Published: August 17, 2011
Directed by Craig Gillespie
Opens Aug. 19
Hollywood’s been stuck in the grip of redo/reboot/lets-bring-back-___ mania for more than a decade now. Often, these kinda deals miss the point or just Xerox their predecessor (lookin’ at you, Gus Van Sant’s Psycho), but occasionally something like John Carpenter’s The Thing ends up being so good that it all but replaces the original. So how does Lars and the Real Girl director Craig Gillespie’s Fright Night redux score? Pretty well, believe it or not.
The original 1985 Fright Night, along with Ghostbusters and Near Dark, helped define a golden age for smart, original horror that spanned the latter part of the ’80s. Both Fright Nights follow the same Rear Window-by-way-of-Dracula premise: Dorky teenager Charley Brewster (Star Trek’s Anton Yelchin) figures out that the nice yuppie who moved in next-door is actually a bloodsucking fiend who’s snacking on the neighbors and making eyes at Charley’s girlfriend.
Gillespie’s attempt doesn’t really find its footing until the cat-and-mouse game between Charley and undead neighbor Jerry Dandrige (Colin Farrell) kicks off about 15 minutes in. Farrell, while lacking the ambiguous sexuality that Chris Sarandon played to a T in the original, is fun to watch as he switches back and forth between Ed Hardy bro and unstoppable great white shark with legs. Finding himself in over his head, Charley seeks out the help of “renowned vampire hunter” Peter Vincent (David “The Tenth Doctor” Tennant) and from there on, the movie soars. Tennant’s Peter is a mix of old and new: Here, he’s reimagined from an aging Hammer Horror-y thespian to a boozy Criss Angel analogue who headlines Vegas casinos. That sounds like a big departure, but it lets Tennant make the role his own while still keeping the cynical cowardice that Roddy McDowall brought to the part in the original.
There’s a lot to like here. Great action set pieces abound (the everything-but-the-kitchen-sink fight inside Vincent’s trophy room of supernatural weapons is inspired) and the film never takes itself too seriously. (Charley’s last-ditch effort to kill Jerry is both an “Oh shit” moment and totally absurd). More importantly, in this age of Twilight and True Blood, it’s an unapologetically straightforward vampire movie.
When it comes down to it, remakes are the movie equivalent of cover songs. Fright Night may stumble over a lyric or miss a beat, but it improvises just enough to keep your head bobbing along while it sprays you with 3D-enriched blood and guts.
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