****/**** Image B- Sound A+ Extras C-
starring Anton Yelchin, Colin Farrell, Imogen Poots, David Tennant
screenplay by Marti Noxon, based on the screenplay by Tom Holland
directed by Craig Gillespie
by Walter Chaw After 28 Weeks Later, I wondered when Imogen Poots would become a star. It only took four years. As Amy in Craig Gillespie's really frickin' great Fright Night, she's sexy without being vacuous and tough without being masculinized--her general kick-assness undoubtedly owing in part to screenwriter Marti Noxon, "Buffy the Vampire Slayer"'s showrunner from Season Six to completion. I'm spending time talking about Amy because she's a wonderful character who manages to complete an arc or two in a mere supporting role. Consider a moment in which she mentions her boyfriend's skin clearing up that locates her completely, and believably, in the film's high-school environment--that's a lot of expositional impact in a little package. A remake of Tom Holland's cult classic that was itself one of my VHS favourites (worn to breaking during my formative decade with the movies), Fright Night is delightful because it's absolutely certain of what it is and what it isn't, delivers everything it promises it will (in spades), and genuinely has fun with the 3-D innovation that's the bane of most other movies lately. Smart as hell and unapologetic about it, it presents character beats that matter and sports a performance from Colin Farrell as evil vampire-next-door Jerry that should, no shit, earn him Academy Award consideration. Between him and the chimp from Rise of the Planet of the Apes, it'd be a tough call.
Charley Brewster (Anton Yelchin) has turned his back on dweeby childhood pal Ed (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) and all things Geek in order to win the attention of unbelievably hot Amy (Poots)...and succeeded, but at some cost to Ed and, arguably, to himself. Charley's father is AWOL, he lives with his mom, Jane (Toni Collette), and much of the film's tension revolves around his attempts to forge a new identity as protector of the womenfolk while still trapped in Anton Yelchin's body. His role is complicated by the arrival of new neighbour Jerry, who keeps odd hours and reveals himself in no time to be an honest-to-goodness vampire, intent on clearing out Charley and Jane's prefab community in a suburb of Las Vegas dominated by transients. Fright Night is a superior remake because it understands what it was that actually worked about the original and develops it in the update. The sexual heat between Farrell and Poots is as loaded, inappropriate, and pitch-perfect as the wicked interplay between Robert De Niro and Juliette Lewis in the superior Cape Fear remake. It's not scary in the obvious sense, but it's pretty terrifying in the existential way that first losing your father, then maybe losing your house, your best friend, your mother, your girl, and your identity can be scary.
Fright Night is a blast. Ridiculous Peter Vincent (David Tennant), played by Roddy McDowall in the 1985 version as a late-night creature-feature host Charley consults about his vamp problem, is here transformed into a Criss Angel manqué with agreeable quirks and a gratifying redemption. Although this isn't a serious film, it bounces off serious coming-of-age issues (like losing your virginity, the perfect analog to the vampire mythos) in ways that make sense and add to the gathering doom that ties all the tautly-paced, beautifully-staged set-pieces together. A sequence on a highway is just gorgeous, featuring the P.O.V.-from-inside-the-car ramming scene from Jeepers Creepers and amplifying it into a claustrophobic bit that recalls the extended ambush from Children of Men. An escape from a white corridor that seems a direct homage to the last great vampire movie, Thirst, is handled with tremendous grace and a splendid payoff that clarifies the picture's lore; another, quieter moment, as Jerry delivers a magnificent monologue while standing at Charley's kitchen door, clarifies its subtext. A series of expert genre moments carried off effortlessly, Fright Night is brisk, fun, and has something to say about growing up and responsibility. But mainly it's about slaying monsters and getting the girl. It's fucking sweet.
THE BLU-RAY DISC
by Bill Chambers Nothing's created quite so much cognitive dissonance for me this year than reading "A Walt Disney Pictures Release" at the tail-end of Fright Night. This is the first DreamWorks production to be distributed through new parent company Disney, who unfortunately have foisted some hammy special features on the film for Blu-ray. A mock infomercial for "Peter Vincent"'s Vegas spectacular, "Peter Vincent: Come Swim in My Mind" (2 mins., HD) is inoffensive enough, I guess, despite being so short on credible footage that clips and B-roll from Fright Night comprise the bulk of its running time. (At least the in-character interviews are exactly that.) "The Official How to Make a Funny Vampire Movie Guide" (8 mins., HD), on the other hand, is nigh intolerable, thanks to cutesy intertitles like "According to union rules, a vampire must eat over 1000 people to register for a lair." Har-de-har. Yuk-yuk. Barf. Clearly made by people who haven't seen more than the logline for Fright Night, it lacks any nutritive value for a making-of besides--although I learned that screenwriter Marti Noxon is the spitting image of actress Rhea Seehorn (a.k.a. the only redeeming facet of the awful "Whitney"). Five "Deleted or Extended Scenes" (5 mins., HD) demonstrate good judgment on the part of either director Craig Gillespie or the studio muckety-mucks, though I would've left in a tiny moment where we see that Amy is not above withholding affection to get what she wants. (She releases her hand from Charley's knee when he expresses a reluctance to join her idiot friends for coffee instead of going to calculus class.) "Squid Man: Extended & Uncut" (3 mins., HD) is the complete version of Charley's video-within-the-movie, and its length demonstrates just how many questions were averted by only showing a couple of seconds of it in Fright Night proper. For example, when all three actors are in the frame, who's shooting it? Is it supposed to be a movie (in which case, it's appallingly juvenile), or are they filming themselves live-action role-playing (in which case, many of its aesthetic sins are forgivable)?
Rounding out the extras: "Bloopers" (3 mins., HD), which makes good on the front cover's promise of "Unrated Bonus Features" with lots of unfiltered profanity; and the Gillespie-helmed tie-in video for Kid Cudi's "No One Believes Me" (5 mins., HD). Fright Night itself docks in a problematic 1.78:1, 1080p transfer. Alternately shot with the Paradise FX 3D camera system and the Red One MX, the picture looks sufficiently filmic, but at times--particularly during the centrepiece car chase--dynamic range is so poor that I couldn't fathom somebody opting for the Blu-ray 3D alternative, even as I intuited that I was missing out on some effective comin'-at-ya gags. The last thing this image needs at its dim, soft worst is to be further obfuscated by a pair of dark glasses. Granted, great portions of the film have a lively, razor-sharp appearance here (all it takes is a decent light source other than the moon's natural luminescence), but the real saving grace of this presentation is the lossless audio. Never idle yet governed more by logic than by the pyrotechnic impulse, this is the rare mix that manages to be constantly active without becoming hyperactive. While I imagine it's the perfect complement to the 3D version of the film, it provides awesome depth on its own, with the most innocuous dialogue exchanges finding a use for the rear channels and the subwoofer dipping to the subterranean levels that cause sleeves to flutter. Music, including Ramin Djawadi's score, exploits the discrete soundstage to its fullest, and the 7.1 DTS-HD MA track of this disc keeps the dialogue nicely foregrounded. Skippable trailers for Real Steel, The War Horse, and The Help cue up on startup; Fright Night's retail DVD closes out the package. Originally published: December 12, 2011.