Retro Review: FRIGHT NIGHT (2011){0}

Here we are in Remake County again, population: crappy.

Well, that’s not entirely fair, is it? I know dozens of horror fans who love remakes. The Thing, The Fly, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Dawn of the Dead, Let Me In and The Blob are all remakes, and I’d content that not one of those movies suck anything. Buying a ticket to a horror remake is a lot like tossing the dice at a casino: odds are you’re going to crap out, but you keep trying because this particular game offers great payoffs … sometimes.

So this time around we’re looking at a new version of a very well-remembered horror flick from 1985. It was a Hitchcock-inspired take on the old vampire tale, and the flick did well enough to spawn a sequel, a loyal fanbase, and, now, a shiny new reboot to kick around. And here’s the good news: Craig Gillespie’s Fright Night represents a win. Not a jackpot, perhaps, but a more-than-worthy successor to a semi-classic from 25 years ago that borrows several threads from the old flick, but also finds some new ground of its own to tread upon. One can’t really ask much more from a horror remake to give us “something old, something new, shaken liberally,” and by that measure Fright Night is a solid success.

The setting is a virtually deserted neighborhood right outside Las Vegas, and our hero is the young Charlie Brewster (Anton Yelchin). The young man has a sassy mom (Toni Collete), a stunning girlfriend (Imogen Poots), and a very nerdly former friend (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) who won’t leave him alone. But life in this desolate suburban wasteland picks up with the arrival of an odd new neighbor called Jerry (Colin Farrell).

Long story short: Jerry is a vicious vampire, Charlie uncovers this secret, and nobody believes him until all holy hell breaks loose in exceedingly amusing fashion.

As a lifelong fan of the original, what I found most enjoyable was the way in which screenwriter Marti Noxon takes what we all know from the original film, gives that stuff just enough polish, and then (about halfway through the movie) sprints off in a variety of new directions. This is why we dig Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead and we hate the new Nightmare on Elm Street: a quality horror remake will use the source material as a springboard, only to land in a slightly unexpected destination. Although perhaps not as “quippy” as the original flick, the new Fright Night also boasts a decent sense of humor, a smooth and slick visual palette, some rather impressive musical notes, a winning lead performance by Anton Yelchin — and a certifiably insane performance from Colin Farrell. The actor seems to be playing one of Tex Avery’s more ravenous cartoon wolves, truth be told, but it’s nice to see a normally stoic actor sinking his teeth into a monstrous role and having a good time while doing it.

Gillespie does a fine job of shooting and constructing the basic beats, but it is the screenplay that’s just a bit cleverer than it needs to be. Charlie’s frequent dealings with a world-famous magician (David Tennant, also fun) have a nice rapid-fire chemistry, and the ladies of the piece (mostly Charlie’s mom and his girlfriend) are considerably more compelling than the gals normally found in bloody horror flicks. Mintz-Plasse delivers some welcome humor in the first half of the film, Yelchin keeps it centered through the crazier stuff, and the “damsel in distress” played by the lovely Imgoen Poots is both achingly beautiful and (get this) interestingly written.

I’ll leave it to the comparative thinkers to decide which Fright Night is “better” when all is said and done, but I think the new flick does a relatively impressive job of paying homage to its ancestry while also delivering a simple, crafty horror flick that will appeal to teens without insulting the grown-ups. And when you consider how many wretched horror remakes we have to suffer through, doesn’t a B+ effort like this one deserve a nice pat on the back?

(P.S. As usual, I insist that the 3-D presentation contributes nothing to the experience.)