Fright Night (2011)
Growing up I didn’t have the most permissive parents when it came to what I could watch. My mom didn’t care that much but my stepdad was pretty stringent about controlling what I watched. PG-13 was pretty much my limit and even then my parents would exercise a fair amount of discretion in what I was and was not allowed to watch. Luckily I, like many other resourceful kids my age during the era, found a loop hole: late night local TV. Although movies that played on network commercial TV during primetime were cut for content (sometimes hilariously so), the local station (Calgary 2 & 7, represent!) would play R-rated horror flicks after midnight on Fridays and Saturdays completely uncut. All I had to do was program the VCR to record and then find some time when there was little danger of my parents walking in on an inopportune moment and I was set. One particular weekend in 1988, I managed to score an awesome double feature: Friday the 13th Part 2 and Fright Night (fun fact: I still have the VHS tape kicking around, with the late night promo for the at the time yet-to-air War of the Worlds TV series). For about a year after that, Fright Night was my new favorite movie. I scribbled the title, complete with elongated “F” and “T,” all over my notebooks at school. Needless to say, this didn’t go over swimmingly in a Catholic school.
Fright Night enjoyed my good graces for years but watching it now I find it’s a little over rated. I mean there’s nothing wrong with it at all: laughs and scares come in equal measures, Chris Sarandon and Roddy McDowell have a lot of fun with their roles and Richard Edlund’s optical effects are awesome (I love the look of his work from this era). In the end, though, it’s maybe a bit too concerned with being entertaining that it doesn’t really exploits its premise, and all the inherent themes, as well as it could. It’s not even minor classic, it’s just a solid genre film that I saw at the right age. Maybe it’s that lack of reverence for the original that allowed me to enjoy the 2011 update as much as I did. Like the original I don’t think it’s a classic for the ages, but director Craig Gillepsie and writer Marti Noxon should be commended for crafting a film that has the same canny blend of humor and horror as its namesake. This remake is one of the most genuinely entertaining genre films of the last year.
In Hillcrest Bluffs, an isolated suburban development in view of the Las Vegas strip, people are disappearing. The classes in the high school are slowly becoming less attended and there’s even a news report of a strange man trying to bite a woman as she was leaving a grocery store at night. None of this concerns, or is even noticed by, Charley Brewster (Anton Yelchin). He has a pretty new girlfriend, Amy Petersen (Imogen Poots), and is in the process of transitioning from his old, nerdy friends to the popular crowd. Despite the desperate pleadings of his once best-friend Ed Thompson (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), Charley refuses to buy into the theory that a vampire – one that lives next door to him, no less - is responsible for the drop disappearing neighbors.
Charley’s new next-door neighbor, Jerry Dandrige (Colin Farrell), seems like an okay guy. He’s had a dumpster in his front driveway since he moved in and that’s annoying Charley’s mom (Toni Collette) but, other than that, he seems nice. He’s certainly caught the eye of neighborhood flirt Doris (Emily Montague), whom he invites over for a drink one night. The circumstances surrounding this date set off alarm bells in Charley’s head. Perhaps Ed was right and Jerry is more than he seems.
Suspicions sufficiently aroused, Charley breaks into Jerry’s house and finds out exactly why Jerry needed that dumpster in front of his house for so long. Jerry’s tunneled out an underground lair complete with holding cells, where he’s keeping Doris hostage. Charley does what he can to free the captive woman but as they step into the sunlight of the outdoors Doris bursts into a cloud of ash and embers.
Having pushed away the only person who would believe him (who has now also mysteriously disappeared) a desperate Charley seeks the help of Peter Vincent (David Tennant), a Vegas strip illusionist and self-proclaimed vampire expert. Is Peter a real deal vampire killer who can help, or a total fraud milking supernatural trappings for money? Charley’s betting that it’s the former and not the latter. In fact he’s betting his, Amy’s and him mother’s lives on it.
