Friday, August 26, 2011

Fright Night review

I have long lamented the fact that vampires, one of the great antagonists of literature and mythology, have been so poorly translated to film.  Since 1922's Nosferatu, you can count the number of good vampire movies on one hand.  What's worse is how the portrayal of vampires has transformed from the embodiment of pure evil, to sympathetic vagabond, and now, sexy hero.

In 1985, before this idiotic evolution, Fright Night was released in theaters.  The movie centered around a high school kid, Charlie, who comes to realize that a vampire, a fellow by the name of Jerry, has moved into the house next door.  When he tries to convince his girlfriend and best friend, they laugh at him.  But his insistence begins to worry them, so they enlist the help of Peter Vincent, an aging star of a recently canceled late night horror show, played by Roddy McDowall (Cornelius from Planet of the Apes).  His friends hope this vampire "expert" will prove to Charlie that their neighbor is no creature of the night. When Mr. Vincent realizes Jerry really is a bloodsucker, he eventually helps Charlie exterminate the creature.  Chris Sarandon (Prince Humperdinck of "The Princess Bride") gives a great performance that is both charming and malevolent as the evil neighbor.  The movie is a little dated, with 80s styles and music, but it's still among the best of the genre.  And it blends humor and horror as well any film ever has.

The folks over at DreamWorks apparently felt this formula would work again in 2011. And since Hollywood is loathe to produce original material these days, a remake was in order.  This remake works largely because of timing.  In an era where vampires have become cute, misunderstood teen idols, audiences are ready for vampires who are just ruthless monsters, unencumbered by guilt or angst over their existence.

The new Fright Night takes place in LasVegas; an ideal place for a vampire to blend in because of its transient population that works all night and sleeps all day.  Overall, the remake has a superior cast.  Colin Farrell takes over as the not so friendly neighbor, Jerry.  Although, I think he's a good actor, I have to say that I have long suffered from an acute case of Colin Farrell fatigue caused by his appearance in one out every three movies released from 2002-2006.  But Farrell is up to the challenge.  His Jerry is a sadistic and unrelenting killer.  He lacks the elegance and panache of Sarandon, but is every bit as charming.  Anton Yelchin (Chekov in the new Star Trek) plays Charlie, a kid who is trying hard to distance himself from his nerdy past and nerdy friends in order to win the affection of a pretty girl.  This time, Peter Vincent is a Vegas magician and narcissistic drunk hilariously brought to life by David Tennant (Doctor Who).  The movie has a few good scares and more than few good laughs.  If I was a movie critic, I would say it's "wickedly funny."

Fright Night moves fast, running from scene to scene, rarely slowing down for anything, which is too bad because its best scenes happen when the movie slows down to build the tension.  One such scene occurs when Jerry tries and tries to get a suspicious Charlie to invite him into the house.  Another when Charlie attempts to rescue one of Jerry's victims.  But the movie prefers a sprinters pace, so it can feel a little rushed at times.  There is also a few scenes with annoying CGI blood that's squirts at the camera intended for the 3D version.  But none of this keeps Fright Night from being a highly enjoyable date movie, quite possibly the most fun I've had at the theater this year.  And probably one of the best vampire movies ever, but that's not saying much.


Anonymous said...

This is one I put off seeing since I did like the original so much. It's on my short list of three vampire movies I'd bother owning. The other two would be Universal's Dracula with Bela Lugosi and the other is The Lost Boys. So two out of three vampire movies worth owning according to me are from the 80's. Go figure. But like with so many remakes, I was worried that this one would be so lame it would actually take away some of my enjoyment of the original.

I liked the original mostly because it had moments where I laughed my ass off and others that built tension like a horror movie is supposed to. It's a shame that until now it's been largely forgotten. I'm sure part of that has to do with the fact that no one in the cast of the original really went on to anything bigger. No one is going back looking for the early works of William Ragsdale.

One question, how did McLovin do as Charlie's friend? I really like this actor, mostly because he plays a nerd so well and he reminds me of one of my nephews.


Jake Shore said...

You should definitely go see it. McLovin has some very funny scenes.