I’m an unabashedly huge fan of the 1985 film “Fright Night.” I watched it constantly as a teen, owned the VHS tape and the poster and could quote it at random. Even today I’m wearing an “Evil Ed” t-shirt as I write this review. However, there’s two things that bug the hell out of me when discussing remakes in a review and I want to mention them now so you, the reader, can know where I’m coming from.
The first is when a review does nothing but compare the original to the remake. If you want to do an article that does that, awesome. I love reading stuff like that but it’s not really a review. I think a review of a remake should be a review of that film and not a back and forth battle between the old and new. So in this review of the 2011 film “Fright Night,” I’m going to try to steer away from references to the older version.
The other irritating thing about discussing remakes is when people act as though every beloved film of their youth is somehow untouchable and the mere thought of a remake is an indignant smear on the face of art. Let’s be honest here; for as fun, creepy, campy and awesome as the original “Fright Night” is, it’s certainly no piece of high-art. There are many, many films which were made by masters of the craft and the idea of remaking them is preposterous, insulting and silly but “Fright Night” is not one of those films. Now that we have a nice tidy list of what I’m not going to be doing, let’s get on with the review.
Charley Brewster (Yelchin) is a high schooler in suburban Las Vegas who is just beginning to understand what kind of man he wants to be. He’s made the decision to leave behind the world of geekery he shared with childhood friend “Evil” Ed (Mintz-Plasse) and has scored a gorgeous girlfriend in Amy (Poots), which no doubt has expedited his decision to leave behind childish things. Yet Charley is mired in self-doubt in these new “big boy” clothes and is unsure why Amy likes him, where he now fits in socially and who he is supposed to be.
Ed on the other hand is unwilling to let go of his nerdy world of superheroes, video games and monster movies. He’s proud of who he is and as such is not letting Charley blow him off. As if the push and pull Charley feels between the old him and the new “mature” one isn’t strong enough, classmates start disappearing and Ed is pushing the idea that the responsible party is Charley’s new neighbor Jerry (Farrell), a vampire dining on suburban Vegas families. Jerry is indeed a bit creepy and has already begun to hone in on Charley’s single mother (Collette) as well as putting off the scent of a sleazy player who is ready, willing and able to get down with any lady he can–including Amy.
While the idea from the wild imagination of Ed that Jerry is the walking dead once again places Charley at odds with the old and new him, he’s eventually coerced (blackmailed, really) into spying on Jerry who, as it indeed turns out, is a vampire. But armed with this information, what’s an insecure high school boy to do? Charley turns to bombastic Las Vegas magician-by-way-of-vampire-hunter, Peter Vincent (Tennant) to help him bring down the dread vampire Jerry.
While not perfect and rife with silly plot holes, I really enjoyed “Fright Night.” The strengths of the film are in the believable story-line where it touches on Charley trying to break free from his younger self to become a man. In short: Charley needs to stop playing with magic cards and making superhero YouTube movies if he’d like to start getting laid. It’s a moment in almost every young man’s life and I totally related to it. While other parts of the story are far-fetched, at the end of the day this is a vampire movie. In and of themselves vampire movies are silly and campy.
While the vamps contained within “Fright Night” are pretty freaky and sport a nasty mouth of multi-layered, shark-like teeth, vampires have never really been the monster most folks fear when the lights go down. I guess what I’m saying is I can live with camp and light storylines and vampires don’t freak me out like, say, clowns do. But “Fright Night” also succeeds by having a strong arc of Charley becoming a man and stumbling along the way. He’s a real dick to Ed and his inability to gain some confidence starts pushing Amy away. While I won’t go so far as to say there’s a major subtext to this film, Jerry in many ways represents the more confident guy lurking around every corner who’s willing to take what those who hesitate won’t.
I also loved this cast. Yelchin is highly likeable as Charley but he also has to play the straight man role to the madness around him. Farrell as Jerry goes big on the scuzz and always remains a step or two away from chewing scenery while remaining a believable threat. On the flip side, Tennant as Peter Vincent not only crosses that scenery chewing line, he vaults it from the get-go and has a blast basically parodying Johnny Depp as a Midori-swilling phony with a dark past. Poots is super-hot as she parades around in skimpy clothes while evidently in heat, pushing herself on Charley at every turn (who exercises some pretty amazing restraint). The only weak link in the cast is Mintz-Plasse.
I hate to get on the bandwagon and sell an actor short but here, once again, he’s playing McLovin from “Superbad” with the only variation being in character background. It was fading fast over the course of “Role Models” and “Kick-A*s” but now it’s done and I’m over it. Hey, maybe the guy is a one note actor or maybe that’s just who he is and he’s not acting at all. But I don’t need to see this character again and I hope Mintz-Plasse can move forward in his career and show another side because I’m uninterested in any more McLovin.
I know I said I would steer away from talking about the original but the best way to encapsulate this new version of “Fright Night” is to say it adheres to the same basic plot as the original but injects it with steroids. Everything here is bigger, faster and stronger. Jerry comes after Charley and his family and friends rather than the rather coy cat and mouse game in the original. The girls are hotter, the kills are bloodier and even the high-camp and sense of fun adventure from the original is cranked to eleven. “Fright Night” is a lively film that doesn’t take itself too seriously and as a result is alot of fun if you can just let go of the original and enjoy the ride.