If the remakers of Conan the Barbarian wonder how the remake of Fright Night got it right, here’s a hint: it’s the writing, you fools.
High school student Charley Brewster (Anton Yelchin) has hit the social jackpot. Abandoning his nerdy roots and childhood friends like “Evil” Ed (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), he’s now running with the cool crowd at school and often seen with his what-does-she-see-in-you girlfriend Amy (Imogen Poots). After a number of other students go missing from school, Ed tries to convince Charley that his new night-working neighbor Jerry (Colin Farrell) is the cause… and a vampire. When the evidence can no longer be ignored and the police can’t be convinced to see Jerry for the threat he is, he enlists the aid of a Las Vegas “vampire slayer” named Peter Vincent (David Tennant), but in the end, Charley figures he only has himself to rely upon to keep himself, his girlfriend, and his mother (Toni Collette) safe from harm. Sorry, Charley; it isn’t that Jerry doesn’t know you’re on to him, it’s just that he really enjoys playing with his food.
There are rules to a successful remake; two of the biggest are “respect the source material” and “if you can’t find anything new to say, don’t bother.” The remake of Fright Night surprisingly reinvents the entire story in a fresh take while at the same time perfectly integrating all the familiar elements and catch phrases. Credit writer Marti Noxon for knocking this one out of the park. From recreating Peter Vincent as a feature act on the Las Vegas strip to moving up the cat-and-mouse game to the first act with no pretense as to who or what Jerry Dandridge is, the story is pitch perfect as the actors make their established parts their own. Dare I say it? (Dare! Dare!) Colin Farrell’s take on Jerry even one-ups Chris Sarandon’s performance (one might even say literally) thanks in no small part to the opportunities afforded him by Ms. Noxon.
In a more specific note on Mr. Farrell’s performance, it’s awesome. Not unjustly overconfident, Colin wallows in the meaty part given to him and delivers classic and updated dialog with a chilling demeanor. The rest of the cast plays off of Farrell’s bloodsucking, psychopath-next-door in wonderful ways. By immediately putting out what the audience already knows (gasp… a real vampire!), Noxon’s script generates beautiful character moments from even throwaway characters. The net result is a realistic and believable crisis in a genre where too many people think vampires sparkle and brood like big fluffy puppies. Like his predecessor, this modern Jerry Dandridge is a seasoned and successful killer, one who enjoys games and delights in seeing his opponents faring well, all in anticipation of the critical moment when the would-be hero fails one final time.
If there were any complaints, it’s that you’ll want more. After hearing fans of the original film lament that Christopher Mintz-Plasse had been cast as Evil Ed, Mintz not only lives up to the character but explores new territory with it that the original film swept under the coffin. Anton Yelchin convincingly steps up from outcast to in-crowder to vampire slayer while David Tennant is second only to Farrell for playing up his part (and that’s saying something). The final resolution wonderfully combines elements of the original plot (including the fan-favorite line “Welcome to Fright Night… for real”) while adding a few modern elements that’s equal parts brilliant and effective. As alumni from Joss Whedon’s think tank of writers, Ms. Noxon also seeds the elements necessary for a potential sequel as well as the means to fund further adventures in slaying should the franchise continue. If audiences foolishly pass on this in theaters, here’s hoping home viewing will give it the success it deserves.
(a four skull recommendation out of four)