the original. One of my biggest disappointments with this film was with how little effort went into building more tension between Charley and Dandrige. The original spent a lot of time with Charley trying to convince his mother, friends, and the police that his neighbor was a killer responsible for the disappearances of many area women. This made for several creepy confrontations between the two. This version gives us only a scene or two of this, choosing instead to jump headfirst into more action-based horror that seems specifically designed for 3D rather than deeper storytelling.
Charley’s predicament is so dire that he seeks the help a Las Vegas horror illusionist Peter Vincent (David Tennant). This Peter Vincent is a boozing, profane, and abusive jerk void of any of the sympathetic charm that made Roddy McDowall’s character so memorable. There was nothing at all in this character that was the least bit interesting. To be fair, it’s not that Tennant’s performance is bad. This is a writing issue that’s a direct result of a story direction choice. This is an instance of modernizing a great character from the original story with pretty poor results.
The movie is plagued by several fairly generic characters outside of Charley. Poots is good as Charley’s girlfriend but she isn’t given much to do. Charley’s mom is about as shallow as they come and then there are a couple of his friends that are just thrown in. Then you have one of the first film’s more memorable characters “Evil” Ed (this time played by Christopher Mintz-Plasse). Here he’s actually developed into a fairly sympathetic character before quickly being thrown aside. Farrell is fun and sometimes charismatic, but he’s only asked to talk in a creepy tone, wipe his mouth and lick his fingers after “feeding”.
The special effects were a big part of what made the first film such fun. It had some over-the-top gore but it fit in perfectly with the story. Here the effects are fine although in several places the CGI is clearly evident. And with the exception of a pretty spectacular car chase sequence, there isn’t much that has stuck with me. And this leads into the fact that this “Fright Night” just isn’t scary at all. There are a couple of loud jump scares but in terms of actual creepiness, nope.
I know it seems like I made a lot of comparisons between the original movie and this new version of “Fright Night”. I try not to do that. Maybe I’m just too big of a fan of the original to help myself. But I also think this film has flaws that keep it from being as good as it could be. The decision to spend far more time on horror-based action actually strips the picture of the spookiness that made the first picture so much fun. It’s not boring and there are a few good laughs scattered throughout. There’s also a fantastic cameo from Chris Sarandon (Dandrige from the first film) that really hit the spot. But in the end, I’m still waiting for an 80’s remake to blow me away.