Children of the Night, by Kyle Anderson
Vampire films these days are usually the sappy romance kind or the too-serious-for-its-own-good kind. But horror movies can be scary and fun, something many filmmakers seem to have forgotten. Back in 1985, there was a movie called Fright Night about a kid who believes his dashing neighbor to be a vampire and this film was high on both humor and horror, a novel idea. Well, here it is 2011 and, no doubt bolstered by the success of all the vampire dramas, they’ve decided to remake Fright Night, which could easily have ended in disaster for fans of the original. It would have been very easy to make the film just as overwrought and melodramatic as other films about bloodsuckers, but that would have blown a golden opportunity. Luckily, this remake, directed by Craig Gillespie, holds onto the mixture of funny and fangs the original had while updating and changing the necessary elements. It is, however, in 3D, which will be judged on its own merits later.
Fright Night tells the story of high-schooler Charley Brewster (Anton Yelchin) who lives with his mother, Jane (Toni Collette) in the suburbs in the middle of the desert just outside of Las Vegas. There’ve been a rash of missing kids in Charley’s classes and his nerdy former best friend “Evil Ed” Lee (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) believes it to be the work of the Brewster’s new neighbor, the handsome and suave Jerry (Colin Farrell). Charley left the fantasy world he and Ed had some years ago when he became cool and started dating Amy (the improbably named Imogen Poots) and flatly doesn’t believe Ed’s warnings about Jerry. When Ed goes missing too and Charley witnesses some supernatural activity himself, he has no choice but to act, attempting to enlist the help of Goth Vegas magician and self-proclaimed vampire expert, Peter Vincent (David Tennant). Whether or not Charley has the wherewithal to save his mother and girlfriend from a 400-year old undead monster, he’s going to succeed or die trying.
In order for a premise such as this to be believable, one needs good people working on it. The screenplay was written by “Buffy” writing alum Marti Noxon, who knows a thing or three about vampire scripts. Her script is quick and punchy and the dialogue is sharp while still having plenty of scares and action. One complaint would be that there wasn’t enough intrigue about whether Jerry really was a vampire or if Charley is just imagining it, something the original played with quite well. We pretty much know from the minute he’s on screen that Jerry is the bad guy and so does every other character. Didn’t ruin the movie, just a missed opportunity. The direction was handled by Craig Gillespie, who up to this point had only directed two feature films, Lars and the Real Girl and Mr. Woodcock, both in 2007. While he doesn’t have the experience with either horror or adventure films, he has done character-driven awk-coms which really benefit him here. The film is properly atmospheric and the desert landscape really adds to the eeriness of cookie-cutter neighborhoods and vampire menaces. The makeup and gore effects were done by KNB Effects masters Greg Nicotero and Howard Berger, who do really great, innovative work in everything they do, here included.
As quirky as the subject matter and script are, you need a really first-class cast to be able to pull it off effectively and for the most part, Fright Night succeeds wonderfully. Farrell is properly charming and creepy at the same time and he channels a rabid dog throughout. Collette and Poots do their jobs quite well of being the sort-of-hip mother and the out-of-his-league girlfriend, respectively, and manage to turn relatively thin characters on the page into real, engaging people. Mintz-Plasse again plays the token nerd and frankly he’s done it better in other movies. He’s humorous enough at the beginning, but by the end, he just spouts one clichéd line after another. The real standouts in the cast, and they for sure do stand out, are Yelchin and Tennant. Yelchin’s Charley knows the ridiculousness of the situation but also knows the gravity it has and plays the bewilderment quite well. He’s a hero who’s not sure he ought to be one. Tennant as the rude, alcohol-guzzling stage magician Peter Vincent is truly fantastic. As the most different to his 1985 counterpart, Tennant is arrogant and foul-mouthed and is able to be the comic relief and the wise one at the same time. The interplay between Tennant and Yelchin really propel the movie forward and, though he doesn’t appear until the middle of the second act, Tennant’s presence is felt from the get-go and has a really nice arc.
As mentioned previously, this film is in 3D. While most of the shots are impressive with the use of three-dimensions for depth of field, the typical jump-out-at-you things are just that: typical. Even in movies where the 3D is well done, it still relies too heavily on the shock moments which smacks of gimmick, like the studio didn’t think the film was interesting enough on its own. Nothing new is accomplished with it and, let’s face it, Avatar it’s not. One scene in particular where they tried to do something innovative involved the camera movie 360-degrees inside a driving automobile for an extended period of time while things are being thrown at it and a vampire in a Dodge Ram crashes into them. This whole thing just looked far too fake and was nothing like the feel of the rest of the movie.
For those who enjoy old-school horror movies without much subtext but a lot of humor and violence, Fright Night is a very fun way to spend 90 minutes in the theater. See it for the cast alone and you’ll be happy. If you feel like seeing it in 3D, it’s not horrible, just be prepared for stuff to fly at you. However many D’s you choose, I highly recommend seeing this movie. Hopefully it gets Hollywood to start giving vampires their fangs back.