Hear Me Out: Fright Night (2011)

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Hear Me Out: Fright Night (2011)

Hear Me Out is a column dedicated to earnest reevaluations of those cast-off bits of pop-cultural ephemera that deserve a second look. Whether they’re films, TV series, albums, comedy specials, videogames or even cocktails, Hear Me Out is ready to go to bat for any underappreciated subject.

By most metrics one could choose to employ, 2011 really wasn’t all that long ago. In that year, the iPhone was already well on its way to its fifth generation. Peter Jackson’s The Fellowship of the Ring was a decade in the rearview mirror. The Twilight film series was nearing its conclusion, as Robert Pattinson eyed the tantalizing freedom of a post-Edwardian existence. And at the same time, a more modest vampire cult classic was ticketed for its own modern remake, in the form of director Craig Gillespie’s rendition of Fright Night.

And yet, looking today at how 2011’s Fright Night was made, what it immediately calls to mind is how differently this same material would no doubt be approached now, a little more than a decade later. This is an unabashed 1980s Hollywood remake, sure, but one that hails from well before the totemic dominance of the legacy sequel/remake model, and as a result it lacks the slavish reverence for the sanctity of even the most mundane IP that has now become so commonplace that we barely even acknowledge it. It feels like a strangely novel concept: What, you’re telling me the film is just a new reimagining of a familiar story, rather than a ceaseless parade of 1:1 callbacks to specific elements or entire moments/scenes in a prior film? Are we sure that’s even allowed?

But that novelty, present in approaching the film today, was nowhere to be found back in 2011 when it was discarded fairly quickly (and cynically) as just another bit of summer studio churn. In the process, audiences unfortunately overlooked a slickly shot and impressively acted little potboiler, one featuring a deliciously committed central performance from erstwhile Hollywood pretty boy turned critical darling Colin Farrell as the villainous vampire. This Fright Night may indeed have been conceived with the making of a quick buck in mind, but the charms of its craft and its cast make it well worth revisiting now, especially in an era where appreciation for Mr. Farrell is now closer to the rule than the exception.


The original 1985 Fright Night was the brainchild of writer/director Thomas Lee Holland (also of Child’s Play), a man who for several decades would have been the go-to answer in Hollywood for “Tom Holland” name association, until a certain webslinger went and muddied up those Google results. It’s based around a perfect 1980s high-concept elevator pitch: What would you do if a vampire moved in next door and you were the only one who could recognize what he really was? The obvious answer is of course “Venture into his home with a washed-up horror movie actor in an ill-advised attempt to destroy the monster.” The film is a perfectly charming ‘80s adventure that manages the delicate tightrope act of portraying Chris Sarandon’s “Jerry the vampire” as both debonair–in an insufferable, late ‘80s yuppie sort of way–and demonic in equal measure. It’s a neat trick, to take a movie monster indelibly associated with crumbling gothic castles on the edge of civilization and then insert him into the unassuming, banal façade of a modern suburbia that would make Steven Spielberg or Joe Dante proud. Which is more soulless: The undead bloodsucker or the HOA’s lawn maintenance regulations? The fusion of old-timey monster and modern setting gives Fright Night a sense of vitality that keeps it from ever feeling dated. Per the tagline: “You can’t run from evil when it lives next door.”

Gillespie’s update on the material, meanwhile, stars the tragically gone-too-soon Anton Yelchin as sympathetic high school everyboy Charley Brewster, while less successfully reprising Superbad’s Christopher Mintz-Plasse (still very much in McLovin’ mode) as his irritating friend “Evil” Ed. Yelchin, on the other hand, is an ideal anchor for the story, a bundle of nervous energy who quickly begins to unravel after noticing a series of suspicious events involving the mysterious lothario next door. Women enter the dwelling of Jerry Dandrige (Farrell), but they don’t ever seem to exit. But who can the frazzled Charley approach with these suspicions, when his girlfriend Amy (Imogen Poots) and mother Jane (Toni Collette) seem so immediately smitten with the charming new neighbor, a man hinting he might like an invitation into their home? Perhaps Las Vegas magician/actor Peter Vincent (David Tennant), a supposed expert on vampires, could lend a little assistance and knowledge in how to take down such a beast? Tennant, fresh off his Doctor Who run, proves to be another highlight in the film as he mirrors Yelchin’s exasperated energy with a more cowardly streak, even if his sleazier take on the Peter Vincent character–no posh aristocrat like Roddy McDowall in the original–feels like it may have been written with someone more like Russell Brand in mind.

