Welcome to Fright Night, circa 2011. Despite being yet another in a long line of classic ‘80s horror flicks that didn’t really need to be remade in the first place, Craig Gillsespie’s (Lars and the Real Girl) reinterpretation of the saga of young Charlie Brewster and his shocking revelation about his nefarious new neighbor, Jerry Dandridge, nevertheless succeeds through killer casting, a hip, new screenplay (courtesy of Buffy alum, Marti Noxon), and a wicked infusion of cutting-edge FX and whiz-bang 3-D visuals that elevate what could have been a ho-hum remake to must-see status.
Caution! There be spoilers ahead!
No longer the eccentric horror hound that spends his nights watching vintage creature features, Charlie Brewster (Anton Yelchin) is, instead, a former-geek who, with the aid of acne medication and a smart new wardrobe, has blossomed into a confidant, handsome, and popular teenager. With a new circle of friends, including white-hot girlfriend, Amy (Imogen Poots), Charlie’s days of Farspace conventions and live action role playing are as dead to him as his still-exceptionally geeky former best friend, “Evil” Ed (Christoper Mintz-Plasse).
When the mysterious Jerry Dandridge (Colin Farrell) moves into the house next door, Charlie sees him as yet another Vegas transient; a charming-yet-secretive man who works nights on the Vegas strip. Charlie doesn’t think anything of him, although it’s more than apparent his mother, Jane (Toni Collette), and Amy are both smitten. Ed, however, has news for Charlie about his handsome new neighbor. Jerry Dandridge is a vampire, and Ed’s got the evidence to prove it. Of course, the old Charlie may have been intrigued by Ed’s story, but not this new and improved version. He’s worked hard to shed his geek-past, and isn’t about to let Ed bring him kicking and screaming back into his world. However, when Ed threatens to share an incriminating video of Charlie’s former alter-ego, “Squid Boy”, Charlie has no choice but to aid Ed in finding a missing friend who Ed claims to be a victim of Jerry. Their search reveals nothing except the very reasons Charlie stopped hanging around with Ed in the first place, and the two part acrimoniously, leaving Ed to make his way home alone, where he’s confronted by Jerry, who makes him an offer he literally can’t refuse.
Later that same night, Jerry pays Charlie a visit that makes him reconsider Ed’s story. He soon becomes obsessed with his neighbor’s nocturnal activities, and, once he, too, realizes what Jerry really is, he seeks the aid of the one man he thinks can help him; the renowned occult magician, Peter Vincent (David Tennant). Of course, Vincent – a Vegas performer who is equal parts Chris Angel and Van Helsing -proves to be little more than a charlatan. Or is he? From here on out, Gillespie’s film remains relatively faithful to its inspiration, in which Charlie and Peter must work together to rid the world of the parasitic Dandridge, and save the woman Charlie loves.
I was presold on this Fright Night remake simply based on the casting of Farrell, who, in addition to being one of the most engaging screen presences of his generation, is also a well-documented lothario off-camera, and the role of the seductive Dandridge seemed one that the bushy-browed thesp was tailor-made for. Farrell doesn’t disappoint, imbuing his Jerry with both charm and charisma as well as a palpable sense of menace. From his breathless line delivery to the way he sniffs at the air, it's obvious that this Jerry is a feral beast barely contained by his fragile human façade; a total about face from the reluctant-to-kill romantic portrayed by Chris Sarandon (who also appears in a hilarious cameo) in the original.
At first, Charlie’s character looks to be nearly as much of a sea-change as Dandridge, but, by the film’s conclusion, we see that he’s once again embraced the spirit of imagination of his suppressed inner-geek, and becomes a closer approximation of the Charlie Brewster we all know and love. Yelchin does a fine job navigating Charlie through being the person he wants to be and the one he really is, and I think it was smart writing on Noxon’s part to have Charlie undergo this process, especially when paired with the excellent Christoper Mintz-Plasse. When the two actors share the screen, especially during their inevitable showdown, there’s a real sense of loss and sadness. Charlie turned his back on one of the most important people in his young life, and, just when he’s felt he’s reconnected with him on some level, he’s forced to turn on him again. It’s subtle stuff, but no less effective.
David Tenant, meanwhile, steals every scene he's in as Peter Vincent. Now a superstar magician with a headlining show on the Vegas strip, Vincent is an abrasive, Midori-swilling, leather-clad phony who spends his days holed-up in his penthouse digs decorated with all manner of arcane objects and gothic bric-a-brac. Unlike Roddy McDowell’s fading star, this Vincent is a diva at the top of his game, but, behind the alcohol-infused bravado, there’s a man who not only believes Charlie’s story; he’s experienced it for himself, leading him to retreat into a world of fantasy, illusion, and self-medication. Tenant's oh-so-British exposition and exquisite comedic timing (not to mention the Geek-cred earned from his now-legendary run as Doctor Who) will certainly make him a fan favorite character, but should also turn more than a few heads in Hollywood.
Gillespie seemed like an odd choice to helm a spirited comedy/horror revival given his previous work, but the director proves he is more than up to the task, making this a much scarier, darker, and more intense film than the original, yet also managing to keep the laughs coming with well-placed sight gags, and a talent for letting his actors carry the film when the situation calls for it. In lesser hands, subtleties like Dandridge’s “Hey Now” demeanor and sleazy gesturing and Vincent’s flustered reactions would be lost amidst the 3-D blood splatter and camera acrobatics. That doesn’t mean Fright Night isn’t a visually impressive film; it’s exceptionally so, with one scene in particular – an in-vehicle sequence in which the camera continuously pans around Jane’s mini-van whilst Jerry is in pursuit – standing out as something I think horror fans will be talking about for years to come. Very highly recommended!
While I still consider a remake of a film that’s still as entertaining and well-made as Tom Holland’s 1985 original unnecessary, it is the sort of movie that lends itself to updating, especially in today’s vampire-obsessed pop-culture climate. The good news is that Craig Gillespie has managed to make a movie that both honors the original and even improves upon it in some ways (I especially liked this much more sadistic Jerry Dandridge and the improved character arc afforded to Charlie), delivering a funny, scary, and extremely entertaining example of a remake done right. Highly recommended!