Welcome back to Friday Nightmare Reviews, wherein I tell you what you could be watching instead of scrolling through Netflix, sifting through the lists of things you’ve watched to see if enough time has passed since the last time you saw a favorite movie or show for it to be novel again. It’s true that online streaming services have a lot to choose from and there’s probably more on there that you haven’t seen compared to what you have for most people. That said, given that the whole world has basically been told to stay the fuck home recently, I’ve noted that quite a few people in my life have been complaining about being caught up on their favorite shows for the first time in forever. This might also be a time to break out old, comfortable movies but it can also find you revisiting said old favorites only to discover they were less awesome than you remember. We’ve all done this. We’ve all sat down to get good and comfortable with something that was supposed to give us all the feel good nostalgia we craved only to discover that we had been sitting in something far less appealing by the time we got to the twenty minute mark of the film. But occasionally, lightning strikes, the stars align, the angels hit the right note and someone in Hollywood takes note of a decent story in the older mess of a movie. On those rare occasions, we get remakes that manage to take a small sliver of a story and spin it into something so much better.
The above scenario is exactly what happened when I watched the original film of Fright Night and then saw its glorious remake. I’m not going to shame anyone who loves the original. It had its great aspects, most of them coming from Chris Sarandon as the mysterious next door neighbor to the ever so entirely punchable Charley Brewster. The thing is that the story itself was great but it had to sit almost entirely on Sarandon’s shoulders and it tried to pull a bait and switch towards the end and it got kinda messy and yeah. If anyone would like an actual review of the original Fright Night, you can look no further than my Patreon at the $2 a month tier. For tonight, however, let’s move on to new horizons using an older story, shall we? Let us all swoon as we fall under the spell of the newest Jerry Dandridge in the 2011 remake of Fright Night.
So for those of you who are not familiar with the original, let’s just say that even that film has its blueprints to follow and, depending on who you are, you can decide who did it better and which version of this tale is your favorite based on what you look for in it. Boiled down to its elements, the plot is pretty simple, which is why it works. It runs on an ever fertile “what if” scenario, specifically, what would you do if the place that you were most comfortable and most familiar with was secretly harboring something horrible and violent. What if you were the only person who knew about it and no one else believed you as this danger suddenly became acutely aware of your existence? If this scenario sounds badass and familiar, you might have heard about it back in 1954 when it was called Rear Window. Of course, this wasn’t even the first time that story had been told as this Hitchcock film had been based on the 1942 short story “It Had to be Murder” by one Cornell Woolrich. Granted, neither of those two stories had the supernatural element to it but the concept and the predicament are pretty firmly planted. All these stories pose the question of what you would do if, either through somewhat shameless voyeuristic spying or unlucky curiosity, you discovered that someone very close to where you live was a killer. It’s already pretty damn chilling when you think that you might be living next door to someone who might have committed a murder. When the person next door is, as far as anyone can tell, a regular charming, handsome man who also happens to be older, stronger and more monstrous than your average new neighbor, this becomes even more dire. When you try to convince the people around you that said charming, handsome neighbor is a vampire, good luck getting anyone to investigate that shit.
That is precisely the predicament faced by one Charley Brewster, this time played by the late Anton Yelchin. Well, eventually he’ll get to that part. Set in a remote suburb of Nevada, close to but outside of Las Vegas, mostly our protagonist is living life in a transient desert suburb with a busy single mother and going about his high school days like normal. Unlike the original, Yelchin’s Charley is not actually that distracted by his new neighbor Jerry, played by Colin Farrell. No, his attention is rather focused entirely on his incredibly hot girlfriend, Amy, who has decided that he’s pretty awesome, despite the fact that he was all kinds of uncool prior to them dating. Like, the kind of uncool that makes poor quality Youtube videos with homemade tribute costumes to a favorite show that can make someone a permanent pariah in high school. Given that Charley has managed to shed his nerd skin just by being cute, he spends the first part of the film doing what he can to put as much distance between his actual personality and the one he thinks Amy really likes. Mostly, this entails hanging out with her and her friends while ignoring the fuck out of his former best friends. Said best friends are somewhat baffled as to why costume and video making time, as well as their friendship, has now been put on indefinite hiatus as Charley climbs the social ladder. Well, his friend named Ed is, anyway. The other one, Adam, has gone missing. Since Ed is still at home with his level of uncool and Charley isn’t, the former has a bitch of a time getting the latter to help him figure out what happened to Adam. If you’re not picking up on the clues here, Charley isn’t exactly a likeable person at the start of things and it takes full on blackmail for Ed to get him to even listen to why he’s scared.
