Fright Night 2011 and Remakes

I’m not a big fan of remakes in general, not because of the usual fan obsessiveness and devotions to the original films, but because almost 90% of the time, the remakes are terrible.  Of course, a case could be made that the original films that some remakes are based on aren’t that good to begin with, but for the sake of argument I’ll avoid trying to lump the original films that are being remade into two camps of “Good” and “Bad” and simply judge each film on it’s own merits.

Let me be clear, I don’t think there is anything inherently wrong with remaking a film, and in some cases I would say that the remakes surpass the original film it’s based on.  Back in 2004, the online horror community was up in arms about Zack Synder remaking George Romero’s “Dawn of the Dead”.  I read a lot of negative comments about that film before had even been released, people complaining about casting, people complaining about the “Fast Zombies”, and on and on and on.  I’ll admit I was one of those people who complained that “You can’t remake ‘Dawn of the Dead’ it’s a classic!”, but I was proven wrong when I sat down and watched the film for the first time on DVD.

Zack Synder and James Gunn didn’t just take Romero’s script and rework it to fit into a modern setting, they took George’s original concept (People taking shelter in a Mall to protect themselves from Zombies) and turned it into a fast paced, blood soaked modern classic.  Sure, you can complain about the fast zombies, or the less than stellar CGI work in some parts, but you can’t deny that the opening  fifteen minutes of the film, where we go from everything being normal to all hell breaking loose in a matter of a few moments isn’t spectacular.  The film keeps up the unrelenting pace throughout, and while it’s not as heavy handed on the social commentary as the original, the 2004 remake still manages to draw you in and keep you glued to your seat until the end.

Of course, the same praise can’t be given to every horror remake, because for every “Dawn of the Dead” or “Last House on the Left” or “The Hills Have Eyes”, we also have to suffer through utter train wrecks like “My Bloody Valentine 3D”,  “Friday the 13th” and quite possibly the worst movie of 2010, “A Nightmare on Elm Street”.  The question that often comes to mind when it comes to remakes and whether they succeed or fail for me is “What did they do differently?”.  Every remake that I’ve seen and genuinely enjoyed (ex: I actually bought a copy on DVD after seeing it) tend to share several elements.  Rob Zombie’s “Halloween”, “Last House on the Left” and “The Hills Have Eyes” are three films that all took the original concepts of the films their based on and twisted them into something new.  Of course, Alexander Aja’s “The Hills Have Eyes” is almost a shot for shot remake of the original film, but in this case Aja took one of Wes Craven’s less than stellar films and put a new bloodier, more visceral coat of paint on it and managed to make a better film out of a film that was just “OK” to begin with.

Rob Zombie’s re-imagining of “Halloween” pissed off a lot of people, and I know that even daring to say that I enjoyed that film will draw the ire of some readers, but let me be clear that I don’t think Zombie’s film is better than Carpenter’s original.  Zombie’s “Halloween” is its own film, and calling it a “Re-Imagining” instead of “Remake” is a much more appropriate way of approaching it.  Yes, Zombie threw in his own “White Trash” elements to the story, he took pieces from all the previous “Halloween” films and tried to fold them all into a new version of the film to reboot the franchise. Whether he succeeded or failed is in the eye of the viewer, but to me, he succeeded.

Having said all that, let’s get down to “Fright Night 2011”

Here’s the theatrical trailer for the film:

And the synopsis from the official “Fright Night” website:

Senior Charley Brewster (Anton Yelchin) finally has it all—he’s running with the popular crowd and dating the hottest girl in high school. In fact, he’s so cool he’s even dissing his best friend Ed (Christopher Mintz-Plasse). But trouble arrives when an intriguing stranger Jerry (Colin Farrell) moves in next door. He seems like a great guy at first, but there’s something not quite right— yet no one, including Charley’s mom (Toni Collette), seems to notice! After witnessing some very unusual activity, Charley comes to an unmistakable conclusion: Jerry is a vampire preying on his neighborhood. Unable to convince anyone that he’s telling the truth, Charley has to find a way to get rid of the monster himself in this Craig Gillespie-helmed revamp of the comedy-horror classic.

I liked the original “Fright Night” when I saw it, Chris Sarandon’s “Jerry” had the suave charm of the classical vampire, without succumbing to the typical gothic trappings, presenting us with a charming man who on the surface seems like the ideal neighbor while Roddy McDowall hams up his “Peter Vincent” horror host part to perfection, and yet I can’t honestly remember most of the movie.  Of course, this probably has more to do with having only seen the movie maybe once or twice nearly ten or fifteen years ago than it does with the actual quality of the film itself.  My point is that when word got out that “Fright Night” was being remade my first reaction was “Really? You’re going to remake ‘Fright Night’?”.   Of course there was the typical whining online of fans but what caught my attention were two names.

