CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: FRIGHT NIGHT (2011)
By Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares
(THE SCENE: A suburban cookie-cutter neighborhood, with lines of houses all looking the same. A TEENAGER looks out his window with binoculars at the neighboring house. His GIRLFRIEND comes up behind him.)
GIRLFRIEND: Spying on your new neighbors again? Let me guess. You suspect your next door neighbor is a vampire, right?
TEENAGER: No, it’s worse than that! Look! (points)
(Sitting on the step of the front porch of the neighboring house, it’s L.L. SOARES, chewing on a cigar. LS removes cigar from his mouth, looks up at teens, and spits a wad of tobacco juice onto the ground.)
LS (looks up at teens in window): Hey, kids, want some candy? (TEENS run away from window).
(MICHAEL ARRUDA exits front door and joins LS on step. He hands him a can of TECATE beer.)
MA: Scaring the neighborhood kids again, I see?
LS: Nothing better to do around here, bub. (Lights cigar)
MA: Well, in that case, why don’t we start our review of today’s movie, FRIGHT NIGHT (2011). The whole reason I rented this house for the weekend was because I thought it would be the perfect location for us to review the movie.
LS: Sucker! This place is expensive. You got ripped off.
MA: You always know the right thing to say.
LS: Don’t I? And where are all the hot girls you promised? You said we were going to have a wild weekend. We get here and all I see is YOU. You could at least put on some make-up and a wig or something.
MA: Errr…I’ll start the review.
FRIGHT NIGHT (2011) is a remake of the 1985 movie FRIGHT NIGHT, starring Chris Sarandon, William Ragsdale and Roddy McDowall. I loved the original FRIGHT NIGHT, and it remains one of my favorite horror movies from the 1980s. Because of my fondness for this film, I was not looking forward to the remake.
LS: So you keep saying. I liked the original, but don’t think it was one of the best movies of the 80s. But go on.
MA: It was, and I will go on.
In this one, high schooler Charley Brewster (Anton Yelchin) is enjoying his life, and why shouldn’t he? He’s got a beautiful girlfriend Amy (Imogen Poots), a cool mom (Toni Collette), lots of friends, and he lives in a nice suburban neighborhood just outside of Las Vegas.
LS: Not to mention, he lives next door to a stripper! How come I haven’t seen any strippers in this neighborhood since we got here? Didn’t you do any due diligence?
MA: Maybe you scared them away. Did you ever think of that?
LS: I guess that’s possible.
MA: Yes, he lives next door to a stripper. Anyway, Charley loves his life, and so he’s not interested in remaining friends with his goofy, geeky childhood friend Ed (Christopher Mintz-Plasse). When Ed tries to warn Charley that his new neighbor Jerry (Colin Farrell) is a vampire, Charley isn’t interested and accuses Ed of acting like an eight- year-old, delivering the fatal blow to their friendship when he tells Ed that his life got better when he stopped being friends with him. Ouch!
LS: Unfortunately, you can’t blame him. It’s not just that Ed is a geek. He’s also an incredibly annoying geek. I think it would be hard for anyone to be friends with him. He’s played by Christopher Mintz-Plasse, who I thought was one of the best things in SUPERBAD (2007), when he played McLovin! I thought the storyline where he hung out with the cops was the absolute best part of that movie. But since then, I haven’t been a big fan. I thought he was kind of out of place and annoying in KICK-ASS (2010), a movie where I thought just about everyone else in the cast was terrific. And I didn’t care for him much here, either. He really needs to go back to playing McLovin’ again. That’s the only character he does that I like!
MA: Oh, I liked him as Red Mist in KICK-ASS a lot.
LS: Goody for you! In FRIGHT NIGHT, he’s playing Ed, who goes by the nickname “Evil Ed” and who was played much better by Stephen Geoffreys in the original film.
On a side note, a teacher calls out his name during attendance and his full name in the remake is EDWARD LEE. I am not sure if this is on purpose as kind of a shout out to horror writer Ed Lee (one of my favorites), but I thought that was kind of funny.
MA: Jerry is quite the hunk, and Charley’s single mom is very interested in him, which Charley doesn’t mind at first, until Ed disappears, and then Charley’s thinks twice about his friend’s warning. Charley does some snooping and discovers video footage that Ed had taken of Jerry, revealing Jerry’s truck pulling into his driveway—the door opening and closing—but no one is seen getting out of the truck. Ed says that since Jerry doesn’t show up on film, this proves he’s a vampire.
LS: A vampire? Maybe he’s the INVISIBLE MAN!
Actually, that could have been a much better movie….
MA: Charley doesn’t have long to ponder his suspicions, because Jerry makes it quite clear that he is a vampire when, in a fit of anger over not being invited inside, he blows up Charley’s house! Charley, his mom, and Amy flee in their vehicle and are pursued in a high speed chase by the very aggressive Jerry the vampire.
