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Fright Night

August 21, 2011
Fright Night

If you’re in your thirties or forties now and you watched horror movies growing up, you love Fright Night. This much is not up for debate. The original film was one of the greatest horror films in the ’80s, expertly blending vampires, high schoolers, and suburban angst. Tom Holland left some big shoes for Craig Gillespie to fill with his remake of Fright Night, and for once I can say that the remake has risen to the challenge.

Charley Brewster (Anton Yelchin) lives with his mother, Jane (Toni Collette) in a new-but-faltering housing development in the desert at the periphery of Las Vegas. He grew up sort of a dweeb with his best friend Ed (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), but he’s trying to put that life behind him. He’s actually doing a fairly decent job of it, even landing Amy (Imogen Poots), one of the school’s hotter girls.

And then Jerry Dandrige (Colin Farrell) moves in next door and people start disappearing. Jerry is a vampire; no bones are made about this fact. This is not a mystery story, slowly working out is-he-or-isn’t-he. He’s got fangs, doesn’t show up in mirrors or on video, has a terrible photosensitive skin condition, and he eats people. Ed picks up on it right away, but he can’t get Charley to believe him, at least not until he too fails to show up at school and Charley realizes something sinister might be going on.

Las Vegas is actually a pretty great place for a vampire. For one thing, there are plenty of people who work at night, so it’s not unusual to have the windows blacked-out. For another thing, it’s got a very transient population, so if people disappear it’s not much cause for concern.

The little exurb miles from the main city is also pretty well isolated, and people are moving through even more frequently after the collapse of the housing market. And it’s exactly this unease that the film plays on, just as so many ’80s suburban horror movies played on that era’s perception of weakening of neighborhood structures.

Charley, of course, is ill-equipped to fight a vampire on his own, so he seeks out the help of Peter Vincent (David Tennant), who in this incarnation is a Las Vegas stage magician with an occult-inspired act entitled — you guessed it — Fright Night. But Vincent is less than enthusiastic about putting his collection of historical artifacts to any practical use. Charley must defend his mother, his girlfriend, and himself as best he can.

Now, this is far from a shot-for-shot remake of the original film; there are many places where the two diverge. Some sequences are left out entirely, while other new ones are inserted. And yet it never feels like things are being changed just for change’s sake, though sometimes they show off Gillespie’s talent — I’m thinking here of the wonderfully long, cramped takes in the minivan sequence. In fact, some things actually work better in the second pass; why did a suburb have a house that looks like a small castle on the inside, anyway?

The biggest change, of course, is the special effects. Updating them can be done badly or look silly — consider the re-release of the original _Star Wars_ trilogy with all-new explodey bits — but I’m going to call this one a definite improvement. Using computer graphics rather than prosthetics for the bigmouth effects, in particular, gives a much more detailed and nuanced result. It actually enhances the creepiness of the actors’ performances to be able to use the transition rather than hide it by turning their back and cutting to another shot with a mask on.

Speaking of creepiness, Farrell absolutely nails it. Where Chris Sarandon — who has a great cameo — played more of a genteel sort who charmed his way in close enough for his kills, Farrell is barely more than an animal with just enough of a human skin to provide cover. Even when he’s acting friendly, he shows off these vicious, cold, dead eyes. This is what a vampire is supposed to be. He’s not introspective or brooding or sparkly or misunderstood; he’s like Jaws — a monstrous killing machine that does not stop until either he or everyone else around him is dead.

Worth It: yes.
Bechdel Test: fail.

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