Not so campy 2nd time around
By Sean O'Connell
Friday, Aug 19, 2011
"Remake" has become a curse word in Hollywood, largely because of a flood of unnecessary updates meant to "fix" films that weren't broken in the first place. As such, audiences are being trained to react to remakes the way vampires react to crosses or garlic cloves: Hiss, scream, then turn and run in horror.
"Fright Night" is different. It stands apart from the rehash pack by accomplishing something rival remakes rarely do: It improves on the premise it has been handed, producing a modernized version of a decades-old story that's superior to its predecessor in virtually every aspect.
In this case, "Fright Night" director Craig Gillespie remakes Todd Holland's 1985 horror-comedy of the same name, a dated slice of teenage paranoia that was neither scary nor funny the first time around (unless you count a few unintentional guffaws at the cheesiness of the film's effects or the overall campy vibe).
The story still steals from Alfred Hitchcock's masterpiece "Rear Window" with awkward teenager Charlie Brewster (Anton Yelchin) casting suspicions that his mysterious new neighbor, Jerry (Colin Farrell), is a vampire. As Charlie's accusations fall on deaf ears, the arrogant Jerry engages in a deadly cat-and-mouse game that draws in Charlie's childhood friend (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), his girlfriend (Imogene Poots) and a carnival-barking entertainer named Peter Vincent (David Tennant) who trades in the occult but lacks the faith needed to stand up to a vampire.
Gillespie's "Fright Night" doesn't drift too far from the original's structure, though little tweaks made by screenwriter Marti Noxon - best known for her contributions to Joss Whedon's genre-defining vampire soap opera "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" - lead to major improvements in Holland's initial plot.
For starters, the action moves from a nondescript suburb to a pop-up neighborhood outside of Las Vegas, a self-described "transient community" where residents are casino employees who work all night and sleep all day. The simple location shift goes a long way toward explaining how Jerry is able to sink his teeth into a tight-knit community without alerting the authorities.
The Vegas setting also allows Noxon and Gillespie to cleverly change their Peter Vincent character from the fey host of the late-night film series to a Las Vegas illusionist sleepwalking through his sold-out show at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino. Fans of the original "Fright Night" may miss Roddy McDowall's stagey, Shakespearean turn as Charlie's reluctant mentor, but I quite enjoyed the sleazy approach Tennant takes in the role. A cross between Criss Angel and the boozy Russell Brand, he puffs his chest with a phony bravado that's punctured by Jerry's undead presence.
At its best, "Fright Night" mixes sly pop- culture references, "Twilight" jabs and Scooby gang jokes with legitimately suspenseful horror sequences sure to unnerve even the most-seasoned genre fans. Though Gillespie staked his claim with the offbeat indie comedy "Lars and the Real Girl," he deftly maneuvers this film's lengthy action sequences, the most memorable involving a minivan, a motorbike, a demonic hand and one of those real estate signs with sharp points on the end.
All of this takes a back seat to Farrell, who appears to be having a ball as Jerry, the bored bloodsucker. Like a fat cat batting around an injured mouse, Farrell plays off his innate sexuality and unforced charm to intimidate co-stars who appear less confident. Which, in a word, is everyone.
Too bad Farrell can't do anything about the film's ineffective 3-D. The glasses needed to see Gillespie's "Fright Night" in another dimension do more harm than good and should be avoided at all costs. Outside of a few spurts of blood shooting off the screen, the 3-D in "Fright Night" is forgettable, and the tint from the glasses makes it seem like every scene in the film takes place at dusk. You'll enjoy "Fright Night" more if you see it in 2-D, because the edgy thriller shows that, when used right, Hollywood's creatures of the night still have plenty of bite.
Contains bloody horror, violence and language, including some sexual references.