Monday, August 22, 2011

Love: Fright Night (2011)


Last year, at some point in the early AM hours of Halloween, we cracked open the 1985 original version of Fright Night.  Only a few of the marathon partygoers remained awake and the costumes had largely been exchanged for sweats, but those who stayed the course were treated to the perfect sort of camp horror.  That Fright Night was the stuff slumber parties are made of; the ideal teen paranoia flick chock full of cheesy catchphrases, clubby dance scenes, and unsettling notions of just how bad it would be to find no believers when a murderous vampire  moves in next door.  Too often, cult horror classics are remade without regard to the original.  Friday the 13th and  Nightmare on Elm Street are two prime examples of films recently retooled in an effort to kill instead of playfully maim.  I worried, in the early trailers, that Fright Night would lose its light heart and become a clone like all the rest; heavy handed sturm, drang, an undercurrent of psychosis, and heaping doses of sexualized gore.  Happily, my worries were unfounded.  Fright Night is the rare remake that celebrates its origins instead of working to “fix” them.  In some ways, I’d argue, it’s a much more effective film that gets a hell of a lot right even as it works steadily within the conventions of its genre.
Fright Night is a delightfully action packed popcorn movie, the sort of gleeful fun that makes you forget you spent those extra few dollars to see it in 3D (even when the effects turn out to largely seem an afterthought).  That may seem like a simple enough feat, but too many big-budget draws miss the mark.   Fright Night is a rare breed; the short, sweet, clever gem that rides the adrenaline rush to completion, successfully suspends your disbelief, and gives you characters you can care about without guilt.  Considering the volume of vampire flicks that have been released over the last few years, the fact that this one can pull off the traditional garlic-and-cross-eschewing, no-reflection fanger without leaving its audience unimpressed is grounds enough for praise.  All hail the old-fashioned monster movie!  See love-struck teenagers fight off pure fictions!  Watch as stakes are picked up and mere mortals take back the night! 

While Anton Yelchin does a fair enough job carrying the film as aforementioned teenager number uno,  the success of our 2011 remix ofFright Night can be attributed to a handful of key factors with a couple standouts.  Colin Farrell and David Tennant own their roles here.  Farrell appears to be living it up as Jerry, the killer vampire in construction worker’s clothing.  It’s a brilliantly camp performance that nervily sidles up to overacting, incorporating a full arsenal of Ken doll smiles, facial tics, and wary glances.  The result is a monster a far cry from the glamoured seduction and velvet boudoirs of Twilight, True Blood, and Anne Rice.  Jerry’s not a cool customer or an over-sexed goth, he’s the unhinged dude next door with a pick-up truck.  There’s real menace at play in his confident, macho swagger;  Jerry’s the type who will hit on your mom, drain a six pack, and then have no qualms about bleeding you dry.   In manic contrast to Farrell, Doctor Who’s David Tennant turns on a different smarmy charm as a Criss Angel type of illusionist enlisted to assist in the slaying.   He is the anemic, dorky, goth kid.  He is chaffing in his skintight leather pants.  He is constantly taking swigs of Midori straight from the bottle.  He’s also hilarious, shamelessly upstaging his co-stars in every scene he’s in. 
This last bit can, perhaps, be attributed to yet another of the factors that makes this movie work:  Marti Noxon is the writer.  Noxon has a slew of TV credits to her name, but the most important here is her work on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, a show that few media scholars will bother to argue against.  An intimate knowledge of Buffy’s brand of occult panache, melodrama, and sparky teen dialogue can’t hurt with this material.  Fright Night’s little tweaked twists and shallow banterings are polished perfectly, so smooth that everything slips by without effort.  Think about it.  It may not be “the smartest movie in the world”  but in a film that spends most of its time on creature violence and cliché, not noticing glaring bits of awful dialogue is very nearly a miracle.  We can thank Noxon, I’d say, for giving us a bigger-budget horror film we can laugh with and not at.   I’d imagine we have her to thank for setting the action in Las Vegas, as well.  As one character observes: where better for a creature of the night to go unnoticed than a city in which everyone is nocturnal?  Vegas is an example of the simplest detail reaping the largest rewards.  From it, we are given sleek modernism and a fresh landscape; a hint of artifice and excess surrounded by the harshest of pitch black suburban terrain.  All of these pieces add up, and if you’ve got the right frame of mind for a mindless good time,  Fright Night is a pop indulgence and a hell of a lot of fun.  At the very least?   It doesn’t suck…

1 comment:

  1. Nice Review! The tone may be all over the place, but it still has a lot of fun to it with blood, guts, and gore flying at you with good performances from the cast, especially Farrell who seems like he's just having a ball with this role. Check out my review when you can!

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