With many of the major bases covered (Freddy, Michael, Jason), there’s not a lot of great and/or successful horror movies from the 1970’s and 1980’s left to be remade. Oh, there are still tons of films from that era of genre, but it seems that name recognition is a greater driving factor than the films themselves. So it’s no surprise they got around to remaking 1985’s Fright Night, a film that did for vampires what Scream did for slasher films by gently playing with the conventions while reinventing it for a new generation (albeit much more subtly).
And with True Blood, etc. there’s a lot of vampirism in modern culture, so on that level it’s a fitting time for the remake. Craig Gillespie directs the 2011 version, which takes the premise of the original in some interesting and not so interesting directions. Anton Yelchin stars as the boy next door who sees his neighbor (Colin Ferrell) as something of a threat, only for him to be a real life vampire. Imogene Poots, Toni Collette, David Tenant and Christopher Mintz-Plasse co-star. Our review of the 3-D Blu-ray follows after the jump.
Yelchin plays Charlie Brewster, who has been dating Amy (Poots) in partly an attempt to reform himself from his nerdy past. He’s still haunted by old friend “Evil” Ed (Mintz-Plasse) who is convinced his neighbor Jerry Dandridge (Ferrell) is a vampire. Charlie doesn’t believe him, but also doesn’t like the way Jerry looks at his mom (Collette). When Ed goes missing, Charlie tries to follow the clues Ed left about how to deal with a vampire, which leads him to Peter Vincent (Tenant) – a Vegas stage magician with a fascination with the occult and girl drinks. But when Charlie breaks into Jerry’s house, he understands the truth: The man is a vampire. But as he does so he puts himself on Jerry’s radar.
All the innovations of this version of Fright Night are a one step forward two steps back problem. Setting the film in Las Vegas is ingenious because it’s a drifter’s town and what better place for people to go missing? It’s a great set up for sure, though that’s just a detail. Unfortunately in reconfiguring its characters, they don’t go far enough or don’t walk the same path. In the original Ed and Charlie and friends, here their relationship is over because Charlie wants to be normal now that he’s dating. But later on the girlfriend accepts his geek side, so his nervousness about his old friends makes the main character look like an asshole, which could have been paid off better if their reunion had the weight of tragedy (it doesn’t).
Alas, there’s some good cut material included on the Blu-ray where Charlie’s behavior is dictated by his girlfriend, which would have given a better backbone to the film. And the film suggests that Ed might be a friend worth dumping, so it’s unfortunate that the film has Ed be the person who discovers the vampire. In the original, Charlie was distracted from having sex for the first time by two strange men moving in next door (and there is an undercurrent of homosexuality to the first film which partly turned the film into a cult classic), but here it’s not Charlie’s discovery nor something that interests him until it proves dangerous. Which makes for a lame main character.
The concept of the new Peter Vincent isn’t that bad, but as Charlie has no connection to or interest in him, it never has the same rational as the original. There Vincent was an old horror movie star reduced to hosting horror movies, here they have to give him a vampire backstory that would be great if it paid off well – it would have been good if the film turned him into the main character for the conclusion because he’s got the better motivation, but the film futzes that. The people who care and are most alert are shuffled to the side in an attempt to reconfigure the narrative and it works against the film.
That said, there’s some good ideas here and there: the sequence where Charlie breaks into Jerry’s house is well-staged, tense, and has a great punchline. Farrell is definitely having fun; it’s good to have him back in the mainstream. Farrell’s a good actor that got saddled – as many have – with being the hot new thing (if you doubt his talents, just watch In Bruges), but acting-wise the highlights of the film are Tenant and Mintz-Plasse. Mintz-Plasse in particular is a great little shit of an old friend, and he gets lots of the film’s best lines, though Tenant is also charming as a buffoonish glammed-out lush. It’s also worth noting that Jerry’s solution to not being able to enter a house uninvited and the film’s big gear shift are welcome, but they’re followed by a sequence that feels like it needed a little more rehearsal and money: there’s a car pursuit that’s so clunky it hurts, and how that sequence goes on asks the audience to forget that there are cops and an outside world, on top of stopping the film dead for a cameo from the original film.
The film bombed, so I feel a little sorry for the good in the film, though with such great material to draw on, it’s hard not to be disappointed with the end results. With the glut on non-great remakes, perhaps we can get remakes of remakes that solve their problems.
Touchstone/Dreamworks have released the film on Blu-ray in a two-disc and three disc 3-D versions. The 3-D in the film is fine, and plays about as well at home as it did in the theaters, but the dark settings work against the film. The film was shot in native 3-D and that may be why the picture quality is a little lesser than other recent films in its 2-D incarnation. It looks just okay in either version. The film is presented in widescreen (1.78:1) and in DTS-HD 7.1 surround, and the sound quality is much better than the picture quality. Also included is the film on DVD and a digital copy. Extras include “Peter Vincent: Come Swim in my Blood” (2 min), which jokes on Vincent’s character, the making of featurette “The Official ‘How to Make a Funny Vampire Movie’ Guide” (8 min) five deleted or extended scenes (5 min), the in-film movie “Squid Man: Extended & Uncut” (3 min), Bloopers (3 min) and a Kid Cudi music video.