Fright Night (Two-Disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo) (2011)

Actors: Anton Yelchin, Colin Farrell
Format: Color, Widescreen
Language: English
Region: Region A/1
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Number of discs: 2
Rated: R (Restricted)
DVD Release Date: December 13, 2011
Run Time: 106 minutes





And now, a bit of cinematic economics: the latest Twilight film – featuring emasculated vampires, witless dialogue, and a morally reprehensible subtext – has currently grossed over $600 million worldwide . . . adding to a $2 billion plus payout for the entire franchise.

Fright Night – which features clever writing, likable protagonists, and vampires that actually scare us – bombed like the Enola Gay when it was released last August, grossing less than 3 percent of its ostensible rival’s take. That means that Hollywood – ever cognizant of the bottom line – will continue to crank out moony, toothless vampire stories instead of ones that actually understand what monsters are all about.

And people wonder why critics are so cranky!

Those of you who missed Fright Night in the theaters – and judging by the grosses, there are an awful lot of you – have a chance to rectify the error with the Blu-ray release this week. It refuses to rest on the laurels of the 1985 original, instead positing an entirely new (and very smart) scenario based loosely on the same principles.

Screenwriter (and Buffy the Vampire Slayer alum) Marti Noxon hit upon the notion while canvassing the Las Vegas area in 2008. She claimed that one out of three houses sat abandoned, with the neighbors shrugging their shoulders and speculating that the tenants had pulled stakes for greener pastures. What better place for a bloodsucker to set up camp? It’s not unusual for residents of Sin City to work nights and sleep days, while the growing ranks of victims would simply be dismissed as “moving on” without so much as a missing persons report to note their absence.

Hence, the updated Jerry Dandridge (Colin Farrell). Suave, charming and inhumanly evil, he sets up shop in an isolated suburb and begins systemically devouring his neighbors to the alarm of absolutely no one. Only young Charlie Brewster (Anton Yelchin), who lives next door, suspects that anything is amiss, and he has problems of his own. His newfound popularity at school opens a rift between him and his childhood friend Evil Ed (Christopher Mintz-Platz), and while his new girlfriend Amy (Imogen Poots) adores him, he’s still not certain he’s in her league.

The disparity between an undead serial killer and the pressures of teenage life could defeat a lesser director. But Craig Gillespie (with some help from Noxon) weaves them together into a perfectly organic whole. Ed is onto Jerry’s reindeer games, and tries to convince Charlie that he’s right . . . an act which emphasizes both their past friendship and the schism that now separates them. Similarly, Charlie’s anxiety about his newfound popularity plays out amid an increasing array of absent students: bringing Jerry’s larger threat into the world of teenage cliques without drawing undue attention to itself.

Gillespie doesn’t skimp on the shock factor either. Fright Night constantly moves in unexpected directions, playing with our expectations before subverting them in new and surprising ways. A midnight chase on an empty road transforms into something marvelous thanks to a stylish technique, and the Vegas setting becomes integral to the storyline rather than a throwaway pop detail. Whenever the story starts to flag and the creaks and groans of bloodsucking clichés steal onto the scene Gillespie falls back on his talented cast to pick up the slack. Ferrell does best, but he gets a huge hand from the great David Tennant, whose would-be vampire killer Peter Vincent is re-imagined here as a douche bag Criss Angel clone.

The ensemble provides an all-important ingredient missing from both the tedious Twilight adaptations and modern horror movies in general: fun. It doesn’t take itself too seriously, but neither does it treat the material as empty fodder for lame jokes. Like its predecessor, it finds the right balance between scares and snickers, infusing energy and excitement into the mixture while still making sure we care about the heroes involved. Its reward for all of that was utter audience indifference, while the worst blockbuster series in recent memory currently rampages over its mangled corpse. It’s not always Hollywood’s fault: when good movies like this one wither on the vine, we have only ourselves to blame.

THE DISC: The image is solid, but the extra features are a tad skimpy . . . not surprising considering the film’s anemic theatrical run. The best of the lot is a brief faux-documentary teaser about Peter Vincent’s pretentious Vegas show, while an extended version of Charlie and Ed’s “Squid Man” video provides some amusing moments as well. The rest of it is run-of-the-mill: bloopers, trailers, deleted scenes, a spastic behind-the-scenes featurette, and a rather pointless music video.

WORTH IT? Only if you like scary, non-sparkly vampires who don’t ask permission before ravaging their victims. In other words, yes.

RECOMMENDATION: A solid remake, a scary horror movie, and the last defiant stand (at least for now) against total undead wankery.

- Rob Vaux



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