In this version, it’s Ed, not Charley, who has already pieced together that something is seriously wrong with the strapping young man that just moved into the neighborhood. He and Adam had been noticing a lot of people in the area going missing and, after some spying, they’ve decided that Jerry is a creature of the night preying on their very small and indefensible suburb. And Charley, like anyone who was looking to maintain his tenuous grip on popularity, blows him off and tells him that he’s better off without him or Adam, wherever he actually is. Well, it turns out that Adam is pretty damn dead and Jerry is about to make Ed that way too. After a run in with the neighborhood bullies, Ed finds himself trying to escape through a series of backyards, only to run straight into Jerry. Discovering that he’s surrounded by empty houses, Ed does his best to try to keep Jerry at bay. Since Ed proves to be pretty decently smart and resourceful, Jerry decides that death is a bit harsh for the poor nerd and instead sells him on the idea of minion status instead. When Charley notices that now Ed is missing, it’s finally his clue that perhaps he’s been a bit of an asshole and perhaps this is more serious than he thought. From here, this is where things get real.
Charley was already less than enthused with the fact that his neighbor was flirting with his mother but this takes on a bit more of a sinister turn when the two have an encounter and Jerry can’t seem to cross the threshold of his house. Charley has Ed’s warning bells going off now and Jerry isn’t blind to these either as their casual conversation takes an almost ominous edge to it. Now fully freaked out, Charley finds his way into Jerry’s house and also finds the proof that had alluded Ed and Adam. He also knows for certain that he’s out of his depth and tries to figure out what happened to Ed. In the process, he discovers that his missing friend had been planning to consult a Las Vegas show magician and supposed vampire expert, Peter Vincent. This paragon of vampiric knowledge and swagger is played by none other than my personal favorite Doctor and everyone’s favorite fallen angel turned plant loving/threatening demon, David (Fucking!) Tennant. When Charley comes to see the leather clad vampire expert, he’s less than happy to find that his only hope for help turns out to be a drunken charlatan who’s selling his Vegas show image more than anything else. So it seems. But Charley doesn’t have a whole lot of time to worry about that because his mom and girlfriend have become targets for Jerry, now he’s been found out. And it turns out that not getting invited into someone’s house means that our vamp is going to have to get lots creative about getting his prey to come out for dinner.
I don’t want to harp on the original in this review because that’s what ($2 a month on) Patreon is for, but I do want to say that what I loved most about this film and why I really do recommend it is the care it took with the source material and how it made it better. There are little Easter eggs that I will not spoil here because if you haven’t seen them and don’t know they are there, it’s genuinely a delight to watch them come out. (I swear my former roommate lost at least a little of her hearing in one ear from my squealing when I watched it the first time with her.) This film really seems to get the two major pitfalls that a lot of remakes fall into, that being that they don’t give the audience anything beyond the source material or they neglect it so much that it seems to insult the movie that came before. For me, this film hits that beautiful sweet spot in the middle where it is its own entity, taking the bones of the story and filling their cracks and expanding it into something better without denying where it came from. It fills out the characters in ways that are wholly more satisfying without taking away the elements that make them who they are. Charley in the original is still an asshole but his motives for being one are rounded out in this one. Jerry in the original is portrayed as being much more of his time than Colin Farrell but this one is really only changed in ways that make him believable. The location is still the suburbs but it expands on how Jerry’s appearance and what he does would work there. It also directly feeds into his greater plan, which is something he actually has here. And the change of location also gives the film an excuse to feature David Tennant in full on leather and guyliner which is reason enough for me to watch it. That said, this isn’t merely fan service as it is updating the original concept, changing the creature feature horror host of the past and giving us a plausible Vegas showman to replace him. It doesn’t just modernize the character, it also expands on him and, like a lot of things, makes him better.
