Last night, the Alamo Drafthouse held another one of its typically-awesome, film-geektastic events, this one in support of Craig Gillespie’s forthcoming Fright Night redux. Starring Anton Yelchin, Colin Farrell, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, David Tennant, and the ridiculously hot Imogen Poots, the 2011 model of Fright Night bears many similarities to Tom Holland’s 1985 Fright Night…and a few drastic differences. As it turns out, I managed to catch a screening of Fright Night ’85 just a few weeks ago, so the original was fresh on my mind. Was Gillespie’s film a worthy successor, or is Fright Night 2011 another useless remake? Find out after the jump, folks…
When the Alamo Drafthouse works alongside a studio to deliver a pre-screening of a film, they go all out: they don’t just screen the new-film-in-question, they allow you to wallow in it. Take, for instance, the Your Highness screening that the Drafthouse and Universal held earlier this year: they screened that film back-to-back with both The Sword and The Sorcerer and Krull, gave everyone in the audience a sword, and offered up a one-night-only special dessert called “Minotaur Dangle and Balls”. Craig Gillespie’s Fright Night didn’t screen with any other movies, but it did screen as part of a similarly awesome event: stars Anton Yelchin, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, and Dave Franco were on-hand to rile up the crowd; the Drafthouse offered special “Blood Bags” (actually Sangria) and held a pre-screening chugging-contest with several members of the audience; everyone involved took home an axe that looked a lot like the one glimpsed in the Fright Night poster; and a post-screening Q&A with the stars was as rowdy as every other Drafthouse Q&A I’ve had the privilege of attending. It was an awesome, awesome night.
But whether or not the Drafthouse and Dreamworks could put together an awesome, awesome night was never in question: the bigger question– the one on everyone’s mind as they entered the theater last night– was whether or not Gillespie’s take on Fright Night would be better (or, at the very least, as good as) Tom Holland’s 1985 original. The problem there, of course, is that Tom Holland’s Fright Night is one of the best genre films of that decade, a horror-comedy that respects its inspirations while crafting a thoroughly original story with surprisingly strong results. The 2011 model of Fright Night– which, by the way, is opening this weekend– starring Colin Farrell, Anton Yelchin, and Christopher “McLovin'” Mintz-Plasse– provides a few laughs, some really good makeup, and a few strong action sequences…but very little of the originality, respect, and genuine awesomeness of the original.
Over the past decade, we’ve seen some legitimately awful remakes, stuff so bad that it can’t help but leave its stench smeared all over the original film that inspired it (go ahead: try and watch Willy Wonka and The Chocolate Factory without thinking of Johnny Depp’s fey manchild– I dare you). Other remakes have managed to improve on their original counterparts, finding new ways to present old stories while respecting the source material (True Grit comes to mind). Still others fall somewhere in the middle, offering pale imitations of whatever came before while never really stepping up to the plate and giving us something new to cheer for.
How you’ll respond to the 2011 model of Fright Night will depend almost entirely upon your familiarity with the original. Unfortunately for Mr. Gillespie and his cast, I had the pleasure of watching the original Fright Night (with director and writer Tom Holland in attendance, no less) at the Alamo Drafthouse just a few weeks ago. It was– believe it or not– the first time I’d actually sat down and watched the film from beginning to end. What’d I think? Well, let’s put it this way: after watching the 1985 version, I finally understood why people were still singling the film out two-and-a-half decades later for being so balls-out awesome.
The original Fright Night is just as good as film geeks claim it to be, with an awesome series of performances from Roddy McDowall, Chris Sarandon, Stephen Geoffreys, and William Ragsdale. In that film, Ragsdale’s Charlie notices that his neighbor, Jerry (Sarandon), is acting kinda odd, and upon further investigation he discovers that Jerry’s a vampire. He first enlists the help of his former best friend, “Evil” Ed (Geoffreys), and then– when that proves unsuccessful– McDowall’s Peter Vincent, the host of a late-night, cheese-fest horror show on public television. There’s a lot to love in Holland’s version (the acting’s great, but so’s the script, the special effects, the pacing, and the ending), so much so that one has to wonder why a remake ever seemed like a good idea to anyone. Why the studio behind the original didn’t just re-release a digitally-remastered version (call it the “25th Anniversary Edition”) of Holland’s film is beyond me: it’s just as sharp today as it was then.
