Guilty Pleasures: John Warburton

I’ll admit it, I liked the remake of Fright Night. For those of you that don’t know it, the original film was a camp horror classic from the Eighties. Neither film is actually great, but when it comes to camp classics I’ve found that you don’t have to be embarrassed, especially among horror movie fans.

That being said, I liked the remake, and I liked it better than the original. As a rule remakes in general are bad, and remakes of Eighties horror movies are even worse. Fright Night works because it is fun. It actually has a solid cast. Anton Yelchin, Toni Collette, and Colin Farrell have all won awards and praise for past performances. David Tennant plays a main supporting role. Tennant isn’t well known in America except for his tenure as the Tenth Doctor on Doctor Who, however a little time on IMDB informed me that he’s actually a respected Shakespearean stage actor.

Fright Night was written by Marti Noxon, who formerly wrote for Buffy The Vampire Slayer. The film benefits from the script as well as from the performances. We’re talking about a horror movie remake, but a surprisingly good one. In that context the script is well written, and has fun with some of the traditional vampire movie tropes. If you’ve seen the trailer, then you know that a vampire doesn’t need an invitation if he burns the house down first.

The main characters are Charlie (Yelchin), his girlfriend (Imogen Poots), Jerry the Vampire (Farrell), and Peter Vincent (David Tennant). Jerry has the kind of charm I associate with men who beat their wives. He can fool strangers, but not anyone who spends a meaningful length of time with him. Like a wife beater, he has very little self-control. From the perspective of the characters he initially comes off as a lecherous ladies man. Of course the viewer already knows that Jerry is a vampire, so Farrell’s performance plays on two levels. The first is directed at the audience, the second at the characters. Either way it’s solid, but more or less transparent. It works because as the film progresses you learn that Jerry is basically an animal. The viewer gets the sense that self-preservation is the only reason Jerry even bothers with the charm act.

In Fright Night, vampires are strong and fast and cunning, but not necessarily smart. One character describes Jerry as the shark from Jaws. This pretty much sums him up. Sharks are vicious, remorseless, and dangerous, but they can be hurt as well. Charlie and his friends manage to hurt Jerry numerous times, not enough to really stop him, but enough to give them a chance to run away. I liked that the characters ran away a lot. I feel that’s a response that most rational viewers will be able to relate with, I certainly did. Don’t get me wrong it’s not boring, because Jerry usually isn’t far behind. Various characters have the delusion that they can beat Jerry, but for the most part they figure out very quickly that it’s smarter to run the hell away. It’s not until the end that Charlie actually takes a serious, well thought-out stand. I also liked that the vampires can be hurt, and that when they are hurt it affects their thoughts and actions. That reinforces the vampire as animal concept.

Anton Yelchin’s performance works on multiple levels as well. He’s a teenager who’s recently started dating the hottest girl in school, and gained popularity as a result. (Not particularly deep or compelling, but not utterly one-dimensional either.) He’s terrified that his nerdy past will come back to haunt him, so he takes great pains to avoid his two old friends “Evil” Ed and Adam. This is part of what sets the plot in motion. Ed and Adam have been investigating a series of disappearances in the town, and when Adam disappears as well, Ed blackmails Charlie into helping him investigate. Charlie learns that Ed believes a vampire is at work, and that the vampire is Jerry the reclusive guy next door.

Sound like a standard horror movie where stupid people are oblivious to things that would raise alarm in the real world? Actually this isn’t the case. The movie is set in a suburb of Las Vegas. The film establishes early on that the town is home to people who work in Vegas, and that “disappearances”, blacked out windows, and neighbors who only come out at night aren’t out of the ordinary. It’s Vegas after all, people work nights, they move away without notice, etc. (Except for the part about people working nights, I have no idea if any of those things would actually raise alarm in the Vegas area. But it sounds plausible.)

When Ed disappears following their investigation, Charlie becomes convinced that Ed was right. He finds that Ed has amassed a wealth of surprisingly convincing evidence that Jerry is a vampire, in addition to a good deal of general research regarding vampires. After an encounter with Jerry, Charlie poses as a reporter and seeks the help of Peter Vincent, an occultist who earns his living as a Vegas stage magician. (Picture David Copperfield crossed with Marilyn Manson.) Vincent is mildly helpful until he realizes that Charlie actually believes vampires are real. Then he acts like a rational human being and orders his assistant to get the crazy man out of his house.
No one really believes Charlie at first, just like he didn’t believe Ed. But the pacing is such that this isn’t drawn out. The entire movie doesn’t focus on Charlie trying to get people to believe him. Also the characters don’t spend long periods of time thinking they are insane or denying what they’ve seen with their own eyes. Which is to say that in the context of the film, the characters behave more or less like rational human beings would.

The dialogue is good for the most part. There are some of the standard horror movie lines, but there’s a lot of wit as well. Most of the humor comes from the Peter Vincent character. His first response when he comes face to face with a vampire is to threaten it with a crucifixion nail (apparently they are lethal to vampires) and then run to his panic room screaming like a little girl. When asked how to hurt a vampire he gives the standard responses (holy water, stake through the heart, etc.) but when he starts to realize Charlie is serious his response is hilarious and actually realistic. “How the fuck should I know?”

Basically I liked Fright Night because it kept me entertained for two hours. The film is refreshing in a few ways, but groundbreaking in none. It benefits from good dialogue, fairly good acting, and the fact that it doesn’t take itself too seriously. It’s a guilty pleasure because it could have been a lot better than it is, but when it was over I still felt the urge to watch it again.

Mr. Warburton is a reviewer for Crimespree magazine and is making his blog debut. He has a Fiction Writing degree from Columbia College Chicago, a finished novel, and no agent.
In addition to most things nerdy (John hates anime), John enjoys professional football, good conversation, and a quality hamburger. John lives in the Chicagoland area. Follow him on Twitter @JDWarburton.