Fright Night (2011)
Film review by: Witney Seibold
So, they remade “Fright Night,” eh? Well, let’s see what they did…
Instead of Chris Sarandon as Jerry the vampire, it’s Colin Farrell. This is definitely the best draw. Sarandon was perfect as this sort of douchey, but utterly charming upper-crust suburbanite sophisticate, and you could see why women would want to willingly enter into his dark realm of bloodsuckers. Farrell, by contrast, is more of a tight t-shirt, rapey thug type, a few shades more sexual, and definitely as charming. What’s more, Farrell is a bit more maniacal an actor, making Jerry seem a bit more unhinged. Sarandon was more charming and more sinister. Farrell was more monstrous and sexy.
Instead of Roddy McDowell as the nebbishly old-fashioned TV horror host, they cast David Tennant from the new “Doctor Who” as an oversexed Goth, Las Vegas magician who collects unusual monster ephemera with the passion of a Ricky Jay. I think I prefer McDowell’s humble classicist earnestness over Tennant’s affected Russel Brand schtick. The old Peter Vincent seemed to have genuine ties to the old world of monsters thanks to his love of old monster movies. The new Peter Vincent seems to play less of a role in the takedown of the monster.
Instead of William Ragsdale, we have Anton Yelchin. In the old version, Charley was a kind of non-starter, coming across as simultaneously sexually off, socially naïve, and completely directionless. The new Charley has been re-imagined as an ex-geek who is just starting to break into the circles of the popular kids, and is now dating a hot classmate (Imogen Poots). In the original, the girlfriend (played by Amanda Bearse) was a shy, still gal who had to be talked into sexual activity, making her eventual seduction by Jerry all the more damning. In the remake, as seems to be the case with a lot of sexually-themed films of the last decade, Charley is now the sexually shy one, and his girlfriend is the aggressor. I liked the change of dynamic, but when Poots is seduced, there’s no irony or poetry. Indeed, Jerry doesn’t even charm her with his suavity, he just feeds her a magic potion to convince her. This was a little weaker.
The tragedy of Evil Ed is played up in this film, and not in a good way. Indeed, I suspect the director of this remake, Craig Gillespie, didn’t give too much thought to Evil Ed in this version. Evil Ed, once played by the unbalanced Stephen Geoffreys (who, you will learn if you research his life, led a sketchy career into gay porn) was a freaky, twitchy outcast. He didn’t long for acceptance, and seemed to have emotional troubles. He wore leather jackets, and giggled a little too much. Becoming a vampire only seemed natural for him. The new Evil Ed (Christopher Mitnz-Plasse) is re-branded as the nerdy best friend of Charley, who used to make low-budget fantasy films with him. Charley and Ed were once best friends, and, over the course of the film, Charley makes it heartbreakingly explicit that he doesn’t like Ed anymore, and wants to stop seeing him. Ed is then made into a minion of Jerry, and, by the film’s end, Charley will have to stake Ed. Does this strike anyone else as unbearably tragic? The nerdy freidn is rejected, as he represents an old way of life. The old way, incidentally, was a warm and nerdy outsider realm of fantasy videos and obsession with vampires. Charley, by staking Ed, is destroying his old way of life and never once apologizing for hurting Ed, or reconciling his way of life. There;’s no compromise. His new life amongst hot people and douchey new friends is, the film seems to be saying, preferable and superior, to your old freidnships. Ouch.
One of the conceits of the original “Fight Night” is the clever notion that vampires can be harmed by holy images, so long as you have faith in them. It’s not necessarily a cross that they’ll shrink from, but your beliefs. This makes for a grand turnarousn in the original when, early in the film, Peter Vincent tries a cross, and it doesn’t work, as he had long since lost his faith. But by the film’s end, Peter Vincent learns to believe again, and uses his newfound hope to destroy the vampire. It makes for a strong moral theme. Well, strong for a vampire film of its kind. In this new version, Jerry does mention to Charley that he must have faith for that cross to work, implying that Charley has no faith. But, by the film’s end, this conceit doesn’t pay off. The crosses are never re-used. Instead, Peter and Charley break into a vampire vault, and use brute force to kill ’em all. It’s less dynamic, and faith no longer plays any role in the vampire myth.
Does this seem wrong to anyone else? Vampires should, after all, be a little unholy, right? They are, for better or worse, religious monsters. By excising religion, you now only have, like zombies before them, a monster with clearly defined rules, and well-known ways to kill them. By turning them into diagrams of dissection, they lose a lot of their frightening power. There’s no sense that they don’t belong on this planet. That they are built by horrific evil. Now they’re only people infected with a bloodsucking virus. I find this a lot less interesting than something infected by the Forces of Darkness.
Indeed, one of the themes in both “Fright Night” films is that a vampire can’t enter your house unless you invite them. That conceit springs from a moral place as well; evil cannot enter your life unless you’re in a position to welcome it in. You must be seduced. This goes back to the original version of Dracula. The new “Fright Night”, again, makes this a technical exercise. We do get the sense that Jerry is a cool, wicked bastard from Farrell’s performance, and from some of his actions (he chooses, at one point, to blow up a house rather than wait for an invitation), but we never get the sense that he’s an unholy demon.
Overall, though, the film is stylish, and I liked the choice to make much of the dialogue delivered in a flip and casual manner, making it feel a touch more natural than most films of this ilk. The cast were all very good, and the direction was perfectly serviceable. The updated changes only occasionally hurt the film (as I noted), but the casual updates mostly worked. For instance, the new film is set in modern-day Las Vegas, a place where people are moving away regularly, and houses are often abandoned. This makes for a perfect place for a vampire to find a home, set up shop without too much attention, and casually take out victims.
Did we ask for it? Of course not. But this film was a bit of wicked fun.