Review: Fright Night 3D

Posted in Featured Items, Reviews by - August 21, 2011

“You’re so cool, Brewster!”

Remakes are a dangerous breed. In certain circles, they are shrouded with disdain, while others are optimistic curiosities. Viewers may hold the original close to their heart, a cherished, nostalgic memory, while others may not even realize it is a remake at all. Some remakes succeed, while some fail miserably. Remakes are a staple of cinema, they always have been. Lon Chaney remade his own classic The Unholy Three in 1930 as a “talkie” only a few years after the classic silent original was released. Classics are made over and over again: Frankenstein, Dracula, Phantom of the Opera, Hunchback of Notre Dame, etc. Some remakes honor their inspiration or even triumph over them: Cronenberg’s The Fly and Carpenter’s The Thing. Others smear the original’s name all over the marquee: A Nightmare on Elm Street, Psycho. It’s a gamble: take a well-known property and tell the story again, presumably for a new audience and with a new take. Fright Night 3D is a remake of a campy classic from 1985, updating the horror comedy for a new age and adding 3D. How does it hold up against the original? Surprisingly well. Fright Night 3D is a nearly perfect remake, sticking close to the original in story, tone and structure, but modernizing it with clever twists, brilliant performances and witty dialogue. It remains its own film, respecting the original and understanding the modern audience and technical cinematic advances. The result is a rollicking good time full of chills, thrills and laughs.

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Much of the success belongs to the wonderful casting. Colin Farrell is dynamite as Jerry Dandrige, the Vampire. His portrayal is cocky, suave, aloof, and calculating. Farrell is a hypnotic vampire. He seems to be having a great time playing the role too, taking it just serious enough that the tongue-in-cheek air to his performance enhances the character instead of detracts. When Farrell’s Jerry confronts Anton Yelchin’s Charley Brewster just outside Charley’s front door, unable to enter without an invitation, Colin’s mannerisms, ticks and hyperactive gaze electrify the scene. He elicits laughs just from his body language alone. Interestingly, the original Jerry, Chris Sarandon, makes a cameo appearance and goes face to face with Farrell’s updated Vampire next door. It’s a terrific scene which cleverly winks at the audience without having to step outside the narrative – watch for it.

Another innovated casting choice is David Tennant (Doctor Who) as Peter Vincent, the role played by Roddy McDowall in the original. However in this updated version, Peter Vincent is a stage magician in Las Vegas by way of Russell Brand. Tennant is sensational in this role: vulgar, outrageous and ballsy. His introduction scene where he dismantles the facade of the character during an interview is hilarious, defining the character and redefining the tone for the rest of the film. While he’s never really allowed any opportunity to bring much more than a broad character to the role, Tennant does bring an enormous amount of wit, bravura and charisma to Peter Vincent. In an entirely unintentional way, when compared to the McDowall role in the original, Tennant’s Vincent illustrates the cinematic loss of innocence where, instead of a hammy actor trying to hold on to his youth, the character is a successful obnoxious, foul-mouthed lush. Regardless, Tennant is extraordinary.

The rest of the cast doesn’t fare as well, but never disappoints either. Anton Yelchin (Star Trek) steps into the lead role as Charley Brewster. He does an admirable job but is constantly overshadowed by the events and the larger-than-life characters that surround him. In a lot of ways, that is the world the character lives in, where he’s no longer on par with those he encounters: Jerry the Vampire, Peter Vincent, and even his girlfriend Amy. He’s constantly striving to catch up with his co-stars, which he does by the end of the film. Imogen Poots as Amy, Charley’s stunning girlfriend, is delightful in her role. Again, her character is thin and underdeveloped, but she comes across genuine and endearing. She makes a great damsel in distress. Christopher (McLovin’) Mintz-Plasse has a harder time with Evil Ed. He fails to make the character likable enough to care about the predicament he quickly finds himself in. Where he should elicit pity and sorrow, he only becomes mundane at best. Only marginally funny, his character is saved by his final scenes opposite Tennant, Yelchin, and Poots – but, only barely. Toni Collette is nearly wasted as Charley’s mother. She brings her charm to a few keys scenes that help establish relationships between Charley and Amy or Charley and Jerry but never does much for her own character. By the end of the film, she’s completely out of the picture.