LS; I hated that scene! First off, Jerry tips off that he really is a vampire WAY too early on in this movie. Secondly, the gas explosion stuff is way over the top and an extreme response. I thought it would have been way cooler if Jerry had just played all innocent for a while longer instead of revealing it all so soon.
MA: But that’s what happens in the original film. I liked the early revelation because it was one of the changes that helped this movie stand on its own.
LS: Part of the problem with trying to “out” a vampire in the modern world is supposed to be because no one will believe you. It struck me as really dumb of Jerry to not care if everyone knows his secret. For a vampire who supposedly has such a strong survival instinct—you’d think he’d be smarter.
MA: Charley seeks the help of Peter Vincent (David Tennant), a magician/occult expert who is performing in a huge show in Las Vegas. Vincent is more a showman than an expert, and once he realizes Charley is serious, he throws him out of his (super fancy) apartment. However, once Jerry the vampire shows up there, looking for Charley and Amy, and succeeding in abducting Amy, Peter Vincent has a change of heart and agrees to help Charley rescue Amy and destroy the vampire.
LS: Actually, before that abduction happens, it doesn’t hurt that Charley left some photos behind during his first visit that convince Peter Vincent that a vampire really is involved.
It’s funny, in the 80s version, Roddy McDowell’s Peter Vincent was a horror movie host, and I thought he was the best thing in the original FRIGHT NIGHT. But there aren’t any famous horror hosts anymore (except for maybe Elvira, who I hear is making a comeback). I happen to know that there are still plenty of horror hosts around on a more local level—my buddy Penny Dreadful has a great cable access show in Massachusetts—and I’ve got tons of other regional hosts who are friends of mine on Facebook. But I guess horror hosts just aren’t “cool” anymore, at least in Hollywood. So in the new version, Peter Vincent is a Criss Angel-type illusionist…and part-time vampire slayer. It kind of works, and I think David Tennant (a former DR. WHO!) is excellent in the role. But I still think Roddy’s Horror Host version of Peter Vincent was even cooler. McDowell also symbolized old school methods vs. a modern-day vampire —an aspect that is lacking here.
MA: FRIGHT NIGHT tells the same basic story as the original, but enough things have been changed to keep the story fresh, and to my surprise, I liked this remake and thought it worked.
LS: I do have to admit it was better than I expected it to be. The trailer looked friggin abysmal!
MA: I liked Colin Farrell a lot as vampire Jerry Dandridge, and this surprised me, because I thought Chris Sarandon made an excellent vampire in the original, and I didn’ t believe Farrell would be able to make the role his own. I was wrong.
Farrell portrays a cool, confident and sexy vampire, and I thought his performance captured the essence of Chris Sarandon from the original. He kept some of the cocky mannerisms, like his quips about having to be invited inside a house, and his munching on apples, but he’s also much bolder than Sarandon was in the original. His performance works.
LS: I agree. I thought Farrell would suck as a vampire (no pun intended), but he is actually one of the best things in the new FRIGHT NIGHT. If there are problems with the character, it’s the script’s fault, not his.
MA: Even though there were plenty of laughs in the original FRIGHT NIGHT, which was a horror comedy, Chris Sarandon played the vampire straight. This version, while still retaining some light moments, is much more a horror movie than a “horror comedy,” and so Farrell plays it straight here as well. I was impressed, because Sarandon’s one of my all-time favorite movie vampires, and I think Farrell is just as good here, which is a big reason why I liked this movie.
LS: I thought the original FRIGHT NIGHT was a fun movie, but I don’t think it was the revered classic you do. Sarandon was a good vampire. Farrell is just as good, but different. You can understand how easy it would be for Farrell to get unsuspecting victims to fall into his web. The way he looks, Farrell gets chicks without exerting any effort at all, and that would obviously be useful for a vampire.
MA: Anton Yelchin, who we saw in STAR TREK (2009) and TERMINATOR SALVATION (2009), is very good here as Charley Brewster. I wouldn’t say that he’s any better than William Ragsdale in the original, but he’s just as good. I also enjoyed both Imogen Poots as Amy and Toni Collette as Charley’s mom Jane Brewster.
LS: I thought Yelchin was a weak link here. He has like one emotion – a kind of skittish nervousness. He doesn’t strike me as someone with a lot of range as an actor. I didn’t really like his Charley that much. There were a few times when I thought he’d grow on me, but he doesn’t. I thought William Ragsdale (who went on to star in an 80s sitcom on Fox some people might remember called HERMAN’S HEAD, and who recently had a role on the new FX series JUSTIFIED) was much more likable in the role.
Toni Collette (the mom from 1999’s THE SIXTH SENSE) was good here as yet another kind of MILF character, although she’s not given a lot to do here.