One of the biggest criticisms I’ve read of the new Fright Night is that the reveal that Jerry is a vampire comes too early in the film, that there’s no build up and no mystery. I actually think this is one of the film’s strengths. The filmmakers were smart enough to know that, this being a remake, viewers will walking in with the meta knowledge of the film’s “twist” reveal either from having seen the original or from the marketing for the remake flat out giving it away. For me, there’s nothing more frustrating than having to wait half of a film’s running time for the characters onscreen to learn what I, and most of the audience, already know. The way it’s done here frees up screen time from trying to build artificial suspense to allow the filmmakers to legitimately surprise us with their new take on the material.
Colin Farrell is probably the best over exposed yet still under rated actors working today. His Jerry is a predatory player, the ultimate alpha male douche bag. Farrell brings the absolute perfect balance of sex appeal menace to the role, able to turn on a dime from friendly neighbor to deadly predator. His threat to Charley is twofold: not only is he threatening Charley’s life, but he’s also threatening Charley’s ability to keep and protect the women in his life. His attack is not just physical, it’s psychological as well. “I’m going to fuck your mom and your girlfriend and there’s nothing you can do to stop me,” is what Jerry’s saying, and Farrell is able to convey this with a look, a nod or an inappropriate wink. This is a juicy role and Farrell nails every moment of it.
As good as Farrell is he is matched measure for measure by David Tennant. Peter Vincent’s update is clever: he’s a Las Vegas strip illusionist dressed up in the trappings of the supernatural but not really a true believer in them. Criss Angel is obviously the template here and the change works. Tennant actually has two roles here. First he’s the preening, self-important stage diva, which he plays to the hilt for great comic effect. Then, in the last act, he becomes the vulnerable, cowardly Peter Vincent that fans of the original are familiar with. The second role is less flashy than the first but Tennant still manages to make it his own with a great deal of dry, cynical humor.
The weak link in the unusually strong cast is Imogen Poots. Nothing against her or her performance, it's the screenplay that gives her almost nothing to do besides be a damsel in distress. And I didn’t quite feel that she had the kind of chemistry with Anton Yelchin needed to really sell the peril of her rescue. In fact, women in general are really shortchanged here. Toni Collette drops out of the picture entirely at the halfway mark after having done next to nothing the in the first hour and Peter Vincnet’s assistant is nothing more than a bitchy walking blow job. Sexism is nothing new in horror but it’s disappointing that Fright Night didn’t avoid that pitfall, especially considering it was a woman who penned the screenplay.
Unusual, isn’t it, to spend so much time talking about the performances in a horror film as opposed to the gore or scares? Fright Night is really is an actors showcase and it’s their hard work that elevates the film. The script is undeniably strong but requires such a delicate balance between humor and horror that it could have easily been mishandled by less skilled performers. The film does a good job of not getting in their way: the direction doesn’t call attention to itself and is more than willing to let a dialogue scene play out without any attention-getting visual trickery. The effects are good and there’s no shortage of blood and guts.
It doesn’t improve on the original, exactly, nor does it suffer in direct comparison. What it does is give us the same kind of experience as the original. This new version of Fright Night is likely what Tom Holland would have made if he were making it for the first time in 2011. I can think of no greater compliment that can be paid to a remake.
The new millennium update of Fright Night was shot in digital 3D. As such this is probably a pretty 1-for-1 representation of the source material. Colors are good and strong. Flesh tones tend to the pale end of the spectrum during the day and occasionally blotchy and pinkish in scenes set during dusk. Black crush is also a bit of a problem and even in the brightly lit day scenes fine detail tends to get lost in dark areas of the screen. My biggest caveat is that some of the night scenes – the car interiors during the getaway scene, for instance - are bit murky and some objects display a small but noticeable soft haze. It sounds bad but I am really nitpicking the video presentation on this disc. This is a fine presentation, as it should be considering the film was in theatres barely four months ago.
As befitting a recent movie, Fright Night has been blessed with a 7.1 DTS-HD surround track, and it’s excellent. The rear surround channels are employed to great effect, constantly filled with music, atmosphere and panning effects. Watch the scene where Charley tries to rescue Doris; as she bursts into flame you can hear each body part as it falls to the ground and the cloud of ash swirling around in front and behind you. Awesome.
