I suppose it was inevitable, really. With the vampire craze in full swing thanks to TV shows like True Blood and The Vampire Diaries, and with the damn-near-ubiquitous-at-this-point Twilight franchise ruling at the box office and still sitting somewhere near the top of the fiction bestseller lists, it was probably only a matter of time before the creatively-stagnant-powers-that-be in Hollywood turned their attention to a remake of one of the quirkiest, most downright fun vampire movies ever made, namely writer-director (and eventual Child’s Play creator) Todd Holland’s 1985 mini-masterpiece Fright Night.
Here’s the thing, though — any “reimagining” of Holland’s film was doomed to be subpar in comparison to its progenitor almost from the word go because a big part of the original Fright Night‘s charm is that it’s such a product of its time. It’s unpretentiously, unapologetically 80s all the way, not because it was trying to be or anything, but just because, hell, that’s when it was made and they didn’t have much budget to reach for anything greater than they were capable of. It’s from that brief-but-glorious time when Hollywood decided to try to blend equal parts teen horror and teen comedy and see what it could come up with — if there was money to be made halfway between Friday The 13th and Porky’s, if you will.
The answer, ultimately, was “some, but not enough to keep it going,” but in both the sort and the long runs the fusion-formula gamble paid off , and continues to pay off, for us genre fans with classics like Holland’s film and Fred Decker’s superb Night Of The Creeps.
That, however, was then, and this, needless to say, is now. And what has the now brought us?
Well, something of a “close-but-no-cigar,” I’m afraid.
Director Craig Gillespie (best known for the indie-hit Lars And The Real Girl) really does seem to have his heart in the right place here, and some of the “modernizing” touches, such as setting the story in a typically barren suburban Las Vegas cul-de-sac, work quite well (Vegas has a transient population and it’s not entirely out of place to see a house with blacked-out windows because so many people work night and need to sleep when it’s light out) — and some of the casting choices are damn-near brilliant, to be honest. Colin Farrell as vampire-next-door Jerry is out-of-this-world menacingly cool and oozes dangerous charisma throughout. When he’s hanging out just on the other side of the doorway of our ertswhile teen hero Charley (Anton Yelchin)’s house because he hasn’t been invited in, the tension’s palpable as he quite clearly is trying to ingratiate himself to the point where Charley tells him “hey, man, come on in” but is also trying to suss out whether our intrepid adolescent has figured out who and what he really is. It’s a highlight-reel moment in a (no shit here people) Oscar-worthy performance from Farrell.
And on the supporting actor front — recasting Roddy MacDowall’s legendary Peter Vincent character as a Criss Angel Mindfreak-type Vegas performer rather than a washed-up TV horror host is another stroke of pure genius, as was casting Doctor Who alum David Tennant in the role. Essentially he’s just playing the Tenth Doctor with a substance abuse problem (and, it’s strongly hinted, the sexual dysfunction issues that often go along with that), but it works and it’s a hell of a lot fun.
It’s in the rest of the casting, though, that the big cracks in this flick begin to show. First off, Anton Yelchin is just a straight-up bore as Charley, and nowhere near as interesting, or even mildly sympathetic, as a lead needs to be. He just never gives you much of any reason to give a shit whether or not he, and by extension through him everyone he loves, gets killed. So that’s a bit of a bummer. He’s not even so much actively bad as he is just crushingly bland. And the same can be aid for his supposedly too-hot-for-him, entirely-out-of-his-league girlfriend, Amy, played by Imogen Poots (today’s winner of the “celebrity-names-that-are-too-fucking-clever-by-half award, runner-up being Miranda July), who (sorry to be superficial, but) isn’t all that outrageously hot and more importantly isn’t all that good an actress. And finally, we’ve got Toni Collette slumming is as Charley’s mom (quite an international cast here, by the way — Collette’s Australian, Yelchin’s Russian, Tennant and Poots are British, and Farrell’s Irish), who’s serviceable enough, but this role is too blase for an actress of consequence like her to be messing with.
And lastly on the poor casting and performances front, and this one really hurts — Christopher Mintz-Plasee, McLovin himself, absolutely sucks as the 2001 version of Evil Ed. Granted, the script absolutely wrecks the character from the outset, turning a likable geek from the original into an asshole geek in this one, but even still, Mintz-Plasse is so unconvincing as a prick-ish nerd, and even more unconvincing one’s he’s “turned” by Jerry, that even a better-written character wouldn’t have stood a chance.
The other big flaw with this film is the script itself. the pacing just seems off from the start and when the film’s earlier attempts at blending some comedy into the mix, as the original did so effortlessly, are abandoned, we end up with a flick that takes itself way too seriously when at the outset it seemed like it wanted to plant its tongue firmly in its cheek. The massive, cop-out, deus ex machina-type plot device that resolves everything at the conclusion is impossibly lame, too, and probably made David Tennant feel right at home because it’s just the sort of mega-big, but mega-cheap-and-obvious ending that Russell T. Davies used to wrap up every season of Doctor Who with.
All that being said, there’s slightly more good than bad here on the whole, especially if you see it in 3-D (and yes, this was actually shot in 3-D rather than having it added in post-production, so there are some really cool, old-school 3-D style moments), and hey, you even get a cameo by the original Jerry himself, Chris Sarandon, so all is not lost by any means. But it sure comes close. Gillespie and crew seem to either lose sight of, or change their minds about, exactly what type of film they’re making here at right about the halfway mark, and make the rather perplexing choice to bury the fun under the grim way past the point where they ever had much chance of actually scaring us very much, and the result is a movie that tries to be more than it has any business being, and consequently, and ironically, ends up being so much less. in short, it’s tough to go for pure thrills, chills, and gore when you start off letting us know we needn’t take anything here too seriously. Either stick with trying to blend horror and comedy from start to finish, as the original did so successfully, or just go with one or the other. And hey, if you ‘re absolutely determined to convince us that suddenly,out of nowhere, this now-dark-and-humorless world has consequences, don’t insult our intelligence by telegraphing an obviously consequence-free ending (remember that deus ex machina I mentioned a second ago?) while there’s still a good half hour left to go.
Don’t get me wrong — as remakes go, this could have been a lot worse (most are), but to see a movie that really does seem to get where it’s coming and have an equally solid idea of where it’s going suddenly become so thoroughly and completely lost thanks to some ill-advised, and out-of-the-blue, tonal shifts just when it seemed to be in a position to really hit its stride is a real head-scratcher. Gillespie just about had a film here that you could happily compare to its predecessor, as with Let Me In/Let the Right One In (just for the sake of a recent comparison in the vampire genre), but the whole thing really loses it focus, and its heart, when it decides to ditch the fun and start taking itself seriously for no discernible reason whatsoever. Some of the actors, most notably Farrell, who’s just plain dynamite here, really deserve better than to have their self-assured, supremely confident work lost inside a movie that can’t quite decide what it wants to be.