Putting the subtle self-referential brilliance of the first Fright Night aside, Dreamworks’ Fright Night remake starring Anton Yelchin and Colin Farrell is a vapid horror/comedy thrill ride with some nice 3D effects.
The modernized storyline had its share of clever inside jokes at the genre’s expense, but the characters come across as one-note and the updated story relies on action thrills and jokes instead of good storytelling. Hitting theaters on August 19th, Fright Night is an easily digested horror that doesn’t rise above being just decent.
Charlie Brewster (Yelchin) is your typical geeky teen trying to fit in at high school and keep his new girlfriend satisfied. He lives in your standard square neighborhood, a new housing development out in the desert at the outskirts of Las Vegas.
The only thing atypical about Charlie’s life is his charismatic neighbor Jerry Dandridge (Farrell), who turns out to be a vicious vampire. Jerry is sucking his way through the neighborhood, and Charlie’s ex-best friend “Evil” Ed knows about what’s going on. When he tries to convince Charlie of the truth, Charlie doesn’t want to believe him.
But the evidence keeps mounting, and when Ed disappears and Charlie is confronted with irrefutable proof, it’s almost too late. Charlie becomes Jerry’s next target, and he must seek the help of the famous illusionist Peter Vincent (David Tennant) to save himself, his mother, and his girlfriend Amy (Imogen Poots).
It’s a fairly simple story. In the original ‘80s version the story was so well written and the characters so engaging that the simplicity of the story wasn’t a problem. Unfortunately, the remake missed out on some of the necessary nuances, and felt flat and underdeveloped. The storyline stays similar to the original, but certainly isn’t a play by play. The characters have the same names as the original, but are given sometimes radical modernizations and twists on the ‘80s concept.
Yelchin stars as geeky teen Charlie Brewster, who finds out there’s a vampire living next door to him. In the original, he has a hard time convincing others of that fact. But in this remake, he’s the one that at first doesn’t believe. This Fright Night’s Charlie is kind of cool, and in the process of shedding his geeky past, including his former best bud Evil Ed.
Though Yelchin has proven he can play more dramatic roles with emotional depth, like in The Beaver, I didn’t think his every-teen was particularly inspiring. The character wasn’t drawn with any depth, but Yelchin didn’t make it come alive either. Besides, his stale teen, girlfriend Amy’s character suffered from the same shallow strokes. Poots did a better job than Yelchin at giving her one-note character some interest, but both ended up being largely forgettable characters.
I also missed the depth of character of master vampire Jerry Dandridge from the original. As I feared, Farrell plays the vampire straight-up evil, with all the clichéd movements and idiosyncrasies of a vampire villain that audiences have come to expect.
Painting Jerry as a one-dimensional vampire was a detriment to his character, and all the stereotypical vampire “traits” Farrell employed verged on the ridiculous, from the strange snuffing sounds he makes at things he doesn’t like to the hissing and baring of fangs at just the right moment.
None of the characters were particularly compelling, and one of the best characters, Evil Ed, isn’t given a ton of screentime. Christopher Mintz-Plasse brought so much vibrancy and fun to this character I found myself wishing he was playing the leading role.
One of the greatest travesties in this remake, and one of the more interesting aspects, was the “modernization” of the Peter Vincent character. In the original, Peter Vincent represented a dying breed of showman, an aging late-night horror host in an age that scoffed at the horror genre. This was a great reflection of the times, as the Fright Night of the ‘80s was an old-school horror made when old-school horror was on its way out of popularity.
The new Fright Night presents a Peter Vincent who is a famous illusionist with his own show on the Vegas Strip. Tennant played Peter Vincent, as a performance artist in the same vein as Criss Angel, with all the black leather and dark eye make-up fans of the macabre could wish for.
I say this was the most radical and interesting change, but also the most disturbing. One could say it’s a reflection of the times again, but Tennant’s Peter character came across as extremely superfluous to the story, whereas the Peter of the original was integral to the story.
Tennant, however, did a great job in bringing the louder-than-life occult celebrity to life. His Peter was as vapid and drink-addled as you could imagine. And though there might have been more of a backstory developed (at least, developed believably), I was pleased enough with Tennant’s charisma.
Toni Collette did a competent job as Mrs. Brewster, but nothing noteworthy. In a very fun self-referential moment, Chris Sarandon made an appearance as a passing motorist. Sarandon played the original Jerry Dandridge, so it was a great passing-the-torch kind of scene.
Craig Gillespie directed Fright Night, and he brought to it a forgettable pedantry made worse by bad lighting and scene choices. Yes, it’s a vampire film. Yes, vampires are most active at night. But the decision to film so many scenes after dark or at dusk, and then not to light them well, left most of the film uncomfortably dim. Most scenes were so ill-lit I found myself squinting at the screen and trying to make out what was happening beneath obscuring shadows and a pervasive dimness.
The bubble-gum screenplay is the fault of long-time TV scribe Marti Noxon. From her past work writing episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel and Mad Men, I felt she was up to the task of re-telling Fright Night in a clever way (if it had to be remade). But perhaps all her work on Buffy was detrimental to Fright Night, as her script felt like an overly long episode of said supernatural teen action/romance.
I saw Fright Night in 3D, and for once I wasn’t totally disappointed and annoyed with this extra manipulation. I thought the 3D effects actually added something to the action instead of just being there without adding value.
Things actually seemed to come out at the audience in a fun way, like blood spattering and bodies shredding above our heads, and glowing cinders raining down. A drawback though has to be the 3D glasses, which are usually a few shades darker than the screen, and thus made an already dim film unpleasantly dark.
Also, there was the terrible CGI. Why, oh why, must films rely so heavily on CGI? Especially a vampire pic like this, which could have easily (and to much better results) used make-up and practical monster effects? The poor CG took me out of the moment every time it was used as far as vampire faces/movements, and even gore/blood manipulation.
The self-referential elements were clever enough, as were some of the modernizations to the story. The film was brimming with references to other vampire movies and TV shows, from Dark Shadows to Twilight. Also, Charlie and some of the other characters rely on modern technology that didn’t even exist when the original was made, like cell phone cameras and the internet, which spins the original story in some interesting ways.
On the whole, this remake lacked the heart of the original. Judged by itself it was fun enough, but didn’t have the substance to stand out from the crowd of mediocre vampire picks already out there. Some of the modernizations were clever, if in that self-aware way that tends to become annoying, and the story is underdeveloped and won’t stay with you long. Fans of the genre may enjoy this light horror fare, but it certainly won’t impress.
Fright Night is an easily digested horror that doesn’t rise above being just decent.