Colin Farell as “Jerry” and David Tennant as “Peter Vincent”.  Those two names alone told me that Dreamworks wasn’t fucking around with this remake.  Of course, some would say “We’ll Jackie Earl Hayley was in ‘Nightmare on Elm Street’ and you see how THAT turned out”, and I wouldn’t argue that point, but with “Nightmare” my biggest fear was that Hayley would just use his “Rorschach” voice for Freddy, and when the first trailer came out, all of my fears were realized.  I tried to stay optimistic, but that first “Nightmare” trailer told me everything I needed to know about that film.

When I sat down and watched the theatrical trailer for “Fright Night” a few weeks ago, I was struck by the absence of Tennant, but I couldn’t find anything inherently wrong with what was shown that made me think “This is going to be a train wreck”.  It’s not an amazing trailer by any means, but it gets the plot across without giving away too much, and it gives us a chance to see how Farell handles the role.  From that trailer alone I said “This looks kinda cool. It sure looks like ‘Fright Night”, but it wasn’t until I saw the TV spot (posted at the top of this entry) that I got excited.  The TV spot is everything I wanted to see in the theatrical trailer.  We get the quick plot synopsis, we get to see Tennant’s “Peter Vincent”, Colin Farell vamping out and plenty of action, with one of the most beautiful phrases any horror fan can hope to hear “Rated R” as the cherry on top.  I’ll go into my feelings about the ratings system and horror films in another post, but knowing that this film has an R rating means were not going to get a watered down version of “Fright Night”.

The “In Real-D 3D” at the end of the trailer/TV spot gives me pause for a moment, as I wonder if the film was original shot in 3D or if it was tacked on after the film was completed (like “Clash of the Titans”), yet neither the trailer or the TV spot have the tell-tale “3D Shots” that plague the worst of 3D films (such as things flying off the screen at the audience).

At this point, I’m excited to see “Fright Night” and despite the extra money I’ll have to drop to see it in 3D, I’m looking forward to August.

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One comment on “Fright Night 2011 and Remakes

  1. I’m definitely in agreement with you regarding the Fright Night remake, in that it looks like it could be pretty damn good. I too don’t have a real strong memory of the first movie (I would even venture to say that it’s closer to 20+ years since I’ve seen it) but I think that works in my favor since I’ll be able to watch it on it’s own terms, with what looks to be a very solid cast. Of those you didn’t mention already, Toni Collette usually picks good projects and Anton Yelchin has been good in the movies I’ve seen him in (Alpha Dog, Star Trek). Christopher Mintz-Plasse, while I unfortunately still can’t separate him from the McLovin character, usually comes off pretty amusing still. I’m not sure what to make of the director, I liked ‘Lars and The Real Girl’ but isn’t ‘Mr. Woodcock’ supposed to be garbage? I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt though and gladly fork over my money to check this one out.

    I will only be handing over the 2-D screening dollars though. Unless I hear great things about the use of 3-D before I see it (doubtful) I’d prefer to see the movie in focus, without a headache, and possibly with some Sour Patch Kids that I purchased with the money I saved on admission.

    Regarding another point from your post, I’m gonna go out on a limb (in some people’s minds) and say that I think the Rob Zombie Halloween is better than the original. Perhaps I’ve just been desensitized by multiple generations of horror movies that have been made since the original, or maybe I can’t forgive John Carpenter’s latter-day sins like ‘Vampires’, but I just find Zombie’s take more entertaining. There is nothing in the original that is as scary as the mental institution rape scene, and nothing as satisfying as Michael’s vengeance afterwards. Obviously, the character is still Carpenter’s, but I now see that character through Zombie’s eyes.

    Which leads me, finally, to what I really wanted to say about the massive amount of remakes that are coming to theaters. I feel that horror lends itself a bit better to a remake than a movie like ‘Footloose’. First off, to a lesser degree, horror is helped by new filmmaking techniques/effects as well as modern audience’s tolerances for gore/debasement. But foremost, any film that has a certain amount of social commentary within it (which the best horror movies almost always do) can benefit from a more modern/topical take on things. Take ‘The Hills Have Eyes’ for example, people may not be scared of nuclear fallout like they once were, but they’re certainly still plenty xenophobic, perhaps even more so.

    Even though I have liked some of these remakes, it is still disappointing that no one in Hollywood has the balls to put big money into new horror movies. But let’s face it, we live in a culture of fear. Whether it’s al-Qaeda blowing up a bus on the news, the wrong hair product messing up your chances with the ladies, or those fungus creatures invading your toes; we’re surrounded by things that try to frighten us. Sadly, the heads of major studios also have things they are scared of, like losing money, so they’d rather just go with something that already has a brand behind it, even if many horror fans like us hardly even remember ‘Fright Night’.

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