Fright Night 3D’s story follows the original fairly closely, wisely changing the location and exorcising some of the fat. This script is lean and fast. For the most part it works, keeping attention on the exciting bits, allowing the plots holes and lack of character development to squeak past unnoticed. But this is a vampire film, and Fright Night 3D delivers. Jerry “fangs out” quite a bit throughout the picture and creates a band of fellow night creatures to stand by his side. A return to old-fashioned vampires is quite refreshing. Having the film set in Las Vegas is a wise choice as well, providing a plausible attraction to the location for a vampire to inhabit: most people work late nights and darken their windows so they can sleep during the day. The film is never truly scary and the tension never amounts to much, but the thrills are plentiful. One scene in particular illustrates what works best about this update: when the Brewster clan are escaping and Jerry the Vampire’s attacks, the editing is fast paced and the camera work is remarkable. The camera pans around out, over, along side and under the fleeing SUV as Jerry rams it, drives past it and hangs underneath it. Nicely done.

The film embraces 3D as well. While the film has trouble utilizing the technique in the many night scenes, it still finds opportunities to exploit the medium in fun and imaginative ways. Any time blood spews from a gaping wound or a severed limb, it splatters into the audience followed by screams, gasps and nervous laughter. When vampires encounter bright daylight or are staked in a well-lit room, they go up in flames with smoke and burning cinders that float around over the audience’s head. Weapons of all sorts get their share of screen time too: arrows, axes, stakes and very large mace. Shattering glass, erupting flames and various other items are cleverly used to bring depth to film – paying more attention to the foreground, which is apt for a film with this tone and nature. Still no single effect is as remarkable as many effects seen in other 3D films this year, but they do manage to make a more concise whole only marred by some initial inconsistencies early on. Wisely, the film attempts to use every little element to its advantage with most succeeding and providing impact, especially when it counts. If you’re going to have CGI blood spraying about, having it come at the audience in 3D is the way to go. Ironically, the one jarring scene in the movie – a horror movie – involves 3D, a glass door and a paint can with nothing supernatural or inherently frightening anywhere nearby.

Fright Night 3D is a good time. It’s fun, sharp and fast-paced, never wasting any time. While the characters are shallow and wafer thin, many of the actors make their roles larger-than-life and amusing, keeping the entertainment value high. Colin Farrell makes a devilishly suave vampire, incredibly captivating and droll. David Tennant provides a nice counter-balance to Farrell with his crude, intoxicated – and intoxicating – magician/vampire hunter. This modern update never achieves the iconic imagery the original stumbled upon but it does capture the spirit and builds on that. The 3D goes a long way to improve the film as well pushing many of the site gags to the limit. It successfully builds to a favorable and satisfying conclusion as well. Fright Night 3D is an enjoyable remake worth watching. And that’s is a lofty statement.

This post was written by Doc Rotten
Doc Rotten is a film critic for Gruesome Magazine and podcast host for Horror News Radio, Monster Movie Podcast, Decades of Horror: 1970s, Decades of Horror 1980s, The American Horror Story Fan Podcast, Hannibal Fan Podcast and The Future of Horror. He was also co-host Dracula on TV TALK and was a contributing reviewer for HorrorNews.Net and Widescreen Warrior. He is also a lifelong fan of horror films, sci-fi flicks and monster movies first discovering Universal Monsters and Planet of the Apes as a young child in the 1970's searching out every issue of Famous Monster of Filmland (and, later, Fangoria). Favorite films include Jaws, The Car, The Birds, The Tingler, Vampire Circus and The Exorcist.