The 2011 Fright Night, however, begins and ends with Colin Farrell’s truly wonderful turn as Jerry the vampire. To say that he’s having fun in the role would be a grand understatement; he spends the entire film luxuriating in every moment he gets to spend on screen. His villain has both a professional respect for the dangers of being discovered by humanity, and also a certain contemptuousness to him–we get the sense that he’s been doing this for so long that his ego has become bloated with arrogance, and he sneers at the thought of Charley Brewster of all people being able to legitimately oppose him. Farrell, meanwhile, layers in distinctly human characteristics of eccentricity and affectation to the vampire, such as his oddly specific tendency to begin conversations with any other male character with the phrase “Hey guy.” He’s fully capable of walking undetected among us, but at the same time he wants to demonstrate his own superiority and have us know he can do as he pleases with us. He slakes his thirst for control just as he does his thirst for blood.

That smoldering physical appeal, haughtiness and his unusual appreciation for pleasures typically reserved for humans–see his absolute delight at munching on big, juicy apples throughout–make the Fright Night remake an atypical depiction of the vampire as a luxuriant hedonist, a sort of parasite who guiltlessly sponges off human society. Farrell physically demonstrates his confidence, smoothly gliding about his house and toying with the infiltrating Charley, allowing him to escape “undetected” when he knows full well he has an intruder. In Farrell’s eyes, he’s the wily tomcat, and we’re all a buffet of rodents. He’s simply not finished playing with his food just yet.


That caddish behavior only makes it that much more satisfying to watch Yelchin gear up and begin to fight back in earnest, a necessity kicked off by an excellent provocation/chase scene in which Jerry asks for entry into the Brewster house one evening, only to be rebuffed by Charley’s mother. This reads as oddly gratifying, to see the mother in this scenario–the type of well-meaning character who regardless never seems to believe their teenager when they try to explain that something is wrong–actually accept the warning pleas of their kid rather than believe the lies of the suave monster next door. And that’s ultimately all the pretense Farrell needs in order to drop his friendly bachelor charade and reveal his far more primal side. I love how rapidly this all escalates–one minute Farrell is cajoling the mother from the other side of the door, threatening to involve the police, and seconds later he’s casually demonstrating frightening superhuman strength in the backyard as he uses a shovel to heave up impossibly large chunks of sod and topsoil, before causing a gas explosion in an effort to smoke the rodents out of their hole. His patience has officially expired, and the predator is now all business. Poor Toni Collette barely has a moment for consternation before they’re all fleeing for their lives with the newly revealed vampire in hot pursuit.

Granted, the final sequences of 2011’s Fright Night, as Charley and Peter Vincent descend again into Jerry’s house to finally eradicate the vampire, can’t quite hold up to the smug charm of its setup. Here, the action begins to devolve increasingly into CGI-driven garishness that can’t compare to the tangibility of the makeup and special FX of similar sequences in the 1985 original. Not coincidentally, this makes this version of Fright Night at its weakest when Colin Farrell’s face is no longer the one on screen–remove him from the equation and you’re left with something significantly more hollow. But hey, good luck finding a comparable film of the era without a sprinkling of regrettable CGI. Even Let the Right One In has its absurd collection of yowling and hissing digital cats.

Gillespie’s Fright Night remake handily passes the bar we set for films of this ilk: It’s not just acceptable “for a remake,” but tightly constructed, well-acted and consistently entertaining regardless of any attachment it has to some fondly remembered piece of pop cultural driftwood from the 1980s. The viewer isn’t missing out on some parade of callbacks if they’ve never seen the 1985 film; they don’t even need to be aware that this Fright Night is a remake in the first place. Looking back from our perch in 2024, it’s easy to appreciate that ability of the film to independently stand on its own, as a self-contained piece of alluring popcorn entertainment without much interest in its previous incarnation. Would that we could say the same about more of our low-stakes summer movies today, as they attempt to subsist on the diluted lifeblood of largely tapped veins of IP. At least Fright Night’s vampire had a zest for life.


Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident genre geek. You can follow him on Twitter for more film and TV writing.

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