Posted on Wednesday, August 3rd, 2011 by Russ Fischer
The new Fright Night, which remakes and updates Tom Holland’s enduring and entertaining 1985 film about a high school kid who finds that a vampire has moved into the house next door, is about vampires and feelings, but not vampires with feelings. That’s something that’s clear right off in conversations with the cast and crew of the film on location in New Mexico. Or, in other words, this isn’t Twilight.
We’re in the local Hard Rock Hotel and Casino, which doubles for the chain’s larger Vegas location. In the film, that’s the domain of stage magician and presumed vampire expert Peter Vincent (David Tennant). Tennant isn’t in the house, but most of the film’s major players are: Anton Yelchin, playing the hero Charley Brewster; Colin Farrell as Jerry Dandridge, the vampire next door; Imogen Poots as Charley’s new girlfriend Amy; and director Craig Gillespie, screenwriter Marti Noxon and effects guru Howard Berger. We only got to see a small bit of the film being shot, so after the break I’ll let the cast and crew give you the lowdown on this new version of Fright Night, in their own words.
Because we’re all thinking it, Colin Farrell addresses the very idea of the remake right off:
Colin Farrell: When I read the script, I was a fan of “Fright Night.” The original I probably saw when I was around nine or ten, and then the next time I saw it say around ten times when it went out in the next ten years. When I heard they were making a film I was like “Fucking Hollywood,” impressively lacking originality once more. And then I read it and I was hoping I wouldn’t like it but motherfucker!
That last ‘motherfucker’ is intended to convey his appreciation for the script and this approach in general. So let’s rewind a bit. The script is by Marti Noxon, who may be best known for her work on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. And her approach was keyed around making sure the setup works. So we find Charley Brewster as a kid who is growing up fast, and growing out of being a marginalized geek and into being a man of his own. But in the process he has marginalized his one-time best friend Ed (Christopher Mintz-Plasse).
Marti Noxon: Other people had come in and talked about vampires while I had come in and talked about the relationship between Ed and Charlie and also about the relationship between him and Amy. I was much more interested in the stuff that I had always felt like I wanted some filling in on in the original movie. I had a lot of questions and I loved the original movie for just that reason. Certainly my training on “Buffy” was all about character, what’s the story you’re telling, what’s the theme and what’s the relatable thing for the audience. I feel like, oh yeah, I know what that is. I felt like there were a lot of seeds in the original movie that hadn’t been fully exploited. And the great thing about DreamWorks was that they were really committed to making a movie with a real first act.
Producer Michael De Luca makes no real bones about what he wanted out of this new version of the film and sums up that first act nicely.
Michael De Luca: I was trying to describe the attempt with this remake, to do, even though this is delusions of grandeur, what Ron Moore did with BATTLE STAR GALACTICA in terms of cheese factor to the original but great in a way, but very serious premise. You know, like human extinction is a very serious premise. Boy trying to make that transition to man with first true love and son of a single parent household, with the mother being the parent…there’s a protectiveness where he feels like he’s father, husband, boyfriend…it’s a very complex transition in adolescence to bear all that responsibility. And right when he’s about to fulfill his promise as he’s come out of his shell, like he’s entering senior year of high-school, he’s got his first love, he’s cutting cords with the mom, this alpha male moves in next door, much more confident, older, and starts putting the moves on his life…even forgetting the vampire element, like there’s a lot of psychological fanatic stuff to play with there and we tried to jack it up to that level.
The original film had a relatively strong female lead in Amy, played by Amanda Bearse. And with any luck, we’ll get an Amy in this version that stands up to, or surpasses Bearse’s version when it comes to dealing with the horror.
Imogen Poots: I suppose it’s a modern take. The premise is pretty much the same regarding the vampire and the main plot. In terms of their relationship, it’s universal. Charlie and Amy are still going through the same adventure. But I’ve made it different in the sense that I’ve made it my own. I think that’s what is important when you’re embarking on a remake, to find something new and original. To sum up the characterization, I think my Amy is quite strong. I’m not saying that the other one is weaker in any way, but she’s definitely got a strength. Which means that she’s able to be on par with Charlie in dealing with Jerry and the vampire situation.
Part of what made Fright Night work in 1985 was that it moved, with a seeming lack of effort, from character-driven dramatic and comedic moments right into full-on effects-driven horror. The original film covers a lot of ground, with Charley negotiating his emerging manhood with Amy and his relationship with Ed, who is given one of the more memorable allegorical coming-out scenes in horror. And that tonal control was an issue for Colin Farrell.
