Saturday, August 20, 2011

Fright Night (2011)

The original Fright Night came out in 1985 and I was a few weeks from 10 years old. I was decidedly not a horror aficionado and frankly the poster (and matching soundtrack album cover) was the scariest thing I'd ever seen in my life at the time. I stayed well away. I finally caught up with it a couple of years ago, when I did a series on vampire movies on my LJ (Fright Night post is here, if you're interested) and I LOVED it. It wasn't nearly as scary as I'd built up in my mind as a child (few films are, in my experience), and it was half comedy anyway.

When I first heard it was being remade, I had all the "ehhhhh, why" that everyone has when anything is remade. I've recently been thinking that it's less the idea of something being remade that bothers me and more the idea of it being a lazy artistic choice, which it almost always is. But not *quite* always. I'd love to do a post on that topic some time, but back to business.

Bottom line - I think the 2011 Fright Night is a genuinely good remake, one that honors the original while bringing something new to it (something besides just new actors, that is).

Fright Night (2011)

The script was written by Marti Noxon (yay, women screenwriters - double yay, women HORROR screenwriters!), who many of you know as the woman who took the lead on Buffy as Joss Whedon relinquished some of his responsibilities on that show to start creating Angel and (*wistful sigh*) Firefly. Some of you might also consider her the person who ruined Buffy, but that's neither here nor there. The woman knows her way around vampires. Real vampires, that is. :P Tom Holland, who wrote and directed the original, had story duties here, and it always helps when the original creator has his/her hands on a remake.

The story is basically the same as the original. Boy discovers his neighbor is a vampire and gets help from a "vampire expert" to defeat him. There are plenty of differences, though, and something I loved was that they weren't just changing things to make them more hip and cool. These were meaningful changes. In the original, Charley and Evil Ed are friends, but now they're former friends, Charley (Anton Yelchin) having essentially "dumped" Ed (Christopher Mitz-Plasse) for cooler friends because he's so amazed that his girlfriend Amy (Imogen Poots, who must have had a horrid childhood with a name like that) likes him that he wants to be cool enough and have cool enough friends to hang on to her. Now Ed is the one to notice that Charley's neighbor Jerry (Colin Farrell) is strange and conclude that he's a vampire. Charley doesn't buy it until it's too late and Ed has been turned, and it's only when Jerry won't cross the threshold into the house that Charley gets suspicious.

The film is set in Las Vegas, which I'm pretty sure is another change. It's a great fit for a vampire story, because there's all kinds of people just passing through, and so many people work nights and sleep during the day (which is why no one asks why Jerry's windows are blacked out; apparently loads of people in Vegas do the same thing). And we get to see a bit of the Strip when Charley pays a visit to Peter Vincent, played by the criminally awesome David Tennant, who is the best thing about this remake. Vincent, I mean. Tennant is great, but I loved what they did with the character. This is absolutely who Peter Vincent would be today. In the original, Roddy McDowall played Vincent as the star of a television show called "Fright Night," which was very old-school, gothic, Dark Shadows stuff. Here, Vincent is the star of a Vegas illusion act called "Fright Night." He's very new-school gothic and kind of a rock star - leather, guyliner, long hair, etc. But when Charley meets him in his huge and lavish apartment, he peels off the layers (in more ways than one). Off comes the coat, the wig, and the facial hair, and he turns out to be kind of a loser and a jerk. He curses at his girlfriend (or sex buddy, whatever) and guzzles Midori and is a general layabout. Sexy, though, no doubt about it. There's also some interesting, though perhaps predictable, backstory with this character.

If you've never seen the original, this film might remind you a bit of Disturbia in terms of tension and who's spying on who, and that's not a bad thing (though the original FN had a similar style). There's not a lot of chair-jumper scares, which I liked. Chair-jumpers are effective, but you can't overuse them. Tension is always better. One new element is that Jerry is not just killing his victims; he's built a small prison in his basement, with several little rooms where he holds his victims (which reminded me forcibly of Martyrs), "snacking" on them (as Vincent calls it) until there's nothing left. Charley tries to rescue one, but as soon as they leave the house, she's burnt up in the sunlight. Another element that may have been in the original but it just never struck me is that not only does Jerry cast no reflection, his image doesn't show up on camera. He kills a security guard at one point and the camera pans back to show just the guard, being ripped apart by some invisible force.

This is rated R, which doesn't really suit it, in my opinion. The original was rated R, mostly for violence (and a little nudity and language, but nothing crazy). This new film is not quite as violent, and kudos to the filmmakers for not just adding more gore gratuitously, but it was almost like they were afraid of not getting an R so they threw in a bunch of f-bombs. A strange choice since the screenwriter comes from television and therefore ought to be good at finding clever ways to avoid profanity. Most of the cursing is from David Tennant, whose character is barely hardcore enough to get away with it, but eh, whatever.

One bad thing about my experience, though, which had nothing to do with the movie. Some JERK-OFF, who apparently has never heard of the memo that says you DO NOT TALK DURING A MOVIE just Could. Not. Shut. Up. He was, like, narrating the movie, constantly blurting out what he thought was about to happen and asking his girlfriend what he missed while he was too busy YAPPING. Ugh. I shushed him twice, which worked for a minute or two before he was back at it. At that point it becomes a fine line between making a stand and contributing even more noise, so I just sat there and seethed instead.

There is a very cool cameo by Chris Sarandon, who played the vampire in the original. Even with the small 10am crowd, there was a good response to the sight of him on screen, and I got a sick joy out of the rare moment of silence from my noisy neighbor, who clearly had no clue why everyone was laughing. I guess I should be thankful he didn't ask out loud what was so funny. OH! And the best part - in my opinion - was the TOTAL lack of a sequel-baiting ending. It's over, the monster is gone, and everyone lives happily ever after, with absolutely no sly shot of a lone vampire still out there winking at the camera as if to say "See you in Fright Night 2, muahahaha!" Yes, original Fright Night, that was partially directed at you. ;-)

This is a great, fun movie. It's not *too* violent, and - surprise, surprise - there are characters you actually care about. It also has some rather bitchin' music, which has convinced me I need the soundtrack (though I'm sad to see the wicked rockabilly cover of "99 Problems" that plays over the final credits is not on it, so I'll have to get that elsewhere). Good performances from the "kids" (well, not really the token douchebags, but Yelchin, Poots, and Mintz-Plasse are all good), and great stuff from the (older) adults (Colin Farrell, Toni Collette, and especially David Tennant). Good summer fun, and best of all, NO sparkles. :D There's a couple of cracks about Twilight in there, and I suspect Marti Noxon has been holding that in for a while.

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