Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Welcome to (another) FRIGHT NIGHT!

Much to the chagrin of purists all over the country, Fright Night, the beloved 1986 horror comedy has been remade. Much to the pleasure of this reviewer, it wasn’t half bad. Actually, it was pretty good.

We live in an odd time, a time of rehashes, retreads and remakes. It’s especially an odd time for me because this current influx of projects effects my childhood directly. Tron, Conan, Apes, comic book adaptations, Indiana Jones, Star Wars Special Editions… it doesn’t end. It’s like some cosmic power is slowly updating, and in many cases degrading, all the things I found entertaining in my most formative years.

Now comes a remake of one of those hidden gems of the 80s, Fright Night. It’s the story of a precocious teen, Charley Brewster, and a sudden obstacle of a vampire, Jerry Dandridge, moving next door to him and his single mother. Charley enlists the help of a television horror host, Peter Vincent (think Elvira without breasts), a relic of what he once was. Together they have to save the whole neighborhood and Charley’s girl from Jerry’s evil clutches.

Most people reading are familiar with the charm of the first film, a horror first and comedy within the characters reactions and interactions. What transcends it’s dated sensibilities and production values are the strong performances and tight scripting. These are genuinely believable people in a genuinely fantastic situation. The viewer begins to believe them in earnest, which makes this journey into the supernatural all the more harrowing. In this new iteration, will all those qualities that lie beyond the basic vampire presence that makes this film a classic remain intact?

I’m happy to report that it hits the mark more than it misses. This is a fun retread of past events that, for the most part, remains true in form and spirit to its predecessor. Having recently re-watched the original did not diminish any enjoyment of this one. The broad strokes remain the same, save for a few tweaks to some characters’ motivations.

In the 2011 edition, Charley Brewster is relatively unlikeable at the start. He is charming and witty, but we know early on that he ostracized himself from his childhood best friends in a
n effort to fit in. It’s a dick move, but one that is oddly understandable when you start to think of the cruelty of modern teenagers. It’s ‘adapt to survive,’ and Charley is choosing to do so regardless of the bonds he breaks.

Jerry Dandridge is a vampire that in a way is the extreme example of the lifestyle that Charley has recently adopted. He moves in, builds a hive, feeds and refills his ranks. He is a creature driven by survival and basic id needs that just happens to know how to pull off acting like a man. The animalistic and sexy Collin Farrell replaces the regal and passionate Chris Sarandon. Farrell’s Dandridge is not “better,” but it serves this version’s purpose so successfully, it’s acceptable. Sarandon excited and enticed his prey, Ferrell intrigues and stalks it. Both methods effective and ultimately are a joy to watch.

Perhaps the biggest change comes in the characterization of Peter Vincent, here a Criss Angel-like illusionist with his own Vegas act and television show. Touted as an expert in the occult, Vincent is cited as a source of knowledge long before he is even introduced in the film. When he finally is, Charley gets something a little different than what he bargained for.

Vincent is a washed out drunkard at the top of his game career wise, but has hit rock bottom personally. He loathes his existence and masks it with bravado and trinkets. Once a believer, he’s now jaded. David Tenant chews on the scenery with ease. Charley inadvertently brings Jerry & company directly to Vincent’s doorstep, which leads to one of the more clever action sequences of the film. It’s fight or flight for this Peter and some will be surprised by his initial response.

Director Craig Gillespie and writer Marti Noxton have preserved the emotional resonance and character driven appeal of the original. The changes are mostly cosmetic and products of the time period, but tonally and pacing-wise, the remake and its predecessor are eerily similar.

Fright Night 2011 is not the abomination on your childhood like Darth Vader screaming “NO” obviously seems to be. Independently of the 1986 flick, it’s a throwback vampire movie set in our time. The rules remain the same such as - sunlight, stakes, no reflections, etc. No sparkling marble or mind readers. These vampires are old school and a lot less lovey dovey.

When compared to the still fun original, I can see how some would find this version unnecessary. I, however, disagree. I thoroughly enjoyed it, like a fresh coat of paint on the wooden roller coaster. It’s still a classy thrill ride it just looks shinier now. Some people will gravitate towards the nostalgia, while others will be drawn to the glossy. Either way, they’re both getting their moneys worth.

1 comment:

  1. Can't argue with a thing you said. It was a good, solid reimagining, and it keep me highly entertained throughout. But it wasn't nearly as entertaining the 17-year old ticket taker asking me whether I'd seen the original.