The original Fright Night, though now considered a cult classic, seems to have fallen off the radar somewhat, even I hadn’t seen it until a week or so ago, and I’m a certifiable horror obsessive! Although it was very much of its time, it was a smart comedic take on the vampire movie in which an ordinary lad discovers his next-door neighbour is a vampire and eventually enlists the help of a washed-up horror actor to defeat the monster. With the current resurgence in the popularity of bloodsuckers, a remake was probably inevitable. So here we have Fright Night 3D, a big, noisy, slightly silly retread of the same basic story.
Now, with remakes it’s very difficult to review them without comparing them to the originals, so let’s get the film’s stand-alone merits out of the way first. Fright Night 3D is the sort of daft fluff that’s perfect for late nights and one too many drinks; bloody, brash, just a little dumb, with plenty of lewd gags and giggle-worthy moments and just enough scares to warrant calling it a “horror-comedy”. The special-effects are showy and make full use of the flashy 3D gimmick, there’s plenty of gore, glass and fire hurled out of the screen at the viewer. The cast are fairly good: Colin Farrell injects a swaggering vicious hunger to the vampire Jerry and Anton Yelchin is believably awkward as the schoolboy-hero Charlie Brewster.
The trouble is, this is a remake of a surprisingly smart film. The original had the clever central gag of the classic vampire of folklore wandering around modern (alright, 1980s) America in a jumper and shoulder-pads, but it also raised some interesting themes in the ways the human characters reacted to him. At its heart, the original Fright Night was about faith and trust: Charlie’s friends betray his trust by trying to trick him into giving up on his vampire vendetta and pretty much as a direct result they both become prey to the vampire himself. Charlie, meanwhile, is rewarded for his somewhat credulous nature by being the only person able to defeat said monster, as his faith is what ultimately allows him to succeed where the others fail. This whole subtext is removed from the remake, save for a fleeting mention of faith when Charlie presents Jerry with a cross, and it’s all the poorer for it. In this version, Charlie’s not the slightly geeky, credulous character of the original; he’s a selfish, somewhat unlovely, boy who’s given up on his nerdy friends to hang out with the “cool” crowd who don’t really seem to like him. Here, it’s not Charlie that does the detective-work; his geeky friend “Evil” Ed has discovered the vampires already and tries to convince him after people start going missing. Naturally Charlie doesn’t believe him but when Evil goes missing too, Charlie finds evidence and the plot really gets going. Here, Charlie’s motivation is guilt more than anything else.
Cover of the original Fright Night
Now, I’ll have to admit, this is one area where the characterisation in the remake beats the original. In the original, Evil comes across as a bit immature. He becomes a victim of the vampire after teasing Charlie, in a neat little “cry wolf” sequence that again draws out that theme of trust. In the remake, Evil (played by Christopher Mintz-Plasse) is attacked after Charlie refuses to help him, so there’s a tangible sense of bitterness when he appears later on as a vampire. Other character alterations don’t work so well. In the original, Charlie seeks help from horror-actor-turned-horror-host Peter Vincent (an effete and thoroughly brilliant Roddy McDowell) but these days horror hosts are few and far between and B-movie horror actors do fairly well for themselves on the convention circuit so in the remake Peter Vincent (now an eyeliner-sporting, leather-clad David Tennant) is a very different character. It’s just a shame they hadn’t really decided what sort of character he’s supposed to be; he’s some sort of charlatan vampire slayer cum magician cum rock’n’roll sleaze cum occult specialist, and it really doesn’t work. His motivations feel clumsy and it takes too long for the film to try and establish what he’s supposed to be. That said, for me Tennant is one of the film’s highlights; he has some of the funniest lines and does a fine job squeezing some believably weak, cowardly traits into the character. Poor Imogen Poots has even less luck with the practically characterless Amy, a stereotypical “hot chick” obliged to have some involvement in the fight scenes to avoid the film looking too sexist.
Thankfully the script takes the vampire character, Jerry, in enough of a new direction to prevent too many comparisons to Chris Sarandon’s suave original (Sarandon, incidentally, has a brief cameo here as one of the victims). Here played by Colin Farrell, this new Jerry is a more animal, predatory creature. To put it bluntly, Sarandon’s Jerry was a seducer; Farrell’s is more of a rapist. The folklore is fairly standard, but some of the new details are handled a clumsily. The addition of ague, slightly less familiar aspects of vampire lore (some of which are completely made up for the film) undermines the central conceit of the classic monster in modern dress, but the effects and scares are just amusing enough to let it slip. There are one or two nice moments when the vampires crawl about in painful-looking contortions that work quite well, and at least for a change there’s some continuity in when they appear monstrous and when they appear human. Plus, I was glad to see one or two details from the creature design of the original film retained here: Farrell sports finger-extensions and enormous fake fingernails and Poots has a jaw-breaking, teeth-sprouting scene that mirrors the original nicely. Unfortunately, it falls into the trap of thinking that shoe-horning in more monsters late on makes it scarier. Apparently the writer never twigged why Alien is more frightening than Aliens. And when we’ve already established that one of these vampires is far more powerful than the rest, well, the others just become noisy set-dressings.
Let’s get a few things straight though. Hollywood, please stop casting skinny kids with curly hair as nerdy characters in every film. After Scott Pilgrim, Kick Ass, The Social Network, Zombieland and all the rest, it’s getting boring. I know you like using lazy visual shorthand, but not all geeks look the same. And not all geeks are motivated solely by wanting to get into bed with pretty girls because, you know what, some geeks are girls. I know films like this are a sort of wish-fulfilment fantasy, but seriously, it’s alienating half your audience and it’s kind of demeaning.
It’s not as intelligent a film as the original, by any means. Where the original was a smart, fairly subtle comedy with horror elements, this is a big dumb action horror with a liberal smattering of gags. Far more people are involved, far more people die, far more is at stake, but sadly it’s at the expense of caring about the characters and thus it feels less important. Overall, it’s not bad. It’s silly, showy and thoroughly entertaining but hardly memorable.