Let’s get it out of the way: Hollywood makes way, WAY too many remakes and reboots. There was no need for Rob Zombie to re-do Halloween, no need for a “re-imagining” of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and no matter how much you like Jackie Chan we didn’t need to re-do The Karate Kid. We certainly don’t need the planned remakes of Flashdance, Dirty Dancing, and—god only help us all—Blade Runner. So naturally there was considerable skepticism and even downright anger to hear that, thanks to a script by Marti Noxon (who was famously a writer for Buffy the Vampire Slayer), and the direction of Craig Gillespie, we were getting a re-make of 80’s cult favorite Fright Night. (It didn’t help that Craig Gillespie is known for directing Lars and the Real Girl and The United States of Tara with no background in horror/action films).
But the verdict is in. While the 2011 Fright Night pays sly homage to its source material, (including a cameo appearance by the much beloved Chris Sarandon), it does find a tone and voice of its very own. For one thing, knowing that it would be blasphemy to retread the same haunted romanticism of Sarandon’s original portrayal of Jerry (and knowing that this territory is quite frankly overdone these days anyway in Twilight and The Vampire Diaries), Colin Farrell’s Jerry goes in an all new direction; he’s a straight up beer swilling, womanizing, muscle laden, construction working, hyper-masculine monster. As a would be vampire killer puts it: “He’s not all broody, heartbroken, or noble! He’s the shark from Jaws! He kills and kills until everyone around him is dead!” In fact, we get some awesome effects when we see Jerry’s true form resembles a lamprey. Instead of being a hoary Bela Lugosi style host for “A Crypt Keeper type show” (played so memorably by the late, great Roddy McDowell), Peter Vincent is a Criss Angel style magician in a Vegas penthouse. David Tennant (Doctor Who) in the role is a complete scene stealer. Foul mouthed, hard drinking, cowardly, and utterly compelling. Toni Collette does a nice turn as well as Charlie’s mother Jane.
Fright Night begins right off with a massacre; there’s no fooling around and that sets the stage for the kind of vampire film this is going to be—the kind where vampires don’t do interviews, or discuss their feelings, but actually eat people. We are then treated to panoramic views of a subdivision of identical houses in the Las Vegas area; they’re all ticky tacky and they’re all just the same. Only one of the new neighbors, Jerry (Colin Farrell) isn’t just the same as Charlie Brewster (played with appealing sensitivity by Anton Yelchin) soon finds out. Charlie may have had some issues even before Jerry’s arrival; we soon find that Charlie was once a full blown geek type who did Farscape conventions and role played as “Squid Boy” in homemade videos before deserting his former friends for the siren call of popularity and a hot new girlfriend, Amy (Imogen Poots). This Amy, sadly, doesn’t make as good an impression as the original one played with appealing wholesomeness and nervous energy by Amanda Bearse. All Imogen has to do in the movie is look iconic in a bloodstained white dress-which admittedly she does well.
Fright Night scores some impressive action sequences that are all the more fun for the actual logic applied to them. Too often in such movies the whole concept depends on some character doing something idiotic that puts them right in the monster’s path. In this film, the characters can behave perfectly sensibly (calling the police when they hear a scream, and refusing to invite the potentially dangerous person in) and they still get in trouble because monsters can be quite ingenious. I won’t spoil the final sequence except to say that it’s a dream and depends on our young hero Charlie’s being pretty ingenious himself—and gutsy. The movie is a good blend of camp, gore, and teenage angst, with some surprisingly good social commentary about the mega suburbs that seem to have devoured the Southwestern United States. So if you’re looking for a solidly entertaining R-rated monster flick to escape the August doldrums, look no farther.