Because I was 19 in 1985, like a lot of films that revolve around adolescence from that time period, the original “Fright Night” holds a special place for me because of its ability to capture what it was to be a teenager back then. The clothes, hairstyles, furniture, and especially the look and feel of the home and suburb in which our protagonist Charlie Brewster resides are all perfectly realized.
Or maybe just the opposite is true. Maybe as middle-age fades our memories, movies take their place.
I’m actually okay with that.
Even though I was already on my own in 1985 and aggressively chasing the woman I would later marry, “Fright Night” still never fails to take me back to high school and my parent’s house and my own room and late night monster movies (and “Kolchak” reruns, lots and lots of “Kolchak” reruns). From there the story takes off on a wild, sexy, and dangerous wish-fulfillment adventure that involves real vampires (how great was Chris Sarandon?) and washed up television stars. Best of all, thanks to director Tom Holland’s splendid script and a near-iconic performance from Roddy McDowall that elevates the film above its genre, this 26 year-old horror/comedy hasn’t aged a day.
Naturally, when a movie’s this good and beloved, you can always count on Hollywood to remake it, which is the last thing those of us protective of the original want to hear. For this reason, and I’m not proud of this, I was actually relieved when director Craig Gillespie’s remake flopped at the box office. But now that I’ve seen the reboot on Blu-ray, I’m here to say it didn’t deserve to flop. In fact, I enjoyed the hell out of it.
Screenwriter Marti Nixon does a superb job using our memory of the original to catch us off guard, especially in the opening scenes. Better still, she deepens and complicates the relationship between Charlie (Anton Yelchim) and “Evil” Ed (a very good Christopher Mintz-Plasse), giving it a nostalgic and relatable poignancy that fills their ultimate showdown with real emotion. As Jerry the Vampire, Colin Farrell doesn’t even try to recreate Sarandon’s elegant and refined creature of the night. Instead he makes the role his own as a roguish working-class guy with his own creepy kind of charm. The new setting also works. Instead of a generic California suburb, the action takes place (and there’s a lot of it) in a generic desert suburb a few miles outside of Las Vegas.
One of the script’s drawbacks, though, is a major one. As someone who places “Goodfellas,” Casino,” and De Palma’s “Scarface” in his top ten most re-watched films, foul language obviously doesn’t bother me. But for some reason, the constant use of the f-word, especially from Charlie’s mother (Toni Collette), felt gratuitous. I very much liked that Collette’s character had more to do than her predecessor (who was reduced to silly comic relief), but the mouth on that woman — especially in front of her son.
The same is true for the Peter Vincent role. All the sweetness and insecurity McDowall brought to the role of a Hollywood has-been desperate to hang on to his short moment in the spotlight is gone. In its place is actor David Tennant and a Pete Vincent character who is now a Criss Angel-style magician who performs on the Vegas strip and lives a life of unhappy decadence. And again, the language and nudity in most of his scenes felt gratuitous, unnecessary, and at times mean-spirited.
This is a complaint about the tone of the storytelling, not a “prude” thing. These moments took me out of the movie. And while this is a flaw, it’s nothing close to a fatal flaw. At 106 minutes, the story hums along, and there are two action/horror sequences (including the climax) that will definitely make you want to see the film again.
If only every remake were as good as “Fright Night.”
“Fright Night” is available today at Amazon.