As for Imogen Poots, I thought she was just a Elisha Cuthbert look-alike early on, but as the movie unfolded, I really grew to like her. Not only is she really cute, she’s a much more sympathetic and likable character than Charley, and I wish she had been the lead character instead of him! I kept asking myself “What does she see in Charley? He doesn’t have much of a personality.” (Some people might remember that in the original movie, Charley’s girlfriend was played by Amanda Bearce who was most famous for playing the Bundys’ neighbor Marcie on the show MARRIED WITH CHILDREN.)
MA: And, as you’ve mentioned, David Tennant also stands out as Peter Vincent. Is he as good as Roddy McDowall in the original? Probably not, but this is why this remake works, because everything about it is so different. David Tennant makes his own very different Peter Vincent stand out from Roddy McDowall’s, and so you’re not constantly thinking about the original. Tennant is a hoot as the occult showman and gets some of the funnier lines of the movie.
LS: Tennant is really great here as Vincent, and has some very funny scenes where he plays with the expectations of fans who might want to see him portray Vincent as a variation of DR. WHO. He’s profane, vulgar, and kind of a lush (his drink of choice of Midori!). He also turns a bit poignant by the end, when we find out the truth about his past. All in all, a satisfying performance. But, like you said, it’s nothing like the character Roddy McDowell played in the original, which was cool for totally different reasons.
MA: Christopher Mintz-Plasse as “evil” Ed again is not as memorable as Stephen Geoffreys in the original, but he IS good, and makes his Ed his own. While Mintz-Plasse isn’t as memorable here as he was as Red Mist in KICK-ASS (2010), he still makes an impression as Ed.
LS: Yeah, a bad impression. He’s another weak link here, just as he was as Red Mist. He’s good in straight-on comedies, but when movies try to straddle the line between serious and funny, or serious and quirky, he’s just the wrong guy to choose. He’s almost used up all the good will he got in SUPERBAD for me. I’m starting to just plain dread seeing him in new movies. I’m not a big fan of sequels, but this guy seriously needs a SUPERBAD 2 so he can have some decent work again.
(Christopher MINTZ-PLASSE suddenly pops up out of the bushes)
LS: How long have you been there, spying on us?
MINTZ-PLASSE: Long enough to know that you are a vampire – and a bully. Why do you keep picking on me?
LS: Because I suck (suddenly vampire fangs appear in his mouth with a “click.”)
MINTZ-PLASSE: Yikes! I’m outta here! (runs down the street)
MA: Nice fake teeth.
MA: Anyway, back to our review. Director Craig Gillespie, while making this remake less of a comedy and more of a thriller, still retains the sense of fun that permeated the original. At one point, Charley laughs off Ed’s suspicions that Jerry is a vampire by making fun of his name, saying that Jerry is an absolutely ridiculous name for a vampire, which in truth, it is. Ed also makes fun of TWILIGHT, so this in itself is a HUGE plus in my book!
LS: Then what’s with all the Stephenie Meyer books in your suitcase?
MA: Hey, we have to burn something in the fireplace.
LS: But it’s summer.
MA: Okay, so we’ll use them to grill burgers.
Anyway, there were a lot of cool scenes in this one. I liked the whole sequence where Charley attempts to rescue his stripper neighbor from Jerry’s house, and I thought the sequence where Jerry pursues Ed was a good one. I also really enjoyed the high speed chase scene where Jerry goes after Charley, his mom and Amy. I found this scene rather intense.
There’s also a nice little cameo by Chris Sarandon in this scene, who played Jerry in the original.
LS: I didn’t recognize Sarandon at first (maybe because I haven’t seen him in anything else in so long), but that was a nice cameo. I thought the scene where Charley tried to rescue the stripper in a weird secret extension to Jerry’s house was great! Maybe the best scene in the movie. I didn’t care so much for the scene with Ed, because I just didn’t like Ed….
MINTZ-PLASSE (in the bushes): I heard that!
LS: ….and I thought the high speed chase was way over the top. The original film was much more subtle, and built up to the true scares with much better pacing. This one gave up too much too soon.
I also thought that Ferrell’s “real” vampire face—kind of a monster face with a huge, toothy mouth—looked really goofy in the car chase/crash scene. It made me laugh out loud when they first show it. When some of the other characters, like Poots’s, “make” similar faces later on, it’s not as goofy. And there’s a great 3D scene toward the end (one of the few good uses of 3D) where Ferrell’s monster face gets a big close-up – it still looks goofy as hell, but it’s fun. But overall, the “monster” effect was very uneven. I thought it worked a little better in the original, despite the more primitive effects back then.
MA: I really enjoyed the screenplay by Marti Noxon. I thought she was extremely creative in updating this story, from “Google searches” on Peter Vincent to apps on how to pick a lock. Very smart screenplay. Noxon also wrote this year’s I AM NUMBER FOUR (2011), a decent movie, but FRIGHT NIGHT is better.
