Saturday, August 27, 2011

New 'Fright Night' matches original

Remakes are a tricky business. If you don't respect and honor the original you'll anger the fan base, but at the same time if you don't do something fresh and new, you beg the question: Why bother? “Fright Night,” a remake of 1985 horror comedy, is a well-crafted film that justifies its existence.
Unfortunately, “Fright Night” is not a hit. It made about $8 million in its opening weekend, but it actuality that's not too shabby. The film is modestly budgeted at $17 million dollars and will easily make that money back.
It is just a shame that isn't having the bigger success it deserves because it is better than a lot of films that do become runaway hits. “Twilight,” I'm looking at you.
The original “Fright Night” was about a teen who believes his new neighbor is a vampire. He convinces Peter Vincent, a local late-night horror host played by Roddy McDowall, to aid him in battling the beast next door. In the update Charley Brewster (Anton Yelchin) enlists an occult magician (David Tennant) to face off with the bloodsucker named Jerry (Colin Farrell).
This is a remake with a good pedigree. It is written by Marti Noxon, who was a regular writer for both “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and its spin off series “Angel.” She is very familiar with this material and knows how to handle self-aware humor with out pushing it too far while at the same time providing real shock moments.
Director Craig Gillespie's first film was the quirky “Lars and the Real Girl,” which was about a young man with paralyzing social anxiety who orders a sex doll, but then starts treating it like a real woman that he is dating.
As a director, Gillespie may not seem like the natural choice to do a horror comedy, but his experience as an indie filmmaker clearly helped him in working on a tight budget and in keeping a focus on the characters. Gillespie creates a darker mood than the original and there is plenty of gory action and chases, especially in the back half of the movie, but the film always puts the characters first.
Jerry, as played by Chris Sarandon in the original, was suave, sophisticated. That cannot be said of the new Jerry. Farrell brings an intense bad-boy sex appeal to the character. He is a genuine lady killer. Farrell seems practically feral at times, but also has a calm, menacing intensity in the way he passive aggressively taunts Charley without directly threatening him. It is a fantastic performance that makes this film fundamentally work.
Tennant as the updated Peter Vincent has a lot of fun mocking the arrogant rock-star personas of so-called magicians like Criss Angel and David Blaine. He has a great bit of business in which, while talking with Yelchin's Charley, he slowly strips away his wig, phony beard and piercings. Tennant gets a delicate balance between lecherous star and reluctant, even cowardly, hero.
In a departure from the original, it is Charley's friend Ed (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) who is convinced Jerry is a vampire while Charley is the skeptical one. In this version Charley starts out the film not entirely likable. He sold out his friendship with Ed to become popular and there's a certain sadness in the Charley and Ed dynamic this time around.
Mintz-Plasse, who will perhaps always be known as McLovin from “Superbad,” is very good in the smaller, but crucial role of Ed. He does his same thing here, but what he does as a comic actor is effective. Within his persona, though, he finds some unexpected darker, dramatic notes that actually improve upon a character that in the original was mostly annoying comic relief.
Imogen Poots as the obligatory love interest is given a bit more to do than be a damsel in distress. Yes, the finale of the film is rescuing her, but as was true of the original, there is an interesting dynamic there. Yelchin, who is a consistently solid actor, and Poots have a believably sweet chemistry. There's a tender moment in which Poots tells Yelchin why she really likes him.
“Fright Night” isn't anything you haven't seen before, but it is a rare remake that may just be an upgrade of the original. There are authentic laughs and scares and at the center a terrific vampire as they once were before they started to brood and sparkle instead of bite and suck.

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