Saturday, October 1, 2011

Fright Night (2011)

The horror movie genre is probably the most popular type of film to remake or update.  Why is that?  Well, what looks cool and scary in 1982 doesn't usually hold up after a decade or two, and foreign horror movies oftentimes throw in bizarre supernatural stuff that doesn't make sense to American audiences (Japan, I'm looking at you).  Personally, I don't mind remakes; my favorite movie of all time, The Maltese Falcon, was the third adaptation of the story in a ten-year span.  The important thing is for the remakes to take what works from the original and improve the rest.  I haven't seen Fright Night (1985) in about fifteen years, and I think it was heavily edited with commercials on VH1 or something; I remember the basic plot, but my overwhelming memory is of a fairly cheesy vampire movie with the guy from Planet of the Apes.  If there is a moderately famous 80s horror movie that is ripe for a quality remake, this is it.

Fright Night (2011) tells the story of former high school nerd and current cool kid, Charley (Anton Yelchin).  You can tell that he's a cool kid, because he has a hot girlfriend, Amy (Imogen Poots) and the guys he hangs out with are douchebags.  Charley wasn't always this cool, though; not even two years ago, he was making his own sci-fi/fantasy-inspired armor and goofing around with the school's biggest dork, Ed (the perpetually nerdy Christopher Mintz-Plasse).  When Ed comes to Charley with the news that a suspicious amount of their classmates have vanished, Charley blows him off.  After all, he's a cool kid.  When Ed elaborates, presenting an argument that the disappearances center around Charley's neighbor's house, Charley ignores him.  When Ed outright states that Charley's neighbor, Jerry (Colin Farrell), is a vampire, that's when things start to get interesting.  Because Jerry is a vampire, and he is responsible for all the disappearances.  What do you do when your next-door neighbor is a blood-sucking monster?
A sexy blood-sucking monster who...loves fruit?

Well, I suppose you would want to move out and maybe rent out your place to a stranger.  But what kind of a horror movie would that make?

Aside from the fact that the supposedly teenage actors are all in their twenties, I liked the cast.  Anton Yelchin is fine as the not-as-cool-as-he-pretends-to-be lead character; he's not amazing or anything, but his job is to stand in contrast to the bad guy, which he does pretty well.  It helps that Colin Farrell turned in a pretty awesome vampire performance.  I'm usually confused when vampires are portrayed as seductive and sexy --- and this is most vampire movies, not just the new wave of teen flicks --- but Farrell felt dangerous and sleazy every second he was on camera.  He's just that perfect blend of sex and violence; while not my favorite style of vampire (I prefer the monstrous Nosferatu-types), Farrell might be the best update to the classic Dracula vampire I have seen in a long while.
I love when evil personified just seems mildly annoyed
Imogen Poots was decent as Charley's girlfriend and it was nice to see her as more than just a damsel in distress, but some of her choices are a little odd.  I don't blame Poots' performance, it is just that her character didn't always make sense ("my boyfriend is acting bizarre...perhaps I should offer to take his virginity?").  On the plus side, I have been amusing myself by saying her last name out loud.
Whisper softly in his ear: "Poooooots"
Christopher Mintz-Plasse is as dorky as ever, so don't expect much new from him.  He's a fine nerd, and was a good casting choice, but you basically know what you're getting when he pops up in a movie.  Toni Collette was third-billed in the film and played Charley's mother, but she was a surprising non-entity in the story.  She was only okay (I guess) for the few scenes she had early in the movie, and then her character all but vanishes.  I did like David Tennant as the Criss Angel-ish vampire expert.  He wasn't a bad-ass or anything, but this is a story that is better with incompetent experts.  Oh, and you might recognize the eyebrows of one of the popular kids at school --- that's Dave Franco, little brother to James.  And, not surprisingly, Chris Sarandon makes a cameo as a nod to the original film.  Of course he does; what else is he busy doing now?
Is that the werewolf from Underworld?

I think what I liked best about Fright Night was the fact that it didn't waste my time.  A kid thinks his neighbor is a vampire, the audience realizes he's right, and there is no time wasted on him trying to convince his mother, girlfriend or the police. That is brilliant!  Instead of pussyfooting around for a half-hour, asking "Why won't anyone believe my insane theory?", we are instead treated to Jerry the Vampire immediately opting to attack Charley and his family.  No muss, no fuss.  And I loved the general attitude Jerry has; he doesn't care about having his secret revealed, he's a killing machine that solves his problems with murder.
...and he gets turned on by death.  Makes sense.
That means that this movie has a lot of action, something very few vampire movies can boast.  While I know that a lot of what I like came from the screenplay, I really liked the general attitude of the movie, and for that I credit director Craig Gillespie.  There is some pretty great atmosphere in Fright Night, and he balances it well with humor.  It never gets campy or stupid, even when some bits lean a little too much toward ridiculousness.  This isn't the work of an auteur, but it's competent and pretty smart.

There is one glaring flaw in Fright Night, though: the vampires.  While Colin Farrell is pretty great, the CGI used to make him and his vampire minions vamp out was awful.  The filmmakers toy with the notion of the vamps being literal monsters --- as in, only vaguely humanoid --- but they don't commit to it, and it is never important in the story.  Instead, we are given scenes with Colin Farrell's head bulging and cracking as he develops a Predator-style food hole for reasons I can't fathom.  The vampires are at their best when they are being seductive or surprisingly scary, not when they are doing a bad impression of Resident Evil creatures.  Oh, and the twist with David Tennant's character was pretty lame.  I would have preferred it if the world wasn't that small, after all.
Guns don't kill people.  Vampires do.  And guns...kill vampires...?
The lack of cool special effects, coupled with the presence of awful special effects, prevents Fright Night from being a modern classic, but it is still very entertaining.  If you are tired of romantic vampires or if you want to see how to successfully take the camp out of a story, this is a good place to start.  This is also a good place to get your "cool vampire" fix for the next few months.  Good vampire movies are rare, and even rarer when they include this much action.

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