Teenager Charley Brewster (Yelchin) guesses that his new neighbor Jerry Dandrige (Farrell) is a vampire responsible for a string of recent deaths. When no one he knows believes him, he enlists Peter Vincent (Tennant), the opportunistic host of his favorite TV show, to help him take down Jerry and his guardian.
You'd have to be out of your mind to want to do a remake. There is the possibility of the built in audience, which probably makes the conservative money men happy but hardly ever guarantees an audience. The thing is remakes have all of the problems of a sequel with few of the perks. You have to win your fan base over by not making a carbon copy of the original while also not changing anything considered 'essential.' It's a thankless task at best.
Worse, while the advantage of having a finished version as a starting point can allow a director the chance for refinement and revision that normally only authors get, it can also allow for a great deal of laziness and a focus on set pieces because the story work is already done.
For the director who can manage to walk through that minefield unscathed, however, the rewards are ample: a film with all of the strengths of the original amplified and delved into creating a rich new experience which rewards viewers of both versions and possibly even bests the first. It doesn’t happen very often. In fact it almost never does, but the results when it does happen are great enough that the impulse to keep trying remakes is understandable.
Case in point: "Fright Night."
Charley Brewster (Anton Yelchin) has a problem. The good looking guy (Colin Farrell) who just moved in next door has a thing for his divorced mom (Toni Collette). And also for his girlfriend (Imogen Poots). And for the go-go dancer down the street (Sandra Vergara). Which would be bad enough, but it turns out the thing Jerry has for them is a taste for their blood, because he is actually a 400 year old vampire and he's just found the one place where a drifter who sleeps all day and stays up all night won't be considered out of the ordinary: Las Vegas.
Craig Gillespie ("Lars and the Real Girl") has managed the tricky task of keeping the camp humor and teenage alienation of the original version intact while ramping up equally the stakes, the payoffs and the interplay between the characters. A clever screenplay from vampire veteran Marti Noxon ("Buffy the Vampire Slayer") decides quickly, and correctly, to ditch the slow build of the original in order to get right to the vampires and more importantly the characters dealing with the fact that vampires actually exist.
It does mean you've got to get through a bumpy first act and the huge load of exposition that comes with it as Charley's best friend Ed (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) tries to warn him about Jerry's night time activities. But don't let that dissuade you; it's worth it to get to the rest of the film where the hi-jinx really gets under way. Gillespie has put a lot of time and thought into how to use his budget to showcase Jerry's vampire best resulting in several above average set pieces though nothing ever manages to top the second act assault on the Brewster household which ends in a car chase in the desert. It's not really scary but it hits all the right action notes without ever feeling old. Even an overdose of 3D effects and CGI blood can't really dampen the quality of execution.
It helps that his film has been extremely well cast. Farrell has just the right mix of charisma and menace to portray a modern vampire, though for once he keeps a lot of his naturally screen-chewing tendencies to himself in favor of silently stalking his prey. It's an interesting and successful choice in a genre where the vampire is almost always the biggest ham in the room, using his giant teeth as an excuse to chew on every part of the set. Farrell's choice to work against that keeps Jeremy formidable throughout, but it also probably owes to the fact that no one but no one is going to out ham David Tennant.
Picking up the faux-Vincent Price role of the original from Roddy McDowell, Tennant's Peter Vincent has gotten the biggest makeover of any part of the original. Re-imagined as a sort of Criss Angel stage magician, but one with the massive ego and narcissistic tendencies of a rock star, Tennant's Vincent steal's every scene that he's in. Tennant, who seems to be channeling Russell Brand, is really the reason to see the film, putting it over the top from decent horror film to out and out fun.
Since it is a teenage focused horror film there is some subtext along the way about how people, and teenagers especially, focus too much on exterior perceptions to the detriment of their interpersonal relationships. Charley in particular has turned his back on Ed in order to become 'more cool' and as a result is more than a little late to the vampire party. Considering how naturally superficial vampires are—it is part of their appeal after all—they make perfect natural metaphors for this but "Fright Night" never manages to put those two things together, or show any interest in much besides reactions to Jerry's rampage. Which is quite shallow, but doesn't hurt "Fright Night" too much.
You can count on one hand the number remakes that are better than the original, and fewer still which are out and out great in their own right. "Fright Night" doesn't hit either of those lofty heights, but it does at least match the original while taking on a fresh tone unique to itself. The numbers generally aren't encouraging when it comes to remakes, so for a film to reach that level at all is more than enough reason to claim victory and depart the field.