Sunday, August 21, 2011

Fright Night (2011)

The remake of Fright Night has its positives as well as its negatives.  The original 1985 version is one of my all-time favorite films.  It’s one of those films you can just pop into the DVD player at anytime and be all right watching it again and again.  It’s one of those rare films that if you happen to catch it playing, no matter where it’s at in playback, that you’ll just continue watching it to conclusion, forgetting all about whatever show or film you had flipped over from, thus ending channel surfing right then and there.

Overall the themes and plot points, of both films, are mostly identical to one another.  This version is obviously more current than the original, being up-to-date with cultural references, like when Charley is trying to break into Jerry’s house and pulls up a wiki-how-to app for detailed lock-picking instruction. 

This version is most certainly more graphic in its gruesomeness and violence. However, I think such matters are expected nowadays and therefore I feel it’s really unfair to critique value, where obviously the newer version has a myriad of technological advancements that were unavailable in 1985. That said, the graphic nature does offer a lot to the viewer. 

Despite the added technology, along with an overall smoothness and offering a pretty good compliment of acting, the remake still just seems a bit pale in comparison for me.   When I place it side by side with the original, the newer film, for me, provides much less of that certain feeling that one gets watching something incredible for the very first time.  In another time I would say the original has more of an “it” factor to it. 

But perhaps I feel that way because I was of a certain age and mindset at that time, when vampires and mysterious creatures were just something that attracted amazement from within a 12 year old drawn to comic books and supernatural tales. 

I guess one could easily say that vampire lore has hit a rejuvenation, even perhaps a peaking as of late, with the True Blood series, the Twilight films and the rash of YA novels and series’ out there.   It’s pretty hard to talk supernatural these days and not include vampires and, perhaps even, werewolves in the conversation. 

That said I’m sure there are those out there, seeing this version of Fright Night, for the first time, that will feel something similar to the way I did back as a 12 year old in 1985.  They may even like this film so much so, that they go back to the original, and become disappointed, as their anticipation and expectations may have been just too great.  Also to note, it’s much harder to move backward when technology is involved.  If you start off with a technologically superior product and then look at the inferior one, the latter will seem underwhelming.  Whereas starting with originals gives you a base to add onto.  Again it’s just easier and, as I see it, more beneficial in working from a point of addition compared to the process of working from a point of subtracting.

Besides that feeling I can’t put a definition to, there are a few other differences I’d like to mention. 

Chris Sarandon had a certain vibe in playing Jerry back in 1985, while Collin Farrell gives a similarly styled, yet much more intensely ferocious portrayal of the vampire next door.  Farrell plays Jerry as this ultra-cool, way beyond egotistical member of the undead.  He is convinced that there is no person that can come close to being as superior, both physically and intellectually, as he views himself to be.  It is this cockiness that betrays him in the end. 

I happen to really like Sarandon’s character but I have to say Farrell, all sacrilege aside, topped him here.  I like his swagger, but love his bloodlust even more.  The amped-up cockiness just puts his performance over the top for me.

There are plenty of reasons to go and see this remake, from nostalgic curiosity, as was the main draw for me, to a love for all things undead, from the mix of horror and comedy the film represents to the premise, “How well do you know your neighbors?” which is as present in 2011 as it was back in 1985.  But one reason you shouldn’t go and see this movie is for Peter Vincent’s depiction. 

David Tennant, from the updated Dr. Who and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire fame, hit on many of the cowardice-laden tendencies inherent within the original Peter Vincent.  He brought a cruder rendition with him though, something that resonates with perhaps a modernly re-envisioned hoaxer.  What I liked about Tennant’s performance was this cruder characterization, as I think it does a good job of shading a genuine feeling of overcompensation into Vincent’s character.  A man who’s as famous as Peter Vincent, the great Las Vegas magician and showman, easily could grow a case of inflated ego, yet this version of Vincent offers the overcompensation I just mentioned, in that he’s overtly crude and consistently drinking, which, in my take is, to cover up or more like shadow the coward and sham he has built up underneath the fake beard and hair extensions, he uses to decorate his stage-presence.  While amidst a smoke-filled Vegas stage he becomes Peter Vincent, the famous vampire-slayer, but strip him down and you reveal a cowardly man, filled with fear and repression.  

However, the fact I appreciate Tennant’s performance doesn’t mean I like it better than Roddy Mcdowall’s 1985 characterization.  Mcdowall was perfect as the hero that succeeded despite his cowardice, offering such a comedic brilliance to a film about a vampire and the boy that no one would believe.  Mcdowall hits all the hesitant twitches and cowardly representations, thus taking full ownership of who Peter Vincent was meant to be. 

The reason I favor the original Vincent could really be contributed to a number of reasons, perhaps none the greater than that of being a 12-year-old boys favorite character, which would continue to be his favorite for 26 years after.  Could this have tainted my honest evaluation of the two performances?  Perhaps it did, but I’m not going to play armchair psychologist any longer than I need to.  While I did enjoyed Tennant’s rendition, there’s just that certain something about Mcdowall’s that edges his version a few notches above Tennant’s on the Peter Vincent portrayal scale.

A few last thoughts on the acting.  Anton Yelchin played Charley Brewster really well, as did Toni Collette with the role of Charley’s mom.   But, in my opinion, it is Christopher Mintz-Plasse who was absolutely brilliant.  He steals every scene he was in, in fact it’s his performance that really resonates a sound connection to the 1985 original, bringing back some of that humor that, in the remake, took a backseat to suspense.  The role of Ed is, in my opinion, easily right there alongside Mclovin and Red Mist, as far as my rankings of his best roles go.
All in all I still think the original is better, but I think I’ve made it painfully clear that I have a soft spot for that film.  This version of Fright Night is really good though and I’d recommend it to anyone who likes the vampire genre and is able to have a few good laughs with it, and at its expense.  But of course I’d recommend that you see the original first.

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