Tuesday, 27 September 2011

The New(ish) Review: Fright Night

Good grief that’s a terrible poster. I don’t know whether it’s because the titles appear to have been crammed into a dark void beneath Anton Yelchin's feet, or because Colin Farrell is turning into a cloud, but I don’t like it.  You may not think it looks too bad right now, so how about we compare it with the original?

See what I mean? There’s no questionable Photoshop work in sight. It’s a genuine work of art, and more than worthy of being framed on your wall(s). Too bad most film posters are so uninspired nowadays...  

Anyway, Fright Night’s poster kinda sucks. It’s a good thing, then, and a genuine surprise that the actual film itself far exceeded my expectations. I say surprise not just because of the poster, but due to the current climate of the horror genre. It seems like a new remake is announced every week; and each time there’s grumblings over how Hollywood is, quote unquote, raping the classics. An extreme viewpoint, I agree, but some of us remain optimistic – hoping they’ll at least live up to their predecessors. If we’re lucky, they just about succeed (Friday the 13th). But more often than not, they simply either fall flat (The Omen), or even miss the point entirely (Halloween).   

But this new Fright Night, directed by Craig Gillespie, does a pleasingly enthusiastic job of staying true to the 1985 original, while also updating it for a modern generation. The basic story remains the same - life is good for teenager Charlie Brewster (Anton Yelchin) until Jerry the hunky vampire (Colin Farrell) moves in next door, putting himself, his mother (Toni Collette) and his girlfriend (Imogen Poots) in danger; and Charlie’s only hope may be in horror icon Peter Vincent (David Tennant). But this is far from a common retread.

Yes, certain classic scenes (like the nightclub encounter) and memorable dialogue (‘Welcome to Fright Night...’) are given another opportunity to shine. But almost everywhere you look, something new has been added to keep the remake feeling fresh. This goes beyond the basic contemporary changes, like transforming Peter Vincent from the host of a late night horror movie show to a Las Vegas stage magician with a fascination in the occult, and gives us Fright Night that is at once familiar and new.

Take Farrell’s interpretation of Jerry (now sans the Dandridge surname), which is very different to the Chris Sarandon vampire. While the first Jerry was a suave womaniser accompanied by awesome Brad Fiedel synth music, Jerry ’11 is more of a rugged bad boy. That air of a sexual predator remains, of course, just now with an animalistic streak. He’s described in-film as the ‘shark from Jaws’, which is pretty accurate when you consider how Farrell dominates his scenes through sheer physical menace. I may prefer Sarandon’s more charmingly evil “80s Dracula” undead lover, but Farrell delivers an effective performance for a suitably updated Jerry. He still does love those apples, mind you.   

Then there’s the relationship between Brewster and fan-favourite character “Evil” Ed (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), which is given an interesting new spin for the remake. At first, Charlie doesn’t seem to have changed too much since 1985. He’s still a likeably normal kind of guy (and Yelchin does shout less than William Ragsdale), but we discover the main change when Ed is brought in. Originally, Ed wasn’t much more than a giggling sidekick, but here he represents the last remnant of a geeky past that we learn Charlie is desperately trying to get away from. This adds a little extra welcome complexity to Brewster, and leads to a great deal of hilariously written awkwardness in their scenes together... all two or three of them. “Evil” is sadly underused here, and he doesn’t get enough development time, lessening the impact of his fate. Thankfully, Mintz-Plasse is as much good value as ever, and he fully embraces the character’s goofy nature. There’s a solid chance his role will be the one you remember the most.    

As for Peter Vincent, well, it’s a night and day kind of difference. Gone is Roddy McDowell’s lovable old has-been, and in his place is Tennant’s foul mouthed and obnoxious stage performer with a penchant for very tight leather pants. Don’t worry too much if this sounds like a character you think you’ll hate, though, as Tennant makes it work. The character arc remains similar, only this time he’s making the journey from complete arse-hat to hero instead of coward to hero; and you’ll get a thrill out of seeing him tooled up like a botch job Van Helsing in time for the climax.      

For me, I don’t think every change works out. The new Vegas setting, for instance, although providing a convenient link to Vincent, doesn’t have the ambiguity of the original film’s suburban neighbourhood, and so robs this remake of that even YOUR neighbour could be a vampire vibe. Jerry is far less subtle this time, too, and some of his noisier actions would surely draw more attention than he would have liked. Also, a late revelation involving Vincent’s past is perhaps a little contrived, while an instance of deus ex machina during the last act was jarring enough to make my friend loudly whisper ‘CONVENIENT’.

Yes, I’m nitpicking.

But oh no! It’s in 3D! Given the choice I’d happily pick the 2D option, but Fright Night was only being shown in blurrovision, and that’s how I ended up seeing it. It’s not too bad, I guess, but this was a film that used the extra dimension primarily as a gimmick, rather than an attempt at furthering your sense of immersion. There is one sequence set in a car, shot in one take, and utilising a slowly rotating camera which does benefit from the added depth, but that’s about it. Otherwise, a lot of crap shoots in your general direction, such as arrows or spurts of arterial blood, but there’s nothing special standing out that you’ll likely remember later. No doubt, when watched in 2D, those effects will come off as a tad pointless.

Speaking of special effects, I was once again surprised. With the exception of an unconvincing CGI blood splatter here and there (it just doesn’t work, Hollywood!), Fright Night benefits a great deal from the various technological upgrades. I should note how this film is grounded in more of a reality compared to the original, so you sadly won’t see anyone turning into a large rubber bat. But those gruesome facial transformations make a return and receive a great update (check out the rows of realigning teeth in Farrell’s mouth). I suppose it helps that the film looks very dark and murky for the most part (in direct contrast with the colourful original), with many of the more outlandish effects bathed in shadows. But it works, and that’s what’s important... though I do blame the overriding darkness for why an important cameo appearance flew right over my head!

With a film such as this, you may be wondering about the fear factor. Is it scary? I don’t think there’s anything here to keep you up at night (except for that annoying guy from Scrubs), but Fright Night was and still is a horredy through and through. Yes, people are getting their throats chewed out, but just like with the original, there’s a playful tone to the film thanks to a sharp script which delivers a fast paced affair with plenty of action and comedy while never forgetting to focus on its larger-than-life characters. But that doesn’t mean it’s not afraid to dial up the suspense for several key parts (such as Charlie’s first white-knuckle venture into Jerry’s house); and those moments are hairy to say the least.

A big question has been looming over this review... which is the best Fright Night? Honestly, and while I’ve given it much thought, I couldn’t tell you. Excluding that awful poster, they’re both about as good as each other. When compared directly, there are things I prefer less and more about the two versions, but I enjoy the original for its successful modernisation (at the time) of the vampire legend, and I enjoy this remake for doing the same thing while throwing in a bunch of new surprises. I might have a slight preference for the first film, but there’s little wrong with Gillespie’s remake. You're in for a good time, regardless.

Now if only some studio could just take the time to put together a decent release of the sadly neglected Fright Night Part II...

No comments:

Post a Comment