Exclusive to the Blu-ray release are 5 Deleted and Extended Scenes (4:51), which is really not as big a selling point as the packaging would have you believe. There are no extended kills, no extra violence, no nudity, no story points that are clarified…no nothing. Unless you feel that there weren’t quite enough references to Charley’s puce runners in the film proper, you can skip these time wasting deletions. Worst of all is a short scene that implies Jerry’s focus on Charley is largely due to Charley saying something that hurt Jerry’s feelings.
A missed opportunity for some in-universe content is the short Peter Vincent: Come Swim in My Mind (2:09). At first it looks like the full version of the TV promo for Peter’s stage show that opens the movie, but it’s just a brief and weird mix of footage of Tennant in character and some behind the scenes stuff.
Promising a more than it intends to deliver, The Official “How to Make a Funny Vampire Movie” Guide (8:04) is your typical EPK fluff piece. It tries to inject a bit of humor but there’s still not much to say. Not as grindingly awful as some, but still totally forgettable.
I’ve repeatedly expressed my hatred of gag reels but the collection of Bloopers (3:23) here has a couple of genuine gems and at the very least doesn’t overstay its welcome. All I can say is that David Tennant must be an absolute riot to work with.
I was a nerdy kid (like, really nerdy) and even I would have been embarrassed as shit to do the stuff in Squid Man – Extended & Uncut (2:56). I guess it’s supposed to be funny but, I dunno… it’s just kind of weird. I mean, I don’t care how nerdy you are: when you hit 16 you’re not making videos like this, you’re listening to speed metal and jerking off to Internet porn. It might’ve be a bit more charming, but no funnier, had the actors been 11 or 12.
Up to this point the supplemental package included on this disc was a total bust but the pleasant surprise at the end was the “No One Believes Me” Music Video By Kid Cudi (5:21). Obviously shot on the same sets and with the same crew as the feature, it has production values unusually high for a music video. Instead of doing the usual tie in gambit of splicing movie footage, the video instead plays up the vampiric themes of the film in newly created scenes. The imagery is a perfect complement to the song itself, which is edgy, moody and very, very good. Think of Tricky’s Maxinquay and you’re somewhere in the right neighborhood. I’d never heard of Kid Cudi before I watched this video, but this song is going to be a mainstay on my Halloween from now on.
The remake fad has pretty much played itself out at this point, and horror fans are rightly suspicious of each new redux that’s released. That’s likely a huge reason why Fright Night had such a difficult time finding an audience despite a damn near glowing critical reception. Had it come along earlier in the cycle we might now be looking to it as the high water mark for horror re-imaginings. This is really a textbook example of how to update an older film: keep the core story elements in place, give us modern interpretations of the same kinds of characters that the original had and throw us enough curveballs to keep us guessing. This is one remake that can really serve as a companion to the original; you could watch both back-to-back a not feel the second film a redundant experience.
If remake fatigue prevented you from checking out Fright Night during its theatrical run, then do yourself a favor and check it out on Blu-ray. You’ll have to be contented with the experience of the film itself since the supplements included are dead weight but, in this case, the film alone is more than enough. Recommended.
Right on the spot.
I just loved the remake for what it stands.
A great companion piece to the classic original.
I really enjoyed this film, and unlike many new films, it stands up to repeat viewings. Excellent and fun film and a great review.
I was not too sure about it but I will give it a go. It sounds like they have done an admirable job. Great review !!
I enjoyed it quite a lot. It was surprisingly one of the better remakes in recent years. If more of the remakes would be this fun, I'd welcome them.
I didn't dig this one all that much. It didn't have the charm or humor of the original, and the special fx were surprisingly dodgy. Mediocre at best...
I too enjoyed it; also a big fan of the original.
"tropical marsh", by your comment I assume you saw the remake with the original In mind. Just don´t think about the original and maybe you´ll enjoy it a lot more.
I enjoyed this one- it is one of the better remakes but it just seems to lack the heart of the original. Im not a Colin Farrell fan but I thought he was quite good.
But the acting job by Sarandon and especially Roddy Mcdowell made the first one special. To someone younger that never saw the original back in the 80s it may seem a little dated but I still think the story and acting was better in the original and I cared more about the characters in the original.
But with that said this was good and did a decent job of being its own movie with just enough winks to the original to put a smile on my face.
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