Hola all. Massawyrm here.
To be perfectly honest, walking into FRIGHT NIGHT I was doubtful that anything was really going to come of it. It felt like everything you shouldn’t do with a remake. There are certain films so of their time that it is impossible to conceive of even trying to adapt them. FRIGHT NIGHT was the SCREAM of its day, treating us to a monster movie in which the characters knew just as much - if not more - about the pop culture surrounding its premise than its audience. And it gave Roddy McDowall his last, great iconic character – one around which the original draws so much of its strength. In an era in which few movie goers will even remember late night UHF monster movie shows or the Hammer films upon which McDowall’s Peter Vincent was based, the idea of merely updating it seemed almost herculean. But they did it. And they rocked the shit out of the premise, ultimately reinventing the film in a way that not only stands toe to toe with the original, but many might even find to be better. Heresy, I know, but this less of the HITCHER or THE OMEN remake and more DAWN OF THE DEAD and STAR TREK.
I’ve seen the film twice now, having taken my monster movie loving wife to see it, and it is easily amongst our favorite films of the year. Funny, dark and perfectly constructed, FRIGHT NIGHT includes all of the major beats of the original, but puts a new, delicious spin on each of them. It is a horror film built around great characters, each handed over to top tier talent that dive in head first and add their own subtle flair to even the smallest moments. At first glance, the casting seems like no brainer fan-driven choices picked to mimic the original; instead, it is a cast of actors that each have a fundamental understanding of what would ordinarily be a stock character, fleshing them out into living, breathing human beings.
Upon first watching it, I found the first act a little off. Everything about the update just seemed wrong. I couldn’t help thinking that they’d gotten the Evil Ed relationship wrong; I felt the Peter Vincent stuff was almost too cute; and they’d changed Amy from a bookish cute girl into an uber-babe that everyone falls all over themselves ogling. But the problems were mine and not the film’s. The original FRIGHT NIGHT is a film I watched countless times during my teenage geek film awakening and I vibe with it on an almost cellular level. I was having a hard time separating them. But this film slaps that shit right out of you. By the time everything falls into place in the second act, when you can see where they are going with each choice, the film becomes quite good. Really good. But the minute Evil Ed shows up again, the film becomes fucking awesome. I’m talking balls to the wall, kick you in the scrote, holy shit good. Every joke works, every bit of violence plays, and every emotional beat pays off leading to an ending so much bigger and better constructed than the original.
On my second viewing I found not a flaw with the film, instead delighting in the clever little ways it worked to set up its climax. It even managed to be funnier the second time around.
The big story here is Colin Farrell. When he first exploded onto the scene just over ten years ago with TIGERLAND, people spoke of him as if he were the next Pacino or De Niro. But after several years of safe Hollywood choices, few great roles and his face splashed across tabloid after tabloid, his gleam faded and he fell from A-list status to that of a struggling B+. But all that talent we saw early on was the real deal, and Farrell attacks what could easily be a cheesy, over the top role with the brilliant subtlety of a world class thespian. There are so many small but perfect choices that he makes here – from the way he walks to the way he gestures – that showcase just how deep he can immerse himself into a character. Farrell understands every tiny emotional beat of Jerry and sells him as a truly charismatic, sadistic menace.
Farrell even manages to reimagine something as simple as the passé vampire’s kiss. What was once a sexy, seductive moment in vampire films has become so overdone that you can’t quite picture it ever really working again. But Farrell sexualizes in a way that makes it feel brand new. In one particular attack, he pulls back, slowly letting his fangs come out with an expression like he’s getting erect, preparing to pounce on this woman like a sex starved beast – and in that moment, the vampire bite becomes new again. It is the kind of genius touch that makes Jerry one of the era’s best onscreen vampires.
Opposite on the spectrum from Farrell is David Tennant who goes big and boisterous, crafting a Peter Vincent that plays like Russell Brand doing Criss Angel by way of Jack Sparrow. He’s loud, drunk, obscene and side-splittingly funny. But even he has layers to him that could easily be ignored by lesser actors. There is no comparing this Vincent to McDowall’s – they are completely different characters simply built around a similar premise. Tennant never apes McDowall in any way, instead crafting something fresh and noteworthy, proving to be a worthy introduction of his talent to the American audiences not familiar with his stint on DOCTOR WHO. If you were fan of his before, you’ll lose your shit at how good he is here. If you weren’t, you’re going to be clamoring for more.
And of course there is Christopher Mintz-Plasse. In the first half of the film, he is everything you expect out of a Mintz-Plasse role. He’s McLovin. Again. But just when it seems like he’ll never be able to escape being pigeonholed, he shows up absolutely transformed. He’s badass. The darkside of Evil Ed comes out to play and Mintz-Plasse shows that he has a lot more in his bag of tricks than we’ve seen. His Evil Ed is far and away better, creepier and funnier than the original ever was, and more than anything he’s done in the past, will serve to divorce him from his typecasting. He can clearly do a lot more and, if he selects a few more risky roles outside of his comfort zone, will no doubt leave McLovin behind as a *character* and not as a mold for his career.
If there’s one tiny nagging complaint I have about the film, it is how they at first seem deal with Amy, Charley Brewster’s love interest. There are no less than three different scenes in which characters feel the need to tell Charley (and the audience) just how smokin’ hot she is. It’s Imogen Poots, people. We don’t need to be told how fucking hot she is. We know. One close up of her batting those gigantic doe eyes and the audience gets it. And while this is one of those filmmaking no-nos, screenwriter Marti Noxon makes this a real point of contention in Amy and Charley’s relationship. Amy is the character with the greatest amount of subtext; she’s the experienced hot girl who falls in love with a nice guy, but finds herself frustrated as hell when he is so concerned about screwing it up that he actually comes close to screwing it up. Poots nails it and makes Amy a hell of a lot more than the simple damsel in distress; she’s tough, confident and dealing with the unfamiliar waters of seducing a guy terrified of losing someone so clearly out of his league.
Which of course leads us to Charley himself, Anton Yelchin, who has the thankless job of being the most normal character in a cast of strong personalities. It isn’t until the second viewing that I noticed just how subtle he was about being uncomfortable every time someone discussed the hotness of his girlfriend – redeeming the film’s choice to make such a big deal out of it. Yelchin is an incredibly talented young actor, and this seems like the kind of role that would restrict his abilities rather than challenge them. But he finds a way to make it work especially in his moments with Poots. They share a chemistry and a dedication to letting so much of what is going on come through with their body language and their delivery of even the most simple dialog that they transcend the typical genre archetypes they play. In other hands, like many roles in the film, Charley could have easily been one note, but Yelchin grabs on with both hands and refuses to let that happen.
And Toni Collette rounds out the cast as Charley’s mom. Why would you get someone of Collette’s caliber to play such a small role? Because that’s the kind of ensemble film this is. Like everyone else here, she brings her A-game and makes easy work of the token mom character, helping to flesh out Charley with their brief but noteworthy interactions. She has one look in this film - a simple cutaway shot - that makes you fall for her character in a big way. You’ll know it when you see it, and that one look speaks volumes about her.
FRIGHT NIGHT is badass. So much more than you expect out of a remake, director Craig Gillespie brings the kind of attention to character detail that he gave LARS AND THE REAL GIRL and successfully reinvents an 80’s favorite for a new era. More than mere imitation and trading in on a well-known title, this is a note perfect horror comedy that gets everything right – even if at first glance it seems wrong. It’s the first film this year that I’ve run out to pay full price to see again two days later, just so my wife could see it before anyone spoiled anything for her. See this film. Right now.
Until next time friends,