Seeing the new FRIGHT NIGHT and then seeing the original again a couple of days later at the Graveyard Shift was interesting, comparing and contrasting the two. If you want to know which film is better, I'll save you the suspense - the original's the better film. There's a tragic aspect to Chris Sarandon's performance, and of course there's Stephen Geoffreys as Evil Ed, who if the character hadn't turned into a vampire would have probably met his end in some weird autoerotic asphyxiation accident. There's a sexual vibe to the original that the new film just doesn't have - the 1980s, for better or worse, were just a different time than now. We're far more sanitized when it comes to sex these days. The original FRIGHT NIGHT pays much respect to the Hammer vampire films but we've come a long way since then - thanks to TWILIGHT, BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, and TRUE BLOOD, in a way they've defanged the vampire a lot since the original was made.
That's not to say that the new one isn't worth watching - it is. It's quite fun to see Colin Farrell play the shark in JAWS (Marti Noxon's take on the character) as an absolute remorseless predator, a vampire who isn't complicated by the gooey things. He feeds, toys with his victims, and Farrell really seems to be having a lot of fun with the part. Same for David Tennant as Peter Vincent, in Roddy McDowall's role. McDowall played Vincent as a washed-up Vincent Price character - Tennant plays Vincent as a Criss Angel type of Vegas huckster, who because of past experiences turned a childhood obsession into a sell-out career. The performances across the board are good, and the film surprises in a lot of ways. FRIGHT NIGHT takes the basic plot template - young teen Charley Brewster (Anton Yelchin) begins to suspect that his next door neighbor is a vampire and rallies to save his girlfriend Amy (Imogen Poots) before she is consumed by the forces of darkness. As I said before, it's a different world we live in now, and the problems of a teen in the 1980s aren't the same.
The new film is set in Las Vegas, and that's a fairly genius addition to the story. Many of the houses are already abandoned due to the Great Recession, and if a vampire were to set up shop Vegas would be the best of all possible worlds to do it in. Charley has come into his own as a teenager - he's got the hot girl, new friends, and if he can just get rid of this annoying Ed (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) who won't leave him alone, he's all set. Ed and Charley were friends since childhood, but as happens to so many of us, they grew apart, and Charley is no longer interested in the things Ed is interested in. When a mutual childhood friend goes missing, Ed suspects Charley's new neighbor, Jerry Dandrige (Colin Ferrell), and Charley's mom (Toni Collette) has already taken a liking to him. But Charley will have none of it. It's only when Ed himself goes missing that Charley must deal with the truth - Jerry Dandrige is one of the undead, and if he can't get the help of Peter Vincent (David Tennant) everything Charley knows is in danger.
Yelchin plays Charley as a young man conflicted and unsure of his place in the world, and once events start unfolding he must take the initiative and try to stop what is happening. What's especially fun is how Marti Noxon as the screenwriter tries to skirt the rules of vampirism - one of my favorite scenes is how Dandrige, denied access to the Brewster house because he wasn't invited, gets around that particular vampire weakness. Farrell is both funny and scary as Dandrige, and he plays the part completely differently than Chris Sarandon played him. Sarandon's take on Dandrige was decidedly Hammer old school, but we're savvy to vampires now and Farrell's Dandrige lives in a world of glittery, mopey vampires and he plays that to his advantage.
I normally like Christopher Mintz-Plasse and he does the best with what he has, but this iteration of Ed simply isn't as interesting as the original. In this one, Ed's a hopeless geek and when it strains his relationship with Charley it's fairly predictable to see how it ends. The film doesn't flinch on the gore for the most part, but the film is strangely sexless - there was eroticism in the original and that's almost completely gone now. If you've seen the original you know why Dandrige wants Amy so badly but in this one she's just another victim.
I must devote some time in talking about the 3D. Simply put, the 3D of FRIGHT NIGHT is abysmally bad. 80% of the film takes place either at night or in darkened rooms, and frankly with the 3D you can't see anything. It's all blobs hitting other blobs. I took off my glasses quite a bit just to see what was going on much of the time. It's one of the worst 3D conversions I've seen, and if this wasn't a conversion, those cameras were utterly wasted. I hated the 3D and I urge you that if you're going to see it don't pony up the extra cash and just see it in good old-fashioned 2D.
FRIGHT NIGHT pays respect to the original in a lot of ways and although I still prefer the original there's enough new and interesting stuff here that I can recommend it. It pulls punches, but most every horror film made by a major studio does these days and there are performances to savor here and enjoy. FRIGHT NIGHT isn't anyone's idea of a horror classic but it's still got a lot to offer and it's better than it probably had to be.