And with that, let’s get on to those characters. We’ve already covered quite a bit of ground. As a protagonist, Yelchin does a lot to make Charley likable, even when he’s being an asshole. He’s not just being a little shit for the sake of it so much as he’s really convinced that he’s not good enough for Amy and if he doesn’t figure out how to be cool, he might lose her and his new status. It’s not a good look and yet you still feel for him because you understand that he does really care for her. You also get to see his arch transform him as he confronts what happened to his former friends and when he discovers what became of Ed. And for her part, Amy is pretty impressive as a love interest too. She’s the one who liked Charley right from the beginning, even as a dork. She also isn’t helpless and isn’t just dead weight to be protected when danger strikes. She defends herself against Jerry and she’s actually pretty badass when she’s challenged. And so is Charley’s mom, who is played by the utterly fantastic Toni Collette. She hits all the right notes of being able to portray the busy mom trope but you believe her when she switches gears into holding her own to protect Charley and Amy. And the vampire they square off against is something to be afraid of. Farrell is excellent in this role. His version of Jerry Dandridge is every bit as charming as the previous one but he’s damn smart about his actions and the way that he plays this role, you really get a sense of the sadistic pleasure he gets out of his cat and mouse games. He’s always a step ahead and never plays his hand too early, which makes it all the more infuriatingly tense when he reveals how much control he has over the situation. And as a vampire, he’s fucking vicious and not afraid to show it! And he’s got a long game planned, as said before. The character to find this one out and reveal his plot is none other than poor Peter Vincent. If it’s not completely obvious by now, I loves me some David Tennant but he really does just shine in this role. He’s both a conman and a coward but he’s just so damn charming about it. There’s a layer of vulnerability that is hidden under the act of both these things and it really makes Vincent’s role feel so much richer for it.
In a lot of ways, this film is greater for the sum of its parts. I stand by the opinion that the core of this plot has and always will have a great amount of potential to be great. The idea of the killer next door, making our safe lives feel like a lie is just a great horror premise no matter what you ingredients you stir into it. That said, if this film had been done by people who didn’t clearly have some kind of love for the original, that potential could have been wasted. But the care is in the details and there are plenty to go around if you look, and you don’t even have to look hard. I will admit that this film does have a decent amount of tropes and things that have been done to death but it’s the way that it’s handled that makes it so worth watching. Obviously I’ve gushed over Tennant’s version of Peter Vincent but he adds dimension to the overcoming your fears trope that makes it so much more fun to watch. Yelchin made a character that should never have been likable into someone you kinda couldn’t help but love. His arch too could have been by the numbers basic but he added the extra to make Charley someone you actually did want to see win. And, of course, our vampire is fucking awesome. This is what you want when you exploit that sexy allure of the vampire but you still want them to be terrifying. And he’s not just a mindless monster either. I absolutely love that he’s moved here with intent and he isn’t fucking around when it comes to his threats. I loved Farrell in this role and he is so perfectly menacing that it’s criminal how little you hear about this film.
Obviously, you should see the remake of Fright Night. If you love horror vampires, see this film. If you are worried about your Doctor Who love getting in the way, see it anyway. Tennant is just as great in this as he is in everything else. If you absolutely loved the original, see it anyway. I’m not kidding when I say that they knew that film and they added in those details to show it. It’s fun, it’s got some great talent in those roles and it’s got some amazing scenes that you really should not miss!
And with that, thank you for joining me for another Friday Nightmare Review. If you are wanting to read the review I did of the original Fright Night, you can contribute a whole $2 to my Patreon for the month and along with that, you will get everything on the site early, plus some extra exclusive content which includes book chats from the monthly Sinister Reader and even early looks at audio content set to come out in the next while. If you cannot contribute, especially in these uncertain days, I am just excited to have you here and I thank you for joining me for another review. Until next time, may your neighbors be courteous, your garlic supply plentiful and may all your nights be frightful in only the best ways.