Craig Gillespie’s remake of Tom Holland’s 1985 classic Fright Night is definitely not afraid to go its own way beyond the recognisable title and basic premise of a teenager's encounter with a vampire next door. This ends up both a good and bad thing.
Jerry Dandridge, as essayed by Colin Farrell, is ‘the shark from Jaws’ according to Evil Ed (Christopher Mintz-Plasse). However this zaps him of personality completely, but perhaps that’s the whole point. Here we have the humdrum vampire: the banality of vampirism. He kills, he feeds, he lives. Holland’s version was a Ted Bundy-like charmer with a sweet tooth for blood. Some of this serial killer aesthetic remains, but not much.
Jerry is a mean and moody charm vacuum and when he doesn’t get invited into the Brewster home – he torches it, forcing the family out. While we can appreciate his directness and lack of manners, it’s also a bit OTT. We first meet Jerry murdering a family before Charley Brewster (Anton Yelchin) and Amy (Imogen Poots) enter the picture as a standard Hollywood high school pair. Yelchin’s Charley is nothing at all like William ‘You’re so cool Brewster’ Ragsdale.
Here he's a teenager trying to be one of the hip kids and hides his geeky past. He’s not even friends with Evil Ed and sees him more as a pest than anything. The arc of the narrative is changed fundamentally because Charley discovers Jerry is a vampire through hearsay and only acts when mounting evidence suggests Jerry is clearly not all he seems. The Peeping Tom set up is discarded, again changing course for the remake, but robbing it of interest.
Charley's pervy antics in Tom Holland’s film became the portal into a nightmarish world of sex and death. In discarding this idea the plot becomes simply ‘the vampire must be destroyed!’ and no longer the boy who cried wolf. Charley's mother features a lot more in Gillespie’s remake than she figured in the original too.
Screenwriter Marti Noxon’s time on Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel provides the film with a bit of charm, laughs and some nice gags. Indeed, Joss Whedon’s spirit rests in this material as if it’s more a homage to his work than Tom Holland’s film.
Fright Night also features some of the murkiest cinematography seen for a very long time. The 3D doesn’t help one iota. It causes some serious eyestrain and what could have looked atmospheric is rendered near anti-cinema. The Las Vegas setting doesn’t add much to the narrative. It’s still humdrum suburbia mainly.
David Tennant as the new Peter Vincent is a world away from the gentle, callow-hearted and avuncular actor played by Roddy McDowell. Tennant goes for rock star posing and spoilt brat gestures before removing the make up and being much more in line with McDowell. It works well enough but one senses the Americans will find his antics more amusing than a British audience used to his mugging as Doctor Who.
At times, Noxon’s story changes feel completely cosmetic and not truly a new vision of what Fright Night could be. The set pieces are bigger and the finale more action-packed, but the material was never about explosions and car chases.
Chris Sarandon, the original Jerry, gets a cameo as a murder victim and the disco scene is referenced too. But therein lies another problem - Brad Friedel’s rather cool soundtrack is replaced with bland pop songs – clearly the marketing have an eye on CD and iTunes sales.
Noxon brings the nice idea of ‘types of vampire’ which feels very Buffy, in some respects. This does allow for some new background information on Jerry but again Hollywood seems obsessed with explaining back stories and origins.
The film, thankfully, is funny. There’s the obligatory Twilight gag and the hospital scene is excellent with Charley fixing crucifixes all over his mother’s room and quipping to a nurse she's very religious. Fright Night (2011) is a vampire flick for the post-Whedon generation. As remakes go it’s not as bad as it could have been in the hands of a hack and the creative team clearly love the original whilst staking a claim for their own vision.
But where are the iconic moments, the truly memorable scenes? There are none. Jerry gets to say “Welcome to Fright Night for real,” but it makes no real impact given the context of Peter Vincent’s background and occupation have changed. Yes, his magic show is called Fright Night, but it’s very weak compared to Holland’s late night horror show idea which more accessible and recognisable to horror fans.
Expected rating: 5 out of 10
Fright Night is released in the US August 19th, and the UK on September 2nd