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Fright Night (2011)

Vampires have had a hard time of it lately. You walk the night looking for blood to slake your eternal thirst, and all you find are emo chicks wanting to explore your inner pain. You're a predator who walks among men, yet are not one of them. Are those around you struck numb with terror, fleeing for their lives, filling you with the thrill of the chase? No. They want to have a heart-to-heart about the existential pain of immortality. What happened to your once-magnificent stature in the food chain? Where once you stood at its apex, you've now become a bad joke. What do you do? You look back towards the 1980s, when it was still okay to hate, fear, and kill vampires, as opposed to inviting them out for coffee.

Charlie Brewster lives in suburban Las Vegas, has an unaccountably hot girlfriend, and isn't interested in his geeky friend "Evil" Ed's contention that Charlie's new neighbor Jerry is a vampire who has already killed numerous local students. Surely there's a logical reason for why Jerry's windows are blacked out, and why he's got giant bins of construction materials out front when no construction is apparent, and why he's seemingly reticent to step over the threshold of Charlie's house when borrowing a six pack. Or maybe not. Jerry is of course, despite his harmless-sounding name, a deadly monster, which the film makes clear in its early stages-after all, is anyone in the audience likely to entertain the notion that the film's central premise is a big bait-and-switch? Once Charlie knows the truth, it's just a matter of time before it all hits the fan.

Fright Night, remade from the '80s cult classic of the same name, is refreshingly well-done. It takes its situation seriously but allows us to laugh at the characters. It balances moments of genuine horror film tension and action with a script that has wit and humor, without veering into camp territory. Camp, which the original could be fairly well deemed, is something you cannot do on purpose, and the remake thankfully doesn't try. While we've all seen this story a thousand times, it navigates the conventions of the plot skillfully. Once you've seen one iteration of the scene wherein the young hero desperately and unsuccessfully attempts to convince his best pal/girlfriend/parents/cops that a local citizen is a vampire/Nazi/serial killer/Objectivist/whatever, you've seen them all, and Fright Night barely lingers on this stage of the plot development, and spins it into more comedy when the chance affords it. Parents in such stories are often barely-seen and more often than not borderline useless; not so here. And it's been a long time since I saw a horror-related film that had the decency to actually end, instead of trying to make us jump with one of those contrived "fakeout" endings that stopped surprising anyone about thirty years ago. Props must also go to the effects team-while computers were used to aid in the vampire transformations, there are delightfully old-school makeup effects used as well, replicating the "shark mouth" style vampires of the first film, along with the painful-looking-and-sounding organic feel of the transformations, too long since supplanted by smooth and comfortable morphs.

This is the right way to do a remake: with enough affection for and memorable beats from the original that old fans will enjoy revisiting the story, but with enough deviation that the film still contains surprises. 'Why a remake?' I often hear people complain, sometimes with admitted justification. Because, in this case, for example, the original doesn't play the same as it once did. The 1980s Fright Night would not have been seen as cheesy in its own era, it certainly seems so today. Modernizing it gives it a more relatable context. The Peter Vincent character was previously a late-night horror movie host, the likes of which all but vanished decades ago. The new interpretation is of a pretentious, self-preening magician in full Trent Reznor gear, who is a figure that is at once more recognizable and frankly a whole lot funnier. Indeed, David Tennant as Peter and Colin Farrell as Jerry seem to be having the times of their lives. And while mocking Twilight is more or less de rigueur these days, it's nice to see it done in the context of providing a much more entertaining alternative.

-review by Matt Murray

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