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A Bloody Good Time

August 21st, 2011

Movie remakes. Like trailers that give away the plot, they’ve been around about as long as has the cinema itself, but people still love to bitch about them. They’re a symptom of Hollywood’s lack of new ideas, they besmirch the good names of the originals, and blahbity blahbity blah blah. Blah.

Me, I’ve made my peace with remakes. In the world of theatre, no one bats an eye when someone mounts a new production of Othello or Our Town. There’s an appeal in seeing how a fresh cast and director interpret a familiar work. So, what’s so awful about someone taking another crack at a decades-old flick?

1985’s Fright Night was a minor classic and a clear antecedent to the monsters-in-suburbia comedy-thriller Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Chris Sarandon* played Jerry Dandridge, a centuries-old vampire who moved in next door to a single mom and her teenage son, Charlie. To combat the menace, the boy called on the help of Peter Vincent, a washed-up actor and alleged undead-slayer stuck introducing old monster movies on the local UHF TV station.

Fright Night was a great deal of fun, but it’s very much a product of its era. It’s not just the disco scene, either. Horror hosts have all but disappeared from the airwaves–Chicago’s Svengoolie a famous exception–and the sort of Famous Monsters Generation kid personified by Charlie Brewster now would be obsessing about ’80s slashers rather than ’60s Hammer Films bloodsuckers.

The redux Fright Night changes some elements and ditches others. Gone is Jerry’s ghoulish live-in handyman, as well as most of the gay subtext of the original. Peter Vincent is now a Criss Angel-like Vegas magician with a massive collection of supernatural memorabilia. And Charlie himself has abandoned his nerdery; it’s his former friend Ed who is monster-obsessed and convinced of Jerry’s undeadedness.

For the most part, the changes work. While it’s somewhat convenient that Charlie just happens to live within driving distance of a man with an entire armory of vampire-fighting hardware, it’s no more unlikely than having a Peter Cushing-level actor slumming on local TV. I did miss the slow build of the original; in the new version Ed just shows up and tells Charlie that his neighbor is a vicious beast.

The script is by Marti Noxon, who was the showrunner for the Buffy TV series during its most controversial run of episodes and therefore should be something of a red flag. But honestly, I think Noxon nailed the frothy fun of the original Fright Night while allowing for plenty of bloodletting. Make no mistake, jokey tone or not, there’s a torrent of the red stuff on the screen.

I liked that the movie subverted some genre tropes. There’s far less of the “nobody will believe me” schtick than usual. And I was glad to see the old “vampires can’t enter a house without an invitation” wheeze addressed in the way it never was in seven years of Buffy.

David (Doctor Who) Tennant plays Peter Vincent as a cross between the Tenth Doctor and Jack Sparrow, and his manic energy is matched by Colin Ferrell’s creepy, menacing intensity as his vampiric foe. Anton Yelchin, who was an adorable Chekov in the Star Trek remake, makes a good Charlie. His girlfriend Amy is played by a young actress with the highly unfortunate name of Imogen Poots.

Also unfortunate is that it’s unlikely we’ll see the further adventures of Peter Vincent. The movie took a stake to the heart at the box office this past weekend. It seems that vampires are only a draw if they’re shiny abstinence metaphors. Not even Colin Ferrell in a wife-beater and David Tennant in next-to-nothing were enough to attract a sizable audience.

Too bad, because the new Fright Night is a worthy remake and a heckuva lotta fun.

*Sarandon apparently makes a cameo in the remake, but I somehow missed him.

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