FRIGHT NIGHT – Watch It At Home:  At Least Farrell Had Fun
The new remake of Tom Holland’s 1985 FRIGHT NIGHT has a great set of credentials.  Craig Gillespie, the director, was behind the well-regarded indie Lars and the Real Girl, and has since been house director of United States of Tara for Showtime.  The cast includes Anton Yelchin, about to make a big splash in the wonderful Sundance prize-winner Like Crazy, along with Colin Farrell, the very talented young British actress Imogen Poots, David Tennant, and Gillespie’s Tara star Toni Collette.  And most notably, the new script is by Marti Noxon, who cut her–sorry–teeth on the classic Buffy the Vampire Slayer and has since worked on shows like Angel, Mad Men and Grey’s Anatomy.

And with all that, mostly it’s just another crappy horror movie with a supposed comic edge. Holland’s picture (which grossed only $25M in 1985, so this is hardly a grab for the riches of a lucrative franchise) was an arch, even campy black comedy in which Charley (William Ragsdale), obsessed with horror movies and lore, came to realize that his new next door neighbor Jerry (Chris Sarandon) was actually a vampire, and enlisted the services of Peter Vincent (Roddy McDowell), host of the local low-rent, late-night horror TV show, to bring him down.
That basic outline is still the plot of the remake, but there are quite a few shifts in detail and emphasis.  Most of the changes seem to stem from the idea of resetting the tale from the midwest to Las Vegas, which was a promising concept–a city that truly never sleeps–but because (for budget reasons, no doubt) the movie was actually shot in New Mexico, Vegas as a physical location plays virtually no part in the picture.  This time, Jerry (Farrell) isn’t an old-world Dracula type like Sarandon; he’s a contemporary douchebag who supposedly works construction on the strip, wearing tight t-shirts–Charley’s mom (Collette) and even his girlfriend (Poots) can’t help themselves from leering at him.  Peter Vincent (Tennant) is now the star of a campy, but higher-scale, horror-themed stage show at the Hard Rock Hotel.   Meanwhile, Charley (Yelchin) is now more of a post-nerd guy who, for reasons even the movie doesn’t understand, has a hot, compassionate girlfriend, and he spends the first part of the movie not believing the vampire story at all, despite the efforts of his former pal Ed (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) to convince him.
You can see how all of this may have pitched well:  in these Jersey Shore days, the idea of a douchebag vampire could have been fun, and Charley, dumping his own friend for the sake of popularity and hovering on the edge of becoming a douche himself, could have been a complex match for Jerry.  In the movie, though, with its imperatives of getting to the 3D bloodshed, very little of this is developed.  Yelchin basically does his best Shia LaBeouf as Charley, and the movie turns into Suburbia with fangs. Farrell has some really good moments as Jerry–he’s scary and funny as he preens in front of Collette and Poots, and when he hovers just outside Jerry’s doorway, frustrated not to be invited in–but the script betrays him by turning Jerry into a crazy killing machine much too early on.  Tennant livens things up as Peter Vincent (he’s basically doing Russell Brand in Get Him to the Greek), although even he can’t do much with an extraordinarily clumsy chunk of exposition late in the story that’s supposed to explain why he’s helping Charley.  Poots, who’s given very interesting performances in indie movies like Cracks and Solitary Man, is here just “the girl.”  And although Collette grounds her mom character nicely, it’s hard to see what she’s doing in the movie, other than as a favor to Gillepsie.
The movie is badly constructed even as a genre piece.  Apart from the sloppy vampire mythology, which introduces a late gadget into the story just to ensure a happy ending, all the set-piece action sequences go on forever, and at 106 minutes, the picture feels 15 minutes too long.  Gillespie has no particular feel for atmosphere or pace beyond the obvious quiet-quiet-quiet-BANG of horror cliches, and the picture is never at all scary.  There’s nothing notable about the picture technically, either:  vampire movies aren’t really ideal for 3D, since by definition, they tend to take place in the dark and the dim 3D image makes things even murkier; it’s hard to tell whether Javier Aguirresarobe’s photography ever had any distinction.
In an era where we’re inundated with vampire stories, a new entry in the genre really has to take some chances to make a mark.  (And if it does, as with last year’s Let Me In, the audience may reject it.)  Fright Night sounded like it might be one of those, but it’s just another late-summer grab for ticket sales, part of the August/September low-budget horror fest.  Next week’s entry:  Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."