Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Fright Night / ***½ (R)

Charley Brewster: Anton Yelchin
Jerry: Colin Farrell
Amy: Imogen Poots
Peter Vincent: David Tennant
Ed: Christopher Mintz-Plasse
Jane Brewster: Toni Collette

DreamWorks SKG presents a film directed by Craig Gillespie. Written by Marti Nixon. Based on the 1985 screenplay by Tom Holland. Running time: 106 min. Rated R (for bloody horror violence, and language including some sexual references).

When I was in high school, my closest friends would love to get together on the weekends and stay up late watching horror movies. After our screenings we would turn out all the lights, listen to some John Carpenter movie soundtrack, and proceed to freak each other out by pointing out shadows and sounds and swearing that they were something unnatural. We were pretty good at getting our hearts racing, and soon we’d really be scared. Imagine four teenage boys, huddled together in the corner of a dark room seriously inquiring with each other, “Did you hear that?! What the hell was that?”

One of our favorite movies from that time period was the 1985 vampire horror/comedy “Fright Night”. It didn’t scare us so much as it provided a great time with some freaky vampire images. On top of that it had characters that were aware of what a ridiculous notion it was that they were in a vampire story. Simply put, it was fun, something most of today’s horror directors don’t associate with the genre.

Now comes the obligatory remake of this minor horror classic. The state of horror movies—and vampire movies in particular—doesn’t bode well for a re-visioning of this unique vampire flick. I anticipated the release of this movie by consuming its previews as they were released. It looked as if my worst fears for it were realized. The trailers showed a movie that took itself too seriously and fell right in line with the faux depth of emotion that infests such movies as “Twilight”. What to my surprise when I discovered that this new “Fright Night” is just as much fun as the original as well as being genuinely more frightening.

The plot involves Charley Brewster (Anton Yelchin, “Star Trek”), a Las Vegas high school kid who has risen from geekdom in Junior High to being a fringe popular kid. Part of Charley’s precarious popularity hangs on the fact that his girlfriend, Amy (Imogen Poots, “Centurion”), is a babe. However, Charley’s old role-playing friend, Ed (Christopher Mintz-Plasse, “Kick-Ass”), has noticed that a surprising number of their classmates have gone missing over the past few weeks. He’s convinced that it’s because there is a vampire in their neighborhood. More over, Ed believes that vampire to be Charley’s brand new neighbor, Jerry (Colin Farrell, “In Bruges”). Charley’s response to this theory is, “That is a terrible vampire name. Jerry?” This irreverence exemplifies the jocular attitude this movie exudes toward the current overwrought notion of vampire mythology today.

That irreverence is probably the best trait this remake shares with the original. The makers of both movies understand that all this vampire mythology is really pretty silly. They imagine a world in which vampires are real, but no one believes in them. The idea of vampires in this movie is just as preposterous as they are in the real world. How much more difficult would it be to get someone to believe you when you told them that your neighbor was a vampire if people didn’t just blindly accept them like in most vampire movies?  These are vampire movies where “The Twilight Saga” is just a series of sappy teenage romance books and movies.

Both movies’ heroes eventually employ the help of a vampire “expert” from popular culture. The original had Charley tracking down an actor who had played a vampire hunter in a string of cult vampire movies. This version uses its Vegas location by having Charley find his vampire expert on the Strip. Peter Vincent has a Vegas magic show with a heavy vampire theme based on Vincent’s own obsessions with vampire lore. Former British television “Dr. Who” star David Tennant threatens to steal the show—even from the very foreboding Colin Farrell—as the spoiled Vegas magician.

What this new version has that the original did not is twenty-five years of improved special effects. While the first movie prevailed mostly through its cheeky outlook, this one capitalizes on special effects advancements to create creepier vampires and a more horrifying atmosphere out in the Nevada desert. When these vamps are exposed to sunlight, the results are jarring. There’s a sequence on the highway that succeeds in being suspenseful, frightening, and quite disturbing. It also contains a great cameo appearance by the original’s vampire, actor Chris Sarandon.

I’ve written a lot lately about the themes and messages necessary to make an effective genre picture. “Fright Night” isn’t interested in conveying some sort of message or commentary on the human condition, yet it’s still an incredibly entertaining genre picture. This movie proves that genre filmmaking can still be fun without being something more. Special effects aren’t just something to bedazzle the audience, but they can be used to enhance an already entertaining movie. Like the best comic book movie adaptations, director Craig Gillespie and screenwriter Marti Nixon realize that understanding what made the property appealing to begin with is the key to making it viable to a new audience. If you see any vampire movie this year, don’t wait for “Breaking Dawn”. Run out and see “Fright Night” instead.

No comments: