The Review: If you’re about the same age as me, then many of your childhood movie memories are focused around the great movies of the Eighties, such as Ghostbusters, Gremlins and The Goonies, and other movies beginning with the letter G. It would also be around the age that you first became aware of horror movies; straddling somewhere between those classic family movies and the first flushes of horror was Fright Night, and while not a classic it’s fondly remembered by many who then graduated to more serious horror. But while it sank its teeth into the necks of some fondly remembered Eighties names, now the modern fondness for remakes has now also claimed another victim.
Comparisons to the original are inevitable, not least in terms of the cast, who have to compare to the likes of Chris Sarandon and Roddy McDowall. In truth, this remake hasn’t skimped in that area, and even the smaller family roles are filled out by familiar names such as Toni Collette and Imogen Poots. Christopher Mintz-Plasse also continues his run of geeky best friends / comedic foils, but the biggest name in the cast is undoubtedly Colin Farrell in the suspected vampire role. (I’m not a fan of spoilers, but frankly if you’re in any doubt whether Farrell turns out to be an actual vampire or not, then you’re probably watching the wrong film.) Farrell relishes the role, and successfully switches from a sleazy charm to a quiet menace effortlessly and fairly owns the bad guy role.
Just like the original, though, this isn’t an out and out horror; there’s not huge amounts of gore or massive scares, but director Craig Gillespie does do a good job of building up the tension at various points. Occasionally the characters make what appear to be massive leaps of logic or behave in slightly unbelievable ways, but that’s mainly due to the slightly knowing tone of the script, and maybe that’s not surprising given writer Marti Noxon’s background on TV, writing for the likes of Buffy and Angel. Consequently she’s not afraid to toss in the odd Twilight reference or other cultural meme, but she and Gillespie do give events plenty of forward momentum and there’s not many in the way of dull moments.
There’s one person I haven’t mentioned yet, though, and that’s the person taking the Roddy McDowall role. Previously, this was a TV host of a vampire show with a cowardly streak when it came to real vampires; as that simply wouldn’t work in this internet age, the role’s been reinvented as a TV magician with a penchant for the dark arts. Oddly cut out of much of the promotional material and not appearing until the half way mark, David Tennant turns up and promptly steals nearly every scene he’s in, his Cockney Criss Angel getting most of the best lines and being generally uncouth and unhelpful at all the right moments. This reinvention of Fright Night won’t go down as a classic, but it’s a lot of fun and should play well to multiplex crowds, whichever night they decide to get their frights on.
Why see it at the cinema: Director Gillespie makes good use of the space he’s got, and there’s plenty of big laughs when Tennant’s on screen and reasonable scares when Farrell’s around.
Why see it in 3D: If you’ve got any sense, don’t. The image is fairly dark for most of the movie, due to being mostly set at night, and there’s been no effort to compensate for this in the 3D image, so the fact you’ll be watching it wearing sunglasses just makes it worse. There’s the odd good 3D moment, but not enough to compensate for not being able to see anything. Stick to 2D on this one.
The Score: 7/10
The Review: Hollywood does many things well, and one it seems to do extremely well is to make a complete Horlicks of remaking successful foreign films, either losing the essence of what made them so special in the first place or adding in element that don’t work in context. There’s a spate of high profile instances going through the production cycle at present, and it’s two of the Scandinavian movies that have won widespread acclaim in the last couple of years that are currently getting the most attention. The first out of the box is Cloverfield director Matt Reeves with his re-imagining of the Swedish classic, Let The Right One In.
First of all, re-imagining may be too strong a word for what Reeves has done. Claims that he’s returned to the source material prove unfounded and there is, in places, an almost slavish dedication to recapturing the look and feel of the predecessor, to the extent that you have to pinch yourself as a reminder that this is set in New Mexico, not Northern Europe. While Reeves has made a few attempts to distance himself from the original, at times this has the feel of a shot for shot remake in the style of Van Sant’s Psycho or Haneke’s English language Funny Games, and feels about as essential as either – in other words, not at all if you’ve any familiarity with the first film.
So to those areas where the differences come in, and this is still a story about a young boy who’s isolated and ends up living next door to someone who gradually reveals their secret, except now they’re called Owen and Abby instead of Oscar and Eli. There’s one change, in the modus operandi of Abby’s guardian, which leads to a stunning set piece seen from a fixed viewpoint at the back of a car that equals and, whisper it, possible even betters anything in the original. Additionally, we never see Owen’s mother clearly, which serves to reinforce his sense of isolation. But apart from that, other than the casting, any other changes actually work against the overall feel, including some ill-advised CGI which serves to take you out of the scene rather than further into it.
The casting, though, is about as impeccable as you could possibly hope for in such a situation. Chloe Moretz, while occasionally less androgynous in appearance than her Swedish counterpart, still nails the role of the creature years beyond her young appearance, while Kodi Smit-McPhee, Richard Jenkins and Elias Koteas round out an excellent central cast. Michael Giacchino’s score is also moodily effective and worth a mention. But other than that, this first film from the relaunched Hammer studios feels like the safest possible bet that they could have made. So let’s be clear – it’s a great film, but the original was outstanding, and is so recent that I bought it on Blu-ray as soon as it came out. Imagine having been given an orange flavoured, chocolate covered cake snack from a supermarket’s own range when you already own a packet of Jaffa Cakes – why would you not just eat the Jaffa Cakes?
Why see it at the cinema: The car set piece deserves a view on the big screen, and this is absolutely dripping in atmosphere. It’s also a real thrill to see the Hammer logo on the big screen, and long may it remain. But if you’ve encountered the original, then move along, for there’s nothing to see here.
The Score: 8/10
(Author’s note: I was eating Jaffa Cakes at the time of writing.)