Revisiting Fright Night (Or: Chekov And The Doctor Fight The Undead)

My knee-jerk reaction to any remake, reboot, or "re-imagining" of a movie that I enjoyed is to automatically denounce it as blasphemy. Last year, when I heard about the remake of Fright Night, I was doubly disgusted. It was not only a remake of one of my favorite 80's movies--it was a remake of what I consider to be a really good vampire movie. When I saw the cast list, I was somewhat mollified but still dubious.

And then I went and saw the movie last night. And I loved it.

The new film sticks pretty close to the basic story line of the original. Charlie Brewster (Anton Yelchin--Chekov from the 2009 Star Trek) and his single mom, Jane (Toni Collette) have a new neighbor. Jerry (Colin Farrell) is a charming, handsome, and somewhat mysterious guy who sleeps days and works nights. He seems friendly enough at first. At least until Charlie's friend "Evil" Ed (Christopher Mintz-Plasse--McLovin from Superbad) tells Charlie that Jerry is a vampire who is responsible for the unusually high number of people who have gone missing lately. Charlie is dubious until Ed disappears and the evidence becomes more than he can ignore. Unfortunately, about the time that Charlie catches on to Jerry, Jerry catches onto Charlie.

With Charlie, Jane, and Charlie's girlfriend Amy (Imogen Poots) all in danger, Charlie must turn to a famous vampire "expert"--Vegas performer Peter Vincent (Doctor Who's David Tennant) for help.

Like I said, the basic bones of the story are the same, and the changes make a lot of sense. Setting the action in Las Vegas instead of whatever unnamed town the first movie was a great move. Vegas has a transient population, made more so by the bad economy. Add to that the fact that people working nights and acting weird is pretty common, and you have a pretty great place for vampires to settle in. It also allowed Peter Vincent to be a Vegas stage act instead of host of a late-night horror show (something that really doesn't exist anymore). The other overall change was that the tone of the film. Although it still has its light moments, the overall mood is a little more dark and sinister. Jerry is much more menacing under his thin veneer of charm. And, of course, the special effects are a lot more convincing (and gory).

After the film was over, my wife and I immediately went home and re-watched the original Fright Night. And, much to our surprise, we made an amazing discovery.

The new one is better than the original.

Part of the reason is probably because the original writer/director, Tom Holland, had a hand in writing the new version. Another is the casting, which was just brilliant. Every actor in the movie is head and shoulders above their counterparts in the 80's film. This is especially true of Tennant's Peter Vincent, who is completely different from Roddy McDowall's version. He's still comedy relief, but his cowardly moments are offset by some real bravery and an actual scholarly knowledge of vampires.

If I had one complaint about the new film, it's that all of the characters find out about and accept that Jerry is a vampire. As a result, the setup at the start of the film seems a little rushed. Other than that, though, the film is paced really good, the action is intense, and the moments of humor (while fewer and farther between than in the original) are excellent. There's even a cameo by Chris Sarandon, who played Jerry in the first film. That was a nice touch.

So, yeah--good stuff! Will the new Fright Night change my mind about railing against remakes of films I consider too good to mess with? Probably not. But it definitely stands as an example that remakes can actually be done well if the original material is treated well.

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