Like many horror fans, I hold a special place in my heart for the original Fright Night, a film I watched quite a bit in my childhood. Still, I’ve never been that opposed to the idea of this remake. The concept – young kid realizes his next door neighbor is a vampire – is a simple but strong enough idea to work in any era, and a modern take on the tale seemed like a pretty good idea.

I’m happy to report the new Fright Night is a pretty decent remake that does nothing to tarnish the legacy of the original, but also a tad disappointed to report that, at the same time, it makes a few mistakes and misses a few obvious opportunities that could have raised it above “pretty decent” and into the “great” category.

As expected, the new version essentially plays like the original on speed. Gone is the subtle build-up – here, we’re barely ten minutes into the movie before hero Charley Brewster (Anton Yelchin) is told by his former best friend “Evil” Ed (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) that his new neighbor Jerry (Colin Farrell) is a bloodsucker (the first of several changes meant to kept fans of the original on their toes – in the original it was Charley who came to the realization first, and then tried to convince Ed). Most of the original film is crammed into the first half of this one, with the new second half turning into a much more action packed cat-and-mouse chase between Charley and Jerry. This is pretty much what I expected from a new Fright Night, and it’s fine by me.

Where the film falters is in not fully following through on some of the changes it makes. I give them credit for changing things around enough to make it its own movie, but they often annoyingly fail to see the potential of some of their own changes. For instance, in this version, the character of Peter Vincent has been changed from an old horror host (excellently played by Roddy McDowall in the original) to a smarmy Las Vegas magician whose stage show focuses on vampires (Doctor Who’s David Tennant). I figured the main reason to make this change would be to have a scene where Vincent refuses to believe the evidence of Jerry’s vampirism, explaining it away as the same sort of illusions and trickery that he deals in. But, no, that never happens, and I still for the life of me can’t figure out what having Vincent be a magician adds to this version, nor why Charley would go to this guy for help (the remake DOES give Vincent a new back-story to motivate his eventual desire to actually help Charley, but it’s completely lame and unnecessary, and my least favorite thing about the new version).

Likewise, although I don’t have any problem with Ed now being played as more of a geek than before (not surprising, given that he is played by McLovin), the character is essentially pointless in this version – after telling Charley about his suspicions regarding Jerry, he disappears for most of the movie only to return much later as a villain. Since this version has eliminated Jerry’s servant character, why not give that role to Ed, allowing the character more screen-time and making it seem like he actually serves a purpose in the movie? As it is here, I’d actually argue that the remake might have been better off without “Evil” Ed at all.

There are a lot more things like this that bother me as I think about the film, but it doesn’t change the fact that, overall, I liked the movie. I enjoyed all the performances, especially from Tennant and Farrell (easily the film’s MVP – you can tell he’s having a total blast playing Jerry), enjoyed the few big action set-pieces, and thought the majority of the story tweaks were just interesting enough to make this seem like its own beast and not an unnecessary retread of the original. It’s just a shame when you watch a movie and see the potential for something really special, but instead have to settle for “well, that was OK.” Still, I never really expected this one to be as good as the original, and taken on its own merits – without trying to compare it to the original – it’s a fun horror comedy that thankfully doesn’t shy away from its R-rating, and tries to restore a little bite to the vampire genre, which has been overly wussified of late. There’s no way I’ll end up revisiting this one as much as the original Fright Night, but it kept me entertained during its run-time, and a few great scenes and performances are enough for me to give it a recommendation.

 

 

This review was originally posted at Trevor Likes Movies on August 22nd, 2011.

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