Whether fans of the original 1985 Fright Night (yes, it really has been that long) want to admit it or not, it’s a film ripe for a remake. Not just because vampires are the hot topic these days – making the prospect of adding another vampire tale to the mix irresistible to the studios – but also that it’s a horror film very much “of its time,” filled with campy scenes which, while fun, remain stuck firmly to the time period in which the film was made.
Step in director Craig Gillespie (of the bizarre and misjudged Lars and the Real Girl) and writer Marti Noxon (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) to update the tale of a teenager who has to deal with his newly moved-in vampire neighbour. However, despite freshening the concept up by playing around with the rules and often poking fun at the ridiculousness of it all, Fright Night version 2.0 can’t seem to escape from the coffin marked “camp.”
Anton Yelchin (who is making quite a career for himself having starred in blockbusters like Star Trek and Terminator Salvation) plays Charley Brewster, an average teenage boy who one day starts to notice strange things about his new neighbour, Gerry (Colin Farrell), with the persuasion of his vampire-obsessed friend Ed (Superbad‘s Christopher Mintz-Plasse). As he starts to investigate the strange occurrences next door he soon discovers that Gerry is (surprise, surprise) a vampire.
Perhaps the key reason Fright Night doesn’t work anywhere nearly as well as it should is that, for the most part, it’s just not scary. Sure there are a couple of note-worthy thrill scenes here and there – one of which involves Gerry attack Charlie and his family as they try to escape in their car – but for the most part the film fidgets awkwardly between clichéd teen drama and over-the-top vampire shenanigans which are more campy than unsettling. It doesn’t help that the script, by well-versed vampire writer Marti Noxon, tries ever-so-hard to fit in with the cool kids of modern horror movies, with clunky references to Twilight and the like being of very high priority.
A crucial mistake is also made by having the majority of the full-on vampire effects done in CGI instead of practical make-up. In some cases these days directorial intent means practical effects just can’t get the desired result but in this case most of what you see on-screen, with the exception of a couple of scenes involving throwing motorbikes and acrobatic fighting (not all at once), could have been achieved without the use of CGI. The effects are very good for the most part, particularly when we see Gerry as a full vampire instead of just a normal-looking guy with sharp teeth, but that doesn’t stop them from being unnecessary.
Casting is one of the highlights of the film. Farrell is absolutely perfect as Gerry, giving off an air of creepiness essential to sell the role. He doesn’t even have to do anything and we’re scared of what he might do next – this is where some of the film’s few genuine scares come from. The likes of Yelchin, Imogen Poots (as Charlie’s “ripe” girlfriend) and Toni Collette (as Charlie’s mum) give wavering performances, but the script as opposed to the actors are at fault for the majority of the eye-rolling moments. But there’s a couple of very enjoyable performances from Mintz-Plasse as Charlie’s friend (fans of the original will affectionately remember his role as “Evil Ed”) and David Tennant as fraud vampire expert Peter Vincent. Farrell, Mintz-Plasse and Tennant are all clearly having a lot of fun hamming it up in their respective roles.
While certainly not terrible, the Fright Night remake (in unnecessary 3D) is for the most part an unscary new take on a fondly remembered ’80s horror. Try as it might to update things for a 21st century it ironically spins an all new sort of silly web. Not without its sense of fun here and there but overall this is more Campfest than Frightfest.