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Tuesday, May 22, 2012

FRIGHT NIGHT REVIEW: Return of the Horror Dork




I think opening day for any remake feels like the first battle between Apollo Creed and Rocky Balboa. Underdog versus champion and of course there’s no expectation for the underdog to win really. Rocky isn’t supposed to win against Apollo Creed, and I don’t think there’s any question that the remake of Fright Night was never expected to outperform, beat up on or claim victory over the Tom Holland classic. Before I leave you in suspense, did the remake out do the original picture? No. It did not. Tom Holland beats Craig Gillespie in an arm wrestling contest, darts and of course boxing (to continue the metaphor just one step too far). Was there a question in your mind that this remake could top the original? I guess every film has the chance to topple the classic. In some respect there are elements of quite a few of these “unoriginal” pictures that best their predecessors; not all the way and certainly they don’t have a chance to destroy decades of childhood imprinting. So now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, now that you know that this won’t be another, “I hate you. You’re a remake” reviews let’s sink our tee… let’s put our paws on this rather clever take on our beloved vamp classic.



There will be spoilers. You know this, but I’ll try to take it easy on you I’ll make an effort not to lift this movie’s skirt too high. I suppose you want a synopsis of the film (as if you didn’t already know it); here it goes:

Charley Brewster (Anton Yelchin) and his mother (Toni Collete) are a family of two trying to grow their rather meager Las Vegas suburban development. When a mysterious new neighbor, Jerry (Colin Farrell), moves next door, the Brewsters take comfort in the normalcy a neighbor might provide. Little do they know they have a ravenous, bloodsucking vampire only thirteen feet from their home, and he’s ready to meet the welcome wagon with open mouth. When Charley unveils just who or rather what his neighbor truly is, he must fight for his life with the help of aging, alcoholic magician Peter Vincent and the love of his life Amy (Imogen Poots).

Have you heard this story before save the slight variation in Peter Vincent’s profession (will get there in a minute)? We’re not so far off the original story line, and you’ve got to hand it to the producers on this one; there’s always a possibility that they might simply use the name of Fright Night rather than the concept to get asses in the seats. This is not the case. Fright Night is a film with integrity, paying proper homage to the original film while exploring new ground in vampire mythology and trying to drag the glitter loving “tweens” out of the Twilight and into direct sunlight with the intent of having them combust into a Team Edward/ Team Jacob heap of Bop magazines.  The film attempts to reclaim the vampire myth for horror fans.  Is it perfect? No. Despite an attempt at a powerful lead in sequence the viewer is subject to a long dose of back story before the film picks up some momentum.  Half way through the film it was easy to see the audience rocking in their seats and leaving for the occasional bathroom break. No one was glued to their seats. They didn’t stay that way, but there was potential to do more with character development and perhaps less with straight out narrative.

Holland’s film is a collection of 1980’s classic camp with jokes filling in the narrative. While the remake tries very hard to get some chuckles out of us, most of the jokes fall flat. Christopher Mintz-Plasse, who plays the ever lovable, double bubble nerd Ed, can’t seem to get out of this own way while delivering zinger after zinger that falls flat. He’s not a complete disappointment, and it’s not fair to compare his Evil Ed to that of Stephen Geoffreys who embraced the character in the original picture. It’d be nice to see this exceptionally funny actor famous for his role as the funny gamer dork live up to that reputation when as such when it counts.  Yelchin plays a great straight man. His own dry dork-out is a perfect fit for a modern Charley Brewster and he should be commended as such. He’s not William Ragsdale of the original pictures fame, but he’s our 2011 version of Ragsdale. Imogen Poots is a perfect seductress teen, ready to be vamped out high schooler in the character Amy.  She updates this role well and introduces a stronger more dominant female presence alongside veteran actress Toni Collete… You know, Toni always plays the mom in pretty much everything. Hell, both she and Anton Yelchin starred in their own separate Showtime series. They might as well be related in real life with the chemistry spot on for these two opposing but loving forces. These are the ordinary folks... You came here to find out about Jerry. You came there to find out about Peter Vincent.



Jerry (Farrell) plays the James Dean of the vampire world. Chris Sarandon is a vampire for the 80’s. He is every bit the picture perfect model of success circa 1985. We love him for it. We think he makes a great vampire and his vamp out is the thing of legend that continues to influence the genre. Jerry, Jerry, Jerry… is calm and cool. He’s a sex pot. This is something that the vampire genre has been missing over the last decade. Vamp flicks have been exceptionally groundbreaking over the last ten years or so moving the vampire antagonist farther away from Stoker’s Dracula. Stake Land and 30 Days of Night have pushed the genre in new, dangerous directions. Vampires aren’t pretty in the new millennium.  Lestat may as well have teamed up with Edward Cullen to do a duet on it “It Ain’t Easy Being Green” for how dangerous they appear. Jerry explores the lone vamp that will seduce you, take you to bed and convert you for his army without buying you dinner or taking you to see a movie. He’s a bad boy vamp and he’s very good at it. There are even hints of Langella or Christopher Lee in-between his “too cool for fangs” swagger.  Chris Sarandon needn’t be afraid of losing his place as the star vampire in a Fright Night picture, but he’ll be happy to usher a new prince for Generation V.  And if he plays the prince of darkness, you need David Tennant or… Peter Vincent as your cowardly lion in Van Helsing clothing.

