Saturday, August 20, 2011

Review: Fright Night 3D


One of my fondest memories of the '80s was going to a sneak preview of a then-unknown little film called Fright Night and discovering a real gem, so I've been anxiously awaiting—while simultaneously dreading—the remake with Colin Farrell and Anton Yelchin.

The good news's good!

The story has quite a few revisions, and most of them are well-judged. For those of you familiar with the original story (and I'm sure you all are), the action has been transferred from the "Leave it to Beaver"-style neighborhood to one of those creepy Poltergeist-style housing developments in the suburbs of Las Vegas. Even creepier is the fact that the collapse in the housing market has caused many families to vacate, leaving many of the homes dark and empty. Setting the story in Vegas also serves another purpose—since so many of the city's residents work at night, a vampire could easily infiltrate the populace without notice. It's a real suburban nightmare.

This Fright Night is much, much darker than the original. The 1985 version was a product of its times, almost a John Hughes horror movie enlivened by generous dollops of comedy before it turns serious in the third act, while the remake takes a grimmer, more cynical approach from the outset.

Yelchin's Charley is far more complex than William Ragsdale's original, and his relationship with Evil Ed is better realized. If you stopped to think about it, in the original, Charley's friendship with Stephen Geoffrey's super-geek didn't really make any sense, but here Ed (played much more seriously by Christopher Mintz-Plasse) is Charley's ex-best friend, having been cast aside for the "cool kids" at school...and he really resents it.

Charley's girlfriend Amy, here appealingly portrayed by Imogen Poots, is one of the aforementioned "cool kids" and is clearly out of his league, but she digs his nerdiness. And this Amy is anxious to go all the way with him, in a complete reversal of Amanda Bearse's virginal version of the character. Plus—with apologies to Bearse—Poots looks more age-appropriate. Playing Charley's Mom, Toni Collette has more to do than the earlier film's Dorothy Fielding, finding herself at the receiving end of Jerry's attacks, while Fielding remained oblivious throughout.

Farrell is the casting triumph in this one. He projects an animalistic sex appeal as Jerry, and the actor looks like he's having a good time with the role. And Jerry is all alone in this one. There's no Billy Cole to run interference for him, but this vampire doesn't need a human sidekick. Whereas Chris Sarandon relied on old-fashioned suavity to lure his victims, Farrell is an instinctive, bloodthirsty animal, and he barely bothers to hide it.

Only one character—that of Peter Vincent—made me long for Roddy McDowall's original portrayal. David Tennant ("Dr. Who") plays Vincent as a Las Vegas performer, and instead of a horror movie TV show, "Fright Night" is now a gimmicky stage act inspired by Criss Angel, with a dollop of the unctuous Russell Brand thrown in. We only see a glimpse of Vincent's act; the rest of the time, he's drinking, whining and scratching his balls. The last-minute revelation of his past history with Jerry doesn't resonate, and when Farrell delivers the iconic line, "Welcome to Fright Night...for real," it's a shame. It doesn't totally ruin the film, but Tennant's Vincent is an annoying lightweight compared to McDowall's magnificent depiction.

Many other plot points and characters are reversed in the remake. Instead of Charley discovering that Jerry is a vampire, Ed is the one who finds out, and it isn't until he mysteriously disappears that Charley begins to investigate. And this Jerry behaves more like a serial killer, having constructed a hidden passageway in his house containing a series of small rooms that he can lock his victims in and feed on them at his leisure. Ed's transformation and climactic confrontation with Charley is an improvement, and there's a gag involving a Century 21 "For Sale" sign (Charley's mom is a realtor) that's a gas.

As I mentioned earlier, the film is much darker, both figuratively and literally. Of course, the 3D format reduces the brightness, but even so this Fright Night has very few daytime scenes, and it actually worked for me, creating a kind of nightmare world where the night never ends. Few glimpses of the gaudy Vegas strip are seen. Most of the action takes place in Charley's awful, semi-abandoned neighborhood and the dark outskirts of town. The darkness also serves to punctuate the 3D: there are some nice geysers of blood and bits of burning ember floating out of the picture.

As far as the effects go, I preferred the KNB EFX Group's old-fashioned makeup used early on in the film, but when the vampire transformations become more extreme, the filmmakers resort to CGI, which just isn't as...well, I can't say realistic. How about organic? Sadly, one of those CGI effects is the reveal of Amy's vagina dentata face, which isn't nearly as fun as the original's.

Screenwriter Marti Noxon ("Buffy the Vampire Slayer") made mostly good choices in updating the plot and characters while giving some affectionate nods to the original, and director Craig Gillespie (Lars and the Real Girl) does a fine job providing many sequences of dread during which you find yourself scanning the dark perimeters of the screen, anxiously awaiting a 3D horror to come flying out at you.

Will it stand the test of time as well as Tom Holland's original did? Probably not. The 1985 version will always be fondly remembered (and revisited) by the first home video generation, and it's got an old-fashioned charm that welcomes repeat viewing more than the remake. Still, I recommend seeing this one in 3D for a fun, fang-filled evening.

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