Craig Gillespie’s take on the material (with a script by Marti Noxon) is…different. In Gillespie’s version, Peter Vincent’s played by Dr. Who‘s David Tennant, in a not-so-thinly-veiled version of magician– and professional d-bag– Criss Angel; “Evil” Ed is played by Christopher Mintz-Plasse; Colin Farrell’s playing Jerry, the vampire; and the role of boy-next-door turned vampire-hunter goes to The Beaver‘s Anton Yelchin. If nothing else, the cast of the 2011 version is promising.
Once again, Charlie discovers that his neighbor Jerry isn’t who he seems to be, and once again he enlists the help of “Evil” Ed, his girlfriend, and a character named Peter Vincent in ridding his neighborhood of this bloodsucking menace. Once again, Jerry’s a charming vampire whose calm demeanor only makes it harder for Charlie to convince everyone around him that something’s amiss, and once again the tropes of the vampire genre– crosses, garlic, stakes, and so on– are trotted out in a sometimes-failed attempt to kick the vampire-next-door’s ass. It ends somewhat differently (and not nearly as well), but for the most part, it tells much the same story as Holland’s film did.
Speaking of which: fans of Holland’s version cried foul when they heard that Peter Vincent’s character had changed from “late-night horror-show host” to “magician”, but I think they’ll be more alarmed by the massive alterations Noxon and Gillespie made to the structure and pacing of the film. Yeah, the story’s largely the same, but telling it in a different order creates a film that feels a lot less streamlined, classic, and logical than Holland’s film.
You want examples? Fine. Without giving too much away, I can tell you this: “Evil” Ed’s big scene has moved from its position at the end of the second act to…midway through the first act; the big “dance club” scene– wherein Jerry seduced Charlie’s girlfriend right there on the dance floor– has been all but excised, altered to a simple “biting the neck” scene; the gothic interior of Jerry’s suburban home has been traded for the banality of a suburban McMansion; Jerry’s sidekick is gone; and the “action” has been increased to an alarming degree: ’round about the time that Jerry is literally blowing up Charlie’s house (and that comes about forty-five minutes into the movie), you realize that Noxon and Gillespie loved Fright Night for very different reasons than many of us did.
All of that said, don’t let me make you think that this is a total trainwreck of a remake. There’s a fair amount of stuff here worth enjoying, and even if fans of the original don’t love what Gillespie and Noxon have done here, there’s certainly something to be said for the fact that many newcomers will be driven– if only by curiosity– to Holland’s original. I definitely didn’t feel that Fright Night needed more explosions, and I don’t think that the film’s plot should’ve been so drastically reorganized, but I was never bored watching the film, and the audience I saw the film with seemed to be having a really great time. Colin Farrell’s clearly having a helluva lot of fun in his role, and the script does feature a handful of genuinely funny lines. Additionally, Imogen Poots– perhaps the most awkward name ever attached to a ridiculously hot female– is easy on the eyes, and Christopher Mintz-Plasse does enough similarly and differently with “Evil” Ed that fans of the original won’t be outraged.
I can’t recommend Fright Night, though. The positives come close to evening out the problems I had with the film, but when there’s already a version of Fright Night out there that’s so damn good, why wouldn’t I just tell you to watch Holland’s version? I can, however, recommend that you see the film with Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Anton Yelchin, and Dave Franco (preferably at the Alamo Drafthouse): these guys made the event a helluva lot of fun, and– as you’ll see in the Q&A video we’ve embedded below– they were extremely proud to be screening the film at the Drafthouse. Mintz-Plasse in particular seemed jazzed as all hell to be back in Austin with his latest flick, and gave some of the more amusing answers during the post-screening conversation the guys had with the audience. Here, check it out:
So. Another typically awesome night at the Drafthouse, and another questionable remake. I’ll be curious to see how the majority of film geeks respond to Gillespie’s film. I think that a good number of people are going to prefer this take on the material to the older version, if only for the action-based additions that Gillespie and Noxon made, but I’ll be surprised if the people that have embraced the 1985 version over the past two and a half decades show it as much love as Holland’s version.
My grade? For the movie, a C+. For the event, an A+