A Season of Vamps: “Fright Night” (2011) review

A rare remake that's worth your time...

(MILD SPOILERS from herein for the new version)

As noted in my previous post, I’m quite a fan of Tom Holland’s 1985 comic horror gem, “Fright Night.  It was genre-aware long before such a thing was fashionable, scary in the right places whilst never being frightened to bring the funny and had characters subject to memorably unpleasant, feral vampire transformations – not so much a case of sporting one or two pronounced fangs as protagonists suddenly looking, well, like this:

Edward Cullen and his photogenic clan of Gap Bloodsuckers this isn’t.

That said, the new “Fright Night”, as directed by Craig Gillespie finds itself entering a cultural space in which vampires have never been more popular but that popularity has arguably come at the expense of some of their credibility and fear-inducing iconography.  Also the vampire in literature has always been a popular conduit for discussing forbidden desire, repressed sexuality and ideas of body horror, the romantic side of the mythos is quite the thing latterly, whether it takes the form of eternal emo teen Edward in Stephenie Meyer’s “Twilight” novels , the sexy southern gentleman bloodsucker Bill Compton of Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse books or the tortured angst of Angel in Joss Whedon’s “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Angel” series.

Where to go, then?  Go into the same territory as “30 Days of Night” and make the vampire an implacable, terrifying, predatory threat or make your anti-hero ruggedly handsome and just hope that there’s enough of a vampire fan base to let your guy chomp his way into their hearts?

Hmm. You would, wouldn't you?

To its credit, this iteration of “Fright Night” manages to make its night walking antagonist Jerry, played splendidly by Colin Farrell, into a threat who is both charming and genuinely dangerous, using his rogue’s persona to good effect as a way of ensnaring victims, entrancing would-be enemies and putting the authorities off the scent.  He’s a rougher, more working class guy than I remember Chris Sarandon as being in the original film – this Jerry is a jeans-wearing and six-pack of Budweiser kind of bloke, a fellow who “works nights” on the Vegas strip.   He’s a world away from the refined, elegantly attired, ‘old world’ blood drinker of the Lestat school – he’s the sort of dude you expert you see working on his car in the driveway of his sub-division home, cranking Alice in Chains on the stereo.

Vegas is another change in this version, which is expertly written by “Buffy”/“Angel”veteran, Marti Noxon, and it’s an inspired choice.  The suburban neighbourhood under threat in this version is out in the middle of nowhere, which makes for some striking photography and compositions by cinematographer Javier Aguirresarobe, who intriguingly also shot both “New Moon” and “Eclipse” in the “Twilight” series.

Imogen Poots, as Amy, in "Fright Night".

In many ways, “Fright Night” is the best kind of remake.  It takes a much-loved horror comedy and updates it for a contemporary audience without negating the original’s qualities in any way.  The effects work is slightly more elaborate, as befits the CGI era, without going too far into the realm of Flubber-like virtual characters who suspend the viewers belief immediately.  The script is deliciously smart and multi-layered, giving Anton Yelchin’s Charley an interesting arc and a believable, quite charming relationship with his girlfriend, Amy – the oft-underused but always excellent Imogen Poots.

The alterations made to the characters and their motivations are often inspired, never less so than in the case of Peter Vincent, played so memorably in 1985 by the late Roddy McDowell and in this version by the abso-bloody-lutely hilarious David Tennant.

He’s half Criss Angel, half Russell Brand, somewhat of a fraudulent jackass and a an absolute hoot to watch whenever he’s on screen.  In this version, Vincent is a Vegas theatre illusionist rather than the TV horror movie host he was previously but the change allows for many excellent jabs at the artifice of illusion and the cosplay-like nature of a rock-star wannabe like Angel.

I have no idea whether he is as much of a buffoon as Vincent is in this new version but the influence of the self-described ‘Mind Freak’ is so clear that it’s impossible not to erase him from your mind whenever Tennant’s camping it up in leather trousers and bolting for safety at the first sign of supernatural trouble.

"You have to have faith for that to work".

What we have here is a remake which respects the original film but is never in thrall to it.  It expands the canvas whilst keeping the things which worked and improving on them in some ways.  It has a superb cast, genuine moments of unnerving tension, clever and creepy ideas (the holding cells in Jerry’s house – I don’t know why, but the idea just gives me the proverbial wiggins) and a sense of humour which is both up to date (yes, there is a gentle jab at Stephenie Meyer;s fan base) and genuinely funny.

TL: DR version? If you like vampires, see this.  If you like the principal cast, definitely see this.  If you enjoyed the original, see this.  It’s great.

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