Colin Farrell: With (Craig) Gillespie, he had a really distinct idea for heading onto the film. Just looking and realizing that, there’s one thing that I knew about Craig Gillespie that was he had an incredible ability to kind of grasp a specific tonality in a film. He had to tread the line between the lies and the real world, between the more absurd and comedic aspects of the story and the more touching, deeply human and painful aspects of that film. That and I thought at the same time I thought that his ability on a scale would be something that essentially in the telling of this story, like it was in the original, is to tread that line between the horror and the comedy.
The director echoes the concern with tone.
Craig Gillespie: The horror part of this wasn’t the tricky part for me, the tone of this is the hardest part. We’ve got some scenes that are just classic horror and I think they work great but there is that balance that we’re trying to get, which I guess is from the 80’s where they try to mix comedy and drama and the thriller aspect like “American Werewolf in London” and being able to make that change and do that shift. Being able to go to these scary moments and be invested in that but then still being able to have levity at times and then some really emotional moments, that was the tricky part, it’s not just one genre. It’s hard to find modern day examples of that, they did that more in the 80s.
Shifting between tonalities is something that ended up being built right into the effects. Howard Berger explained the many different stages of makeup designed for Jerry — five basic stages in the initial conception, which then ended up being mixed and matched a bit on set as Farrell wanted to use specific elements for some scenes. But the overall conception is that the monstrosity of the vampire is something that is most revealed in anger.
Howard Berger: What’s neat about Craig’s concept was that it wasn’t just “he becomes a creature and wanders around the streets” and has that goofy awkward ‘big monster roaming around giving dialogue,’ approach, which never ever works. Craig’s thought was that it was all adrenaline-based. Jerry flares up, it’s an anger and adrenaline that forces him into these different stages. And it comes on real quick it’s very *flashes in, flashes out.* It’s fun, and the stages bounce all over the place.
And then there’s the whole 3D angle. We’ve seen a bit of footage from the movie, and the stuff shown recently at Comic Con suggested what might be an adventurous use of 3D, as one sequence really explores the interior of a car as Jerry is chasing down Charley and company. There’s a deliberate but relentless camera movement in that sequence — appropriate given the description of Jerry the vampire as a shark — and Craig Gillespie’s comments from last summer illuminate that approach a little bit. Michael De Luca elaborates on the idea of 3D as well.
Craig Gillespie: What I like about 3D is it’s a little more like classic filmmaking because you can’t be as frenetic in terms of the hand held stuff. So you’re really doing these scenes that take longer blocking out and it’s more fluid, it’s like old school coverage. One movie that I like a lot that is remarkably simple in it’s coverage is “Dark Knight.” Even though it’s a big film a lot of the time your in front of the actor or behind the actor. Even some of Spielberg’s stuff like “War of the Worlds” theres amazingly long tracking shots in terms of blocking that goes on that I love and the 3D lenses add to that.
Michael De Luca: On this one, we thought that with some movies you notice the 3D is more friendly with like a Steadicam, or a static camera, because it gives your eyes a chance to adjust. And sometimes with action films it’s a challenge to keep the kind of frenetic cutting pattern that you wanna keepand not give people nausea. You want people to have the time for their eyes to settle and clock the 3D. And we thought what could be neat with a horror film in 3D is that you’re kind of in the frame with the people onscreen, whether you’re tracking down a hallway, even though you’re moving, you’re still. You’re not like cutting, cutting, cutting. You have a chance for the 3D to really plant you in the scene. And in horror movies it’s all about dread and anticipation, so if you’re in that corridor on a steadicam shot as you’re moving down the hallway you really feel like you’re floating into the movie because of 3D, so when you finally get the “boo” pop-out scare, you’re kind of like, we think it can be that much more effective because the 3D plants you in the scene. So we thought 3D might be oddly really well suited for a traditional horror film.
Circling around to the idea of the film as a movie that avoids the watered-down vampires that have become popular in the past few years, let’s allow Anton Yelchin to have the last word.
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Anton Yelchin: It’s a very legitimate vampire story in the sense that the vampires are actually dangerous. They play the “monster” role as opposed to whatever it’s been recently. Its a legitimate frightening destructive chaotic being that just wants to fucking kill everything… which is great! It sounds good to me, it’s something I’d want to see. I just think it’s a legitimate way to portray a monster. I mean look, you know, they’re monsters, that’s the point, they kill things.