A surprisingly good vampire movie at a time when even barely decent vampire movies are rare, Craig Gillespie’s Fright Night manages to remake the 1985 original effectively, while being very much its own film in the bargain. How that will play to viewers who have enshrined the original as some kind of classic is another matter altogether. I rarely see the point in getting upset about remakes, as they’ve been around about as long as movies have. The big difference now is that movies don’t go away like they used to. When Tod Browning remade his London After Midnight (1927) in 1935 as Mark of the Vampire, no one complained. Most didn’t even realize it was a remake. Anyway, the worst thing a remake does now is draw attention to the original—even if it gets the appeal of the original wrong. Or maybe more so if it gets it wrong.
I was never much of a fan of the original Fright Night. It might have been different if I’d seen it when I was 12, rather than 30. Who knows? I simply thought it was OK, with a few clever moments and better-than-average performances. But it made enough of an impression on me that I remember it with surprising clarity. I’d say the remake is easily as good and possibly a little better. Of course, that probably won’t be the case with those who are all a-dither over the 1985 one.
The new film retains the basic set-up of teenager Charley Brewster (Anton Yelchin) discovering that his new next-door neighbor, Jerry Dandridge (Colin Farrell), is a vampire. It also keeps most of the same characters—albeit often significantly altered—and more-or-less follows the structure of the first film. But there are enough changes—intelligent ones—to keep this one from feeling like a stale retread. Moving the story to Las Vegas is probably a nod to The Night Stalker (1972), but it also makes topical sense with the housing market, which in turn makes logical sense in that missing persons are likely to be presumed to have just moved on. In that regard, it’s the perfect setting for a vampire—especially this vampire.
Colin Farrell’s vampire isn’t very much like Chris Sarandon’s 1985 bloodsucker. Farrell’s creature of the night is much less concerned with the pose of being the charming new neighbor. In fact, he makes only the most perfunctory attempt at keeping his vampire status secret, which works in the context of the film’s notions of the vampire as sociopathic serial killer. It also helps to cut down on the usual—and often rather tedious—time spent convincing other characters that the vampire is, in fact, a vampire. It’s not at all hard to convince your mother (Toni Collette) and your girlfriend (Imogen Poots) that the guy next door is at the very least bad news when he pulls the gas pipes out of your yard and blows up your house and throws a motorcycle through the rear window of your fleeing car.
There’s been some purist complaint over changes to the “Evil” Ed (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) character, but I always found the character a bit much and the alterations here strike me as both effective and moving. The biggest complaints, however, center on changing Peter Vincent (David Tennant) from a has-been actor turned TV horror host. Even in 1985, the idea of a TV horror host was on the quaint side. Now—unless you’re talking the snarky post-modern crap from MST3K and its progeny, which is nothing like Peter Vincent—it’s something that exists only in the form of nostalgia. Turning the character into a cheesy Vegas performer simply makes sense—and ultimately works.
Bottom line for me is that this Fright Night is fun. It’s scary enough and funny enough and clever enough to qualify for a good time at the movies. I was hoping for nothing more and expecting considerably less. Rated R for bloody horror violence, and language including some sexual references.