Craig Gillespie’s decision to reanimate Tom Holland’s 1985 kitsch celebration plays like a joke retold without the energy and comic timing of the original. Whereas Holland carefully modulated the gag, keeping the schlock and shock in their right proportions, and always with a knowing humour, Gillespie’s retelling is simply too sober to succeed. The humour’s there, but it’s cynical and aggressive, not to mention in short supply, in place of Holland’s upfront silliness.
Compare and contrast the two incarnations of Peter Vincent, here reimagined as a pastiche of Russell Brand. Roddy McDowell’s version was a harmless old ham who specialised in low rent scares; the perfect primer for Holland’s B-movie shocks. David Tennant, however, is a slick showman; a bad-tempered charlatan who indulges in groupies and drink. Their take on the character personifies the difference between the two films; one’s affectionate and funny, the other struggles to be endearing, content to peacock its audience into submission. Fright Night 2011 is propped up with polished CGI and conspicuous gimmicks, in this case 3D. The use of the third dimension, skewering the forth wall, is the only part of the movie that faithfully recalls the 80s.
It all begins promisingly enough with a set of titles that expand across the sky over Las Vegas, like blood in water, and soon we’re up to our necks in suburban paranoia with Christopher Mintz-Plasse’s tale of a missing friend failing to move Anton Yelchin’s Charley, who’s outgrown his old pal’s penchant for fantasy. If he’s not concerned about the empty chair in the classroom it’s because of the threat to his mother’s singledom from new neighbour Collin Farrell, whose predatory glare and sexual overtures speak to the worst fears of any boy who grew up with an absent father.
Farrell’s the man you warned your Mother about.
The first half, though lacking the charm of the original film, at least has some of its wit. Exchanges like, “Dusk, do you know what that means?” “No, let me consult my pocket dictionary” show that cover artist Marti Noxon has the ear for a good joke, but that’s as inventive as the Buffy scribe gets.
Once the action moves to Vincent’s vampire museum and the Las Vegas nightlife, it becomes the kind of CG augmented stalk and slasharama that we know by rote. Crucially, the film loses its innocence; the quality the original maintained throughout; becoming dry and overblown.
It’s not all bad. Colin Farrell enjoys himself in a role that has him flit between quiet threat and outright monstrousness, and Mintz-Plasse, though content to play the likable geek, perhaps in perpetuity, combines innocence and humour to good effect; qualities the rest of the film would have enjoyed.
That, unfortunately, is the best of it. David Tennant is too young and too crude to fill the Roddy McDowell shaped hole in the story and Yelchin’s a blank in the lead role. Ramin Djawadi’s score is suitably creepy and lifts the moribund second half, but Gillespie and co. fluff the opportunity to reinvent a minor horror classic by forgetting what made the original work so well.
Expected rating: 7 out of 10
Fright Night 3D is released in the UK on September 2nd