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Fright Night (2011)::rating::3::rating::3

As a standalone film, this Fright Night is perfectly acceptable.  It’s good-looking, well-cast, and delivers an adequate amount of fright for one night.  Unfortunately, there’s no getting around the fact this is a remake, and the original is a beloved artifact of the 80s.  That makes this Fright feel both unnecessary and sacrilegious.  As a rule, the more cherished a movie is, the more it should be left alone.

The story builds on the same chassis as the 1985 original.  Charley Brewster (Anton Yelchin), a geeky teen, becomes concerned with Jerry Dandridge (Collin Farrell), the strange, charismatic man who moves in next door.  This arrival coincides with the disappearance  of several students at Charley’s high school.  “Evil” Ed (Christoper Mintz-Plasse), Charley’s abrasive best friend, is convinced the new neighbor is a vampire.  Charley dismisses this as another of Ed’s nutty ideas.

Things get spicy when Ed suddenly disappears, as well.  Charley finds that Ed was amassing evidence that Jerry really is a vampire. (His reflection doesn’t show up in mirrors.)  Jerry’s quirky, awkward behavior doesn’t seem so benign anymore.  Now, Charley must convince his loved ones that this outlandish scenario is the truth.  This includes his mother (Toni Collette) and ever-patient girlfriend (Imogen Poots).

In desperate need for allies, Charley turns to Peter Vincent (David Tennant), an alleged authority on vampires.  Peter is a low-grade Vegas magician, whose skills fall somewhere between Gob Bluth and David Blaine.  Like most, Peter dismisses Charley as a young kook, and throws him out of his house.  Ultimately, he’ll be presented with incontrovertible evidence that Charley is, in fact, telling the whole truth.

That’s about all the story you need.  If you know the original film, this one will hold few surprises.  Most of the Fright‘s second half builds toward the inevitable showdown between dweeb and vampire, and it’s all pretty ho-hum.

Part of the ’85 Fright‘s magic was its irresistible innocence.  That version’s Peter Vincent (Roddy McDowell) was a late-night horror movie presenter.  This tied the movie with golden age monster flicks, and served as a valentine to fans of the genre.  Plus, director Tom Holland loaded his film with practical effects, including impressive vampire makeup.  Overall, that Fright created a vibe of lightweight fun.  It was scary, but never mean.

A lot of that good stuff is missing from this remake.  Although it adheres to the original’s formula, this version feels artificial and hollow, as if somebody in a boardroom decided more money could be squeezed from this franchise.  Bad imitations help us appreciate what was great about the original, and that’s certainly the case here.

None of this is the cast’s fault.  The late Yelchin gets perfectly cast as Charley, a shy, likable kid who gets chucked into a bizarre situation.  That goes ditto for Farrell, who nails it as the cocky, scruffy vampire with an off-kilter charm.  He’s having fun as Jerry, and it shows.  Tennant is a solid pro, and he elevates his flyweight David Copperfield above its underwritten supporting role.  That can’t be said for Collette, an Oscar-level actress, who gets squandered as Charley’s mom.

I’ll say it again:  Fright Night is a perfectly okay, perfectly disposable horror movie.  I don’t think you’ll hate it.  (How’s that for an endorsement?)  But this is an exercise in killing time, and you deserve better than that.  Go back to the ’85 version, and let it win you over with its imagination, humor, and pure silliness.  Plus, you’ll get a healthy dose of 80s nostalgia, if you’re into that sorta thing.  Let me put all this another way:  Don’t ever drink knockoff soda in a world where Coca-Cola is readily available.

120 min.  R.  Hulu.

Click here to listen to our podcast on the original Fright Night!

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