Right now, vampires seem more overexposed than strippers. Everywhere you turn, new fang-films are coming out or old ones are being brushed so they sparkle menacingly again. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen the original “Fright Night,” starring William Ragsdale as a teen who suspects his neighbor (Chris Sarandon) is a vampire, but it’s not the kind of concept you tend to forget. That’s because instead of being relegated to Transylvanian castles, dark woods, or isolated small towns, the spawn of Dracula pops up where you least expect him, and where he’s most likely to disturb: the house next door in a typical, bustling neighborhood.
That unforgettable premise is one reason why the 1985 comic horror-thriller developed a huge cult following, and why Craig Gillespie (“Lars and the Real Girl,” “United States of Tara”) probably felt 2011 was the right time for a remake.
Aside from the most obvious change--two mysterious men moved in next door in the 1985 film, while only one is new to the neighborhood in the 2011 version--it’s fascinating to see how the teen character has evolved to reflect a different era. In 1985, Charley Brewster was a full-blown nerd, while in 2011 he’s got a savvy streak in him. In 1985, the help Charley sought came from Peter Vincent (Roddy McDowall) the late-night horror movie host (or rather former host), whereas in 2011 Peter Vincent is now a Vegas performer who’s billed as a vampire hunter and has made a bundle of money off of glitzy “recreation” shows. It’s all fake, of course, but Charley doesn’t know that, and, the 2011 version of Peter Vincent (David Tennant) is played with the same hammy scene-munching that made the first film fun to watch. If you can see it.
I didn’t catch the 2011 version in theaters, so I don’t know what’s native to the film and what’s the result of the AVC/MPEG-4 transfer. But for a film that’s dependent upon so many nighttime and darkened house shots, “Fright Night” is SO dark in those crucial scenes that you have no idea what’s going on. I can’t recall for certain, but the build-up also seemed slower this time around, with 38 minutes passing before so much as a hint of real tension. But once things get rolling, and once Peter Vincent appears, the new “Fright Night” finds the outlet to tap into all of what’s good about the genre.
Toni Collette is perfect as Charley’s single mother, a status that puts her immediately at risk, considering she’s already flirting with new neighbor Jerry (Colin Farrell)--a trait shared by Charley’s kinda girlfriend Amy (Imogen Poots, “Jane Eyre”). But Farrell makes a great vampire. He dominates the film, really, and while the transformations aren’t as dramatic or varied as the 1985 version, nice touches and variations pick up any slack. If Farrell showed up at a party wearing those fangs a skulked around the way he does here, he’d scare the pants off of everyone. He’s totally believable as the ultimate bad boy, and when he decides he wants a meal, well, the gory scenes are handled tastefully (ahem) and with style. Special effects are also decent, as when one victim leaves the darkness and basically disintegrates in the light. The audience may be teens and twentysomethings, but “Fright Night” has enough going for it to appeal to fans of all ages . . . 17 and up, since “Fright Night” is rated R for “bloody horror violence and language, including some sexual references.”
I reviewed the 3D combo pack, which comes with a Blu-ray, DVD, and Digital Copy of the film. On 3D or 2D Blu-ray the main thing you notice is how completely dark those dark scenes are, and in the bright light the standard Blu-ray has a more natural-looking sharpness, with more clearly delineated edges. 3D isn’t all that compatible with action, and when there are scenes involving quick movement the edges blur even more so. As for the 3D effects themselves, I was most impressed by the aerial shots and the occasional flames and sparks that kicked out into the audience. But as with so many 3D offerings, the “gotcha” moments are relatively few. Mostly it’s depth behind the plane of the television glass that’s impressive . . . when you can see the picture.
“Fright Night” comes to 50-gig disc via an MVC/MPEG-4 transfer on the 3D and AVC/MPEG-4 transfer on the Blu-ray. Presented in 1.78:1 widescreen, the film has a few moments of noise, but otherwise, apart from the dark scenes, it appears to be a decent transfer. In bright scenes the colors are vivid and the depth on the 3D version is impressive.
The featured audio is an English DTS-HD MA 7.1 (48kHz/24-bit), which also spreads across a 6-speaker system naturally. The bass is thunderous at times, and my active subwoofer had plenty to do. The surround speakers are also engaged most of the time, whether its ambient sounds on the street or quieter moments inside a house. It’s a dynamic, immersive soundtrack that doesn’t overpower the dialogue. No complaints here. Subtitles are in English SDH, French, and Spanish.
Once you get past all the copies of the film you’re left with precious few bonus features. The longest is “The Official ‘How to Make a Funny Vampire Movie’ Guide,” which offers cast-and-crew remarks in an eight-minute feature. The ground they cover is predictable: characters, genre plot points, the treatment of bloody scenes, the weapons of “Fright Night,” etc. Other than that, there’s an in-character “Peter Vincent: Come Swim in My Mind” piece that runs just two minutes, a “Squid Man: Extended and Uncut” film that runs only three minutes, a “No One Believes Me” Kid Cudi music video, a blooper reel, and five minutes of deleted/extended scenes.
If you liked the original “Fright Night,” you’ll like this version. Ferrell may have found his calling. His performance is so strong that it provides a good argument for remaking the sequel as well . . . or (we can only hope) coming up with a better one than 1988’s “Fright Night Part 2.”