LS: Screw I AM NUMBER FOUR. Noxon made her name in television, where she has been a writer (and producer) with an amazing track record. She worked on such classic shows as BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, ANGEL, and works now on MAD MEN. I’m a big fan of hers, but her movie work pales in comparison. But yeah, she does do a good job here in updating FRIGHT NIGHT. Even if I did have some problems with the script. It was much more entertaining than most remakes.
MA: All true, but she did write I AM NUMBER FOUR which we reviewed this year.
LS: I didn’t say she didn’t. I just said she did better work on TV.
MA: At times, the movie is a bit contrived. When the teens start disappearing, doesn’t anyone notice? Why isn’t anyone calling the police? Jerry is so bold and out in the open about his being a vampire, you wonder he’s not more cautious. And why do the bodies of new vampire disintegrate in sunlight? They’re not hundreds of years old.
LS: Because the filmmakers think it looks cool, probably. Me, I’m getting tired of disintegrating vampires. I don’t remember Christopher Lee or Lugosi going up in a big whoosh of fire and ash. It was cool when it was something new on BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, but it’s since become another cliché.
All your points are good, by the way. While FRIGHT NIGHT is a decent enough remake, it’s not great by any stretch. For me, the reasons to see this thing are David Tennant, Imogen Poots and Colin Ferrell (even though his vampire is way too quick to give up his secrets).
MA: I also saw this in 3D which was a complete waste. I hardly noticed the 3D effects at all. There’s no need to see this movie in 3D, people! Save your money and see it in 2D if you can.
LS: I saw it in 3D as well, because I didn’t have a choice, and I thought it was a complete failure. A big part of the problem is that a lot of FRIGHT NIGHT takes place at night. So you’re watching the movie through these annoying glasses, and everything is dark (which is not very conducive to 3D effects), and it kind of gave me a headache. I took the glasses off every once in a while, just to see the screen a bit brighter —even if it was blurry. And the 3D effects were lame over all. I can only remember one or two scenes where 3D came into play at all. A complete waste of money!
MA: Is FRIGHT NIGHT scary? Not really, but it is entertaining and at times suspenseful. For the most part, the vampires are taken seriously, and this is a good thing. Speaking of vampires, I really thought Colin Farrell made an excellent vampire. Sure, Jerry is a silly name for a vampire, but after this movie, we now have two very memorable movie vampires named Jerry Dandridge.
LS: I thought the whole “Jerry is a silly name” thing was stupid. Of course his name is Jerry. He’s a vampire trying to fit into human society. What should his name be? VLAD TEPES? People made way too much of the Jerry thing, and every time someone brought it up, I just rolled my eyes. Who gives a damn?
MA: I thought it was funny.
LS: Also, Charley kept making a big deal about how a vampire would fit right in living in Las Vegas (where this movie is set). He kept pointing out that in a city where people work all night on the strip and then sleep during the day, a vampire wouldn’t be noticed. But this is hardly a new idea. It was done before—and much better—in the original NIGHT STALKER movie from 1972, starring Darren McGavin as Carl Kolchak (and Barry Atwater as a much scarier vampire than anything you’d see in a FRIGHT NIGHT movie!).
MA: While Atwater may have been scarier, I would argue that Sarandon was just as memorable a vampire. Atwater didn’t have any dialogue in THE NIGHT STALKER, and this worked against him. I think Sarandon gave a better complete performance. And Farrell is pretty good in this movie too!
What can I say? To my complete surprise, I liked the new version of FRIGHT NIGHT. I give it three knives.
LS: I liked it, too. Much more than I thought I would, based on the extremely boring trailer. So it was a surprise for me as well. Just not a complete surprise, like you. Mainly because there’s a lot wrong with it. And while it was entertaining, it wasn’t as good as it could have been if they’d tightened up the script and motivations a bit more. So I give it two and a half knives.
MA: You’re nitpicking and no fun! This movie should have been horrible, but everyone involved did a pretty good job and made an enjoyable movie!
Well, we better get out of here. I only rented it this place until tonight. We’ve got to move on.
LS: Let me at least finish my cigar first!
(MA goes to pack up his suitcase, including several Stephenie Meyer TWILIGHT books)
MA (to camera): I don’t really believe in burning books. I brought these along just to annoy you-know-who. (Points over his shoulder to LS)
(Back to the TEENAGER next door, still watching MA and LS through his binoculars)
GIRLFRIEND: What are they doing now?
TEENAGER: They’ve been talking for over an hour. If they’re vampires, they sure are BORING vampires. I haven’t seen them bite anybody!
GIRLFRIEND: Come on, let’s have some sex already!
© Copyright 2011 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares
Michael Arruda gives FRIGHT NIGHT (2011) – three knives!
L.L. Soares gives FRIGHT NIGHT (2011) - two and a half knives!