Note: John "The Arrow" Fallon's review will be up by the end of the week.
PLOT: When Charlie Brewster, newfound cool guy at school, reluctantly suspects a vampire may have just moved in next door, he summons the great Peter Vincent, Vegas showman and vampire slayer extraordinaire, to help put an end to the violent suburban scourge. His mother Jane, girlfriend Amy and best friend Evil Ed all become entangled in the twisted vampiric yarn.
REVIEW: Like many, upon the announcement of DreamWorks' FRIGHT NIGHT retouch, I found the prospect pretty unappealing. I grew up with Tom Holland's original, and although the 1985 version features more homoerotic camp than a "Glee" tryout, it's one of those iconic 80s mainstays that's impressively endured the test of time. So it was with as much trepidation as curiosity that I wondered just how Craig Gillespie's rendition would compare. That said, I had no provincial blinders on; I was completely open to enjoying the film, no preset feelings of dismissal or detestation for me going in. And while I think the film, while R-rated, plays like a horror film-light...or an MTV horror film...I must say I had a pretty entertaining time overall with what I laid eyes on. Faithful enough to the tone and skeletal outline of the original, while still incorporating new twists and wrinkles, FRIGHT NIGHT is one I will remember, even if not as fondly...or for 25 years after its release.
Vegas. The present. Charlie Brewster (played by Anton Yelchin), a onetime nerd-boy reduced to playing "Squidman" on his front lawn, is starting to find his social bearings. He's got a cute girlfriend named Amy (Imgoen Poots), newfound respect in the ever unforgiving hell that is high-school, and does his best to disassociate himself from his old friend - still a dweebnick - Evil Ed (Christopher Mintz-Plasse). When Ed approaches Charlie in the halls of school one day to tell him he thinks a vampire has just moved in next door, Charlie pretends like he doesn't even know the dude. It isn't until a mutual friend goes missing - an obligatory vet and suss mission at the kid's house - that Charlie even begins to hear the prospect of fanged bloodsucker taking residence mere feet from his own abode. And even then he isn't really sold. Nope, it takes a face-to-face confrontation with his new neighbor Jerry (played well but stylized by Colin Farrell) and the strange abduction of his other neighbor, Doris (Emily Montague), that he finally begins suspecting something afoul. Against his judgment, he recruits Peter Vincent (David Tenant) - a Chris Angel type huckster who indulges in flamboyant magic shows and supernatural exposés. Angel resists at first, then ultimately decides to help Brewster quash the increasingly gory murder spree.
I must say, there are many things I admired about Gillespie's FRIGHT NIGHT. First off, I enjoyed the acting all around. Anton Yelchin in particular does a good job of conveying your typical everyman teen who arcs into a full-fledged badass by the final reel. David Tenant, while criminally underutilized in my opinion, also shines as a Vegas showman, an ultimate charlatan of venality. I only wish he had more screen time. Colin Farrell, perhaps charged with the toughest task, does a pretty solid job as Jerry Dandridge, a role immortalized by the great Chris Sarandon. Here Farrell is much more predatory, overtly so, his eyeballs black, his bloodlust as amplified as the shark from JAWS. Farrell plays it with a sedate menace. Good work from everyone involved.
I also quite dug the body-count and amount of onscreen carnage. Here's where the movie exceeds its predecessor, not only in volume but in graphic rendering. Yes, Holland's original had a buck-wild finale, but here, the bloodletting mayhem was pretty constant throughout. F/X work by Howard Berger and the KNB team are pretty outstanding, a nice marriage of practical F/X with CG enhancement. I never once felt the film looked too artificial or the FX too hokey. Cartoonish maybe, again because of the tone, but never anything terribly unbelievable. And that I appreciated.
Tonally, the film does a decent job of parroting the original. In the first hour or so, comedy plays just as big as the scares do, and as the film progresses, a more sinister mien starts to shine through. Writer Marti Noxon (of "Buffy The Vampire Slayer" fame) surely has her pulse on brooding teen angst and deliberately sophomoric dialog, her jokes, particularly about TWILIGHT, are sure to get a good chortle out of any jaded but hardcore horror head. Look, it's extremely difficult to masterfully convey a single tone in a movie. It's extremely hard to execute comedy, period. It's very difficult to induce scares, period. So to have a movie that tries for both, pulling it off at times, falling flat at others...you can't really fault the effort. At least not in the abstract. You can only fault it in terms of how it relates to the original. Thing is, the film follows the beats of Holland's version to the point that you couldn't really call the film anything but FRIGHT NIGHT. If you could, perhaps the film wouldn't be judged so stringently. But because the 1985 classic is always in the back of your mind, it's hard to judge Gillespie's on its own merits.
As far as setbacks are concerned, the 3D format didn't really do much to enhance the story. While on set I was assured the film was being SHOT in 3D as opposed to being converted in post, but the difference between this and say, PIRANHA and PIRATES 4, while certainly better, is only negligibly so. Honestly, if you have the option of seeing FRIGHT NIGHT in 2D or 3D, choose the former. Of course, I'm not the biggest 3D proponent in the first place, so you may want to consider that as well. Narratively, I also felt the film got weaker, not stronger, as the runtime progressed. By the time the third reel hits, the tone has markedly shifted into solemn one, the jokes are largely out the window. I'm okay with that, as it apes the original, but when the film tries getting a little too serious, especially given the soft, playful vibe early on, it seems a little mismatched. The ending also veers quite drastically from the '85 flick.
At the end of the day, FRIGHT NIGHT is a solid piece of horror entertainment, even if it hardly inspires pride in its namesake. If you're a fan of the original, chances are you'll not only remain so, but you even have more of an appreciation of it. And while I was never bored or really even that off-put by Gillespie's version, it never does anything to elevate and/or distinguish itself from its predecessor. That said, it's a funny, lightly comported R-rated horror joint. A good body toll and use of practical FX, highlighted by buyable acting (Yelchin and Tenant in particular) are some of the things I found admiration in. The shoddy 3D and sagging, tangential third act are the biggest downfalls in the film.