I recently wrote about the death of the horror host. What it means to let that go for the younger horror audience and why it’s imperative that we fight for our beloved horror movie concierge. Peter Vincent in Holland’s original, takes thirty years of horror host history and shoves it straight into the skin suit of Roddy McDowall; this has unmistakably been one of the best cast parts in the history of horror films and especially in the evolution of the horror comedy or compliment between laughter and gut wrenching screaming.  You don’t fill Peter Vincent’s shoes. You don’t replace Roddy McDowall and you don’t reinvent a horror host as a magician. I have uttered all of these statements and I have been, for the most part, wrong with one slight catch. David Tennant as Vincent saves Fright Night from being dry and flavorless; he gets the blood pumping with true physical comedy and British sarcasm. Remember how I said that the first half of the film was a bit drab. It just takes ages to get to anything of substance. The substance it eventually does get into is Peter Vincent. Yes, he’s a magician, and I will take issue with the fact that his horror host cape was traded in for a magician’s cloak until there are no more horror hosts to defend, but with talent like Tennant’s you can see past his job description. The wit he purveys; the alcoholic that drinks Midori on the rocks. He might as well be the Dude from the Big Lebowski drinking White Russians. He’s a funny guy, and you can trust him… just like you could trust Roddy McDowall. Horror host or magician both betray the trust of a young, afraid Charley Brewster, but neither lets him succumb to a puncture wound at the tooth of a vampire. So my fears have been assuaged.  I will tell you that I asked several of the youngsters in the crowd if they understood the concept of a horror host; if they liked horror hosts… they understood perfectly well what they are and didn’t understand why Vincent was a magician if he was supposed to be a horror host. Hollywood underestimates the intelligence of yet another generation of movie goers.



I can tell you that there’s a fresh take on vampire lore in this movie that must come from the vampire LARP (Live Action Role Play) crowd. When Vincent discusses the history of Jerry’s particular breed (breed?) you’re ready to pull out your twelve sided die and character creation sheet. Anybody wanna cast magic missile? I hope so. It’s a clearly a movie that’s made for good, studious horror nerds.  For all the time and attention paid to back story and vampire development, somebody clearly forgot to show up to the table when the finishing touches were being placed on this film: The CGI and three dimensional film units.

It’s no secret that I’m a CGI hater. Sure, used in the right places it’s a fine use of computerized wizardry. I do not want CGI to take the place of anything that could be made using practical/live effects. I do not want CGI to take the place of blood splatters. I don’t mind a mouthful of vamp teeth being created using CGI, but the whole face… digitized… it’s not real. You take a completely scary vamp and turn him into an only moderately scary video game mini-boss.  So the CGI team clocked too many hours on Fright Night. When their creations worked it was well worth their efforts, but with such overuse and abuse of computer generated effects, the audience doesn’t get the creep out that might have been. It’s not just Fright Night that has suffered from this affliction, so I find it hard to blame this particular film. It’d be nice to have a film that would break away from the Hollywood effect status quo. The same is true with the 3-D. This picture did not need to be in 3-D. The movie gained nothing from it and at times it was downright annoying.  That is not to say that it Fright Night couldn’t have benefited from the use of 3-D technology; it just didn’t benefit and the audience suffers for it.  What’s worse? It’s real 3-D, so you can’t even blame it on bad post conversion. Even Piranha, which was post converted, had this real stereoscopy beat.



You’ve got a great score that seems to embody, at least slightly, more than one vampire film or television show score that came before it. I see a touch of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Salem’s Lot, even Dracula from 1979… it’s no J. Geils Band “Fright Night”, but this is not an 80’s horror flick; This is a horror film for the children of parents suffering from desperate cases of 80’s nostalgia, myself a parent who is afflicted.  You’re waiting for the line, “garlic don’t work, boys!” or maybe even a cameo by Roman Polanski . I suppose when you have Peter Vincent and Charley Brewster on the prowl you’ve got all the Fearless Vampire Killers you need.  These tributes within the film are subtle and might even be unintended at times, but it could very well be that this film is made by people who have actually watched the same vamp flicks we’ve watched and actually enjoy them.  They certainly don’t see the need to reinvent our fears out of existence.

What works for this film works well. You’ve got a loyal cast who care about vampire lore and horror enough to give good performances and the canon of vampire lore is pushed to a new place. It’s not the original and nothing will be the original. When you watch a remake, it might be best to forget that you’re watching a remake. Try to let this film stand on its own rather than attacking it, and you might find that you enjoy it. Get through the first forty five minutes or so and you’re in for a treat. The 3-D effects that are used heavily to sell this movie may be a drastic marketing error if the box office totals don’t weigh in favorably.  The remake does something wholly wonderful for vampire pictures, but that something is subtle. It is the re-emergence of the dork hero in horror cinema.  Watch out Edward. This may be the dawn of the bloodsucking, vampiric undead, and you just might be breakfast.

In the immortal words of Peter Vincent, vampire killer:

Apparently your generation doesn't want to see vampire killers anymore, nor vampires either. All they want to see slashers running around in ski masks, hacking up young virgins.

And I’d add pale waif-like fey vamps that sparkle with pixy dust to that list.


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