Fright Night (Craig Gillespie, 2011)

Let’s just say I didn’t get Tom Holland’s 1985 Fright Night. Cult enthusiasts may decry the notion of remaking the picture, but I never saw what harm could be done – there’s simply a lot to improve upon from the original. From its overt homophobia to its 80s trappings, Holland’s film faltered formally and allegorically. Thankfully, director Craig Gillespie and writer Marti Noxon have a fantastic handle on the material, molding it into something with a more focused trajectory and sense of place. Set in a suburban community outside of Las Vegas, Fright Night utilizes its locale as both a source and escape from sin.

Fright Night works quite effectively all across the board. With strong ensemble performances and impressive design elements, the film is a surprisingly sharp piece of work. Marti Noxon’s writing is the film’s most crucial contribution though, as she cleverly modernizes Holland’s original work while maintaining its tongue-in-cheek sense of humor. Moreover, the picture astutely addresses the concept of sexual frustration with an incredibly focused eye. The lead character, Charley (Anton Yelchin), is a high school student who lacks any sense of sexual experience. He has only just recently abandoned his nerdy exploits and is now embraced by the school’s population as being part of the “in-crowd”. With a sexually frustrated mother, a hot girlfriend, and the promise of sin a drive away, the film converges in its sexuality upon the arrival of Jerry (Colin Farrell). What follows is a pulpy game of one-upsmanship, where Jerry’s intrusion demands Charley to man-up.

As Noxon addresses issues of masculinity and male-posturing (as seen in David Tennant’s hilarious performance as Peter Vincent), she critiques the nature of contemporary vampire lore today. Most clearly seen in a brief discussion on the validity of Stephanie Meyer’s novels, Noxon may be dating the film a bit, but at the same time, she’s attempting to address the ever-growing divergence in what constitutes a vampire. The audience overtly gets a discussion as to what is a real vampire and what isn’t; Colin Farell’s oversexed and dangerous vampire is indeed a real vampire. As a counterpoint, Noxon utilizes this discussion as a framework for her central protagonist to go on a journey of masculine self-discovery. Having reluctantly shed his childish behavior, Charley embraces faux-masculinity as a means of becoming a man.  It’s only until he confronts Jerry for masculine dominance does Charley grow up. While hardly a bold concept, addressing it in the manner that Noxon does is quite impressive. So all-in-all, the screenplay is pretty remarkable, and everything else about it is pretty damn good too.

Rating: 8/10

Fright Night (Tom Holland, 1985)

The 80s are cool again. This weekend we get a double dose of 80s remakes, what with Conan the Barbarian and Fright Night getting wide releases. Even I’ve been getting back to my 80s roots, listening to REO Speedwagon and Blondie on my bike rides. But I won’t really argue against the notion that filmmaking (and music for that matter) was less than stellar during the 80s. It almost justifies the onslaught of 80s remakes coming out nowadays, as there’s actually a reason to improve on the original. Such would be the case for Tom Holland’s Fright Night.

Fright Night follows a young man named Charley (William Ragsdale) whose adolescence is put on hold as he contends with the possibility that a vampire has moved in next door. The premise isn’t all too bad, but its execution is so amateurish and childish that it makes for a very awkward cultural reawakening. Fright Night’s dated perspective on teen life (and the culture that influences it) is excusable to an extent, but the way in which Holland addresses the more formal elements of the film, i.e. framing, character motivation, the actual process of filmmaking, etc., makes Fright Night look like a film school reject project. Holland doesn’t seem to have a grasp as to how to use his camera, as he frames characters in the most surprisingly ineffective way possible – is he going for laughs or scares? Does it matter when he doesn’t strike a chord either way?

Contextually speaking, Fright Night offers nothing new. The film blends its attempts at humor with equally futile attempts at horror for little effect. Perhaps this truly is one of the first films that take such an approach of combining horror with comedy, but the fact is that it has been improved about so much since, that whatever tiny contributions it makes to the film space seem insignificant.

My motivating factor for not giving out a 1/10 is that there seems to be an honest effort on behalf of the cast to make a good film - or to at least have fun with flat material. Roddy McDowell as an aging television personality elevates the material far beyond where I expected it to go. His limited presence absolutely towers over the rest of the cast. But one has to wonder what the writers were thinking about having his character introduced in the first place – it deviates entirely from what the rest of Fright Night is about, that I have to wonder what the filmmakers and writers were hoping to achieve in having him written in at all.

Rating: 2/10