The latest piece of cinematic driftwood arriving on multiplex screens is Fright Night, originally a hit in the summer of 1985, when it starred William Ragsdale as teenager Charlie Brewster and Chris Sarandon as his mysterious new neighbour Jerry, whom Charley was convinced was a vampire. Enlisting the help of Roddy McDowall’s Peter Vincent, host of the television horror show Fright Night, they reluctantly battled the undead threat in their midst.
Leaving aside the ever present concern of why bother remaking a perfectly good film when so many original ideas remain unmade (with Game of Thrones attracting so much positive attention, and vampires always in vogue, why is no studio rushing to produce George R R Martin’s excellent vampires-on-the-Mississippi tale Fevre Dream?), in order to succeed, any film must be entertaining, coherent and either have a unique voice, or tell a familiar tale in a sufficiently original way.
The first oddity about the new Fright Night is that, unlike the original, there is never any question over whether or not Jerry is a vampire. Any mystery is dispelled within the first ten or so minutes, and the audience and Charley are expected to just accept the fact and move on. It is a brave narrative choice: while some remakes wish to establish their own identity, this is so content that the audience already know the plot of the original, it doesn’t bother telling a satisfying story in its own right.
While the accelerated first act might imply that the film was to contain so much plot that the early sacrifice of intrigue was in order to allow the later intensity to fully mature, the plot does not so much unravel as unspool. As a veteran of many years on the writing team of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Marti Noxon should have the required insight into teenagers and vampires and the grasp of dramatic structure required to make an outstanding film, but while the result is certainly adequate, the only time any hopes raised by her weighty resume are fulfilled is when David Tennant is onscreen.
Playing a radically different interpretation of Peter Vincent, now a Vegas showman in a supernatural themed casino show, Tennant mercilessly gallivants through every scene as if it was his own personal star vehicle in a role that demands he behave as outrageously as possible, and the rest of the cast, including Anton Yelchin, Colin Farrell and Toni Collette, fine though they are, cannot hope to match him.
Despite the ease with which the existence of vampires are accepted into their worldview, the only point of reference is when Charley’s friend Ed rebukes him “I’m seriously angry that you think I read Twilight,” but there are many other echoes of earlier films. Set in the blistering desert of Nevada, the film is aware of the contrasts between the city by day and by night, and the passage between them is beautifully captured in one moment, the view from a glass elevator as the sun sets into the skyscrapers, but the sense of transition into a different world and the danger that rose at sunset was captured more fully in The Lost Boys.
Similarly, Jerry’s habit of retreating backwards into shadow harks back to Angel in his early appearances in Buffy, and as soon as a stack of real estate signs were placed in the back of mother Brewster’s car in an early scene it was apparent they would be used as stakes, having seen it done in an episode of Friday the 13th: The Series.
Visually, the effects are excellent, from the blood spattered opening titles to the vampire regeneration effects, and while the 3D is not too intrusive, it adds little to proceedings, but the one scene where it could have been used effectively, in a car chase shot from within the lead vehicle, lacks the required impact to make it truly spectacular.
The comedy/horror hybrid is a difficult balance, and whilst the original Fright Night, Vamp and the aforementioned Lost Boys were some of the best examples, here the laughs are too few, and in many cases unintentional. Jerry asserts that he works the Vegas strip during the day, ostensibly in construction, but he would actually be more convincing as a male escort, and while to American audiences an artefact blessed by St Michael might be of significance, in Britain the powers of the patron saint of high street underwear brands carries less weight.
Ultimately, while competent, the film does not excel in anything other than as a showcase for David Tennant, and does not challenge the audience or the other performers in any way. In many ways, it’s a shame that the producers didn’t elect to remake Fright Night II, as Julie Carmen’s Regine was always a far more interesting and bold character than Jerry, who ultimately, is just the guy who washed up next door.