Saturday, August 20, 2011


In the 1980s, one of the biggest recurring storylines in films was Kid in the Suburbs Versus Supernatural Evil. The Lost Boys, The Monster Squad, and a hundred other movies right on the edge of being too scary for kids introduced a generation to the idea of horror movies, and created a legion of fans that still exists today. While this particular genre has all but died, Dreamworks is attempting to give it another go with a remake of one of that era's seminal movies - Fright Night.

Disclaimer up front: I never saw the original Fright Night, so this review will contain exactly zero comparisons between the new version and the old one. I'm thinking of digging it up now, though, so maybe that'll be an article for another time.

The 2011 version of Fright Night follows Charlie (Anton Yelchin), a high school kid who used to be a nerd, and his fight against his next door neighbor, an evil vampire named Jerry (Colin Ferell.) This review is going to have at least minor spoilers about the plot, without giving away too much of the major twists and turns, so if you want to remain completely spoiler free, here's a quick summary: Fright Night is a fun movie that doesn't really know what it wants to be, has some very good performances and some very disappointing twists, but is worth your time to see, if not to see at full price in theaters.

But, of course, you don't care about any of that. You want to know about the reason thousands of geeks will see this movie: David Tennant. David, also known as the Tenth Doctor to most, plays Peter Vincent, a Las Vegas Magician and "Vampire Hunter." He's the stand out role in the movie, and the most comfortable, funny, and at times even badass actor in the film. If you're gonna see this movie just for Mr. Tennant, you won't be disappointed by his character or his screen time. The only (slight) problem I had with his performance was that Vincent is the chief exposition-giver for the film, and when David dumps the plot on you, he still sounds just like The Doctor. I understand, it's hard to distance yourself from a character you've played for four years, but I would've liked to see more of a difference in Vincent so I wasn't constantly thinking he was going to jump in the TARDIS and fly away.

While we're on the subject of actors, the rest of the performances in the film are mixed. Christopher Mintz-Plasse, as always, steals the show. Sure, he's playing a very similar character to his character from Superbad, but it's always enjoyable to watch him work, and he does get to stretch his acting wings in the single most terrifying scene in the film. Imogen Poots, winner of the most hilarious name of the year, is servicable as the typical girlfriend, and Toni Collette is great as the mom. Besides David Tennant, the standout is Colin Ferrell, who manages to be exceptionally evil while also being exceptionally laid back. While he has some funny moments in the film, you feel that Jerry is an unstoppable monstrous killing machine every time he's on screen. The disappointment is the usually fantastic Anton Yelchin, but it seems to be more the material's fault than his. He just doesn't have the chance to work in the talent he showed in other, better movies like Star Trek and Charlie Bartlett.

I mentioned earlier that the film doesn't know what kind of film it wants to be, and that's very true. While I haven't seen the original Fright Night, other movies of the era had a good balance of horror and comedy, and the new version certainly tries for that. The problem is, unlike the movies of the 80s, this Fright Night is a hard R, with a ton of blood and truly horrible things happening to people. Some of it is so jarring, that to go to a joke ten seconds afterwards seems almost inappropriate. The scenes of terror are terrifying, and the scenes of humor are very funny, but they never seem to blend together in the great cocktail of say, a good Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode. It's like watching two good movies stuck together with the barest of glue, and the result is really jarring.

There's also a major problem in this film's inciting incident, and to tell you about it we're gonna have to talk with some spoilers. Again, only read this paragraph if you want to be spoiled, otherwise jump ahead. Here we go.

I mentioned how great Christopher Mintz-Plasse is in the film. We learn early on that his character, Evil Ed, and Charlie used to be best friends. Charlie has since moved on from being a geek, and is trying, and failing, to be a popular kid instead, complete with terrible friends and a hot, seemingly shallow blond girlfriend. In trying to hold on his new identity, Charlie is absolutely awful to Ed, and abandons him when he needs him most, leaving Ed alone to run into the very real world danger of an angry bully, Mark, and then finally to his death at the hands of Jerry. Ed returns, later in the film, turned into a vampire and evil, and Charlie is forced to kill him. This is an interesting motivation for your main character, but the film never seems to spend any time on Charlie feeling any remorse at all for what he did. The most we get are a few, short, throwaway scenes about the man dealing with the fact that his best friend's death is undeniably his fault. On top of this, Mark the bully gets his just desserts half-way through the movie, and is eaten by Jerry in a great scene. Which is great - except that at the end of the film, when Jerry is killed by a magical stake that saves his victims, Mark gets away just fine and Ed stays dead. Considering how often the original 80s movies were morality plays, it's disappointing to see the most loveable character in the film meet a horrible end while the bully gets away without so much as a scratch.

Spoilers over! Hooray!

Fright Night, all in all, is a fun movie and I enjoyed myself. But I wouldn't expect a great film, and I don't know that I'd recommend paying the $10-15 you'll need to see it in theaters. If you're desperate to see David Tennant and you can't wait, his role is worth it, but I would wait for the inevitable DVD, Blu-ray or Netflix to watch this one.

1 comment:

  1. Great review Mike! However, I hope you noticed you forgot the 'R' in fright as the title for this.