Unless you’re an avid horror watcher, there’s a good chance that you’ve never heard of the 1985 horror-comedy Fright Night. Though the vampire pic, written and directed by Tom Holland, holds up as one of the best genre flicks released in the '80s, its legacy has been designated as more of a cult classic than a mainstream landmark. Holland’s took a simple premise—a suburban teenager believes that an evil bloodsucker has just moved into the house next door—and meshed together sly, self-aware humor and balls-out, shameless gore; the result, is a far-better-than-average vampire movie that’s just as entertaining today as it must have been back in its first days of release.
With such a beloved reputation intact, Fright Night was bound to get the remake treatment, especially considering that vamps are more popular than ever today, from higher-profile TV shows (True Blood), teenybopper fare (Twilight), and independent horror favorites (Stake Land).
Making funny horror flicks isn’t easy, so, fortunately, the producers behind the new Fright Night (in theaters tomorrow) hired a filmmaker who’s proven himself able to balance comedy with darker themes: Craig Gillespie, the director of 2007’s indie standout Lars And The Real Girl (the one where Ryan Gosling falls in love with a blow-up doll) and a consulting producer behind Showtime’s recently cancelled series United States Of Tara.
The Australian filmmaker’s take on Fright Night, written by Marti Noxon (who executive produced, and wrote several episodes of, Buffy The Vampire Slayer), retains the central premise: Anton Yelchin plays Charley Brewster, a former nerd with a new hot girlfriend (Imogen Poots) who suspects his neighbor, Jerry (Colin Farrell), is a vampire after his best friend (Christopher Mintz-Plasse). Consistently funny, often suspenseful, and unafraid to go overboard with gore and wacky horror ideas, Gillespie’s Fright Night is one of the better genre remakes to hit screens in a while.
Complex caught up with Gillespie to discuss the film’s adherence to old-school vibes, his preference for wholly evil vampires, mixing scares and laughs, his plans for Pride And Prejudice And Zombies, and Kid Cudi’s involvement with Fright Night.
Interview by Matt Barone (@mbarone)
Complex: Your version of Fright Night does a fine job of acknowledging the elements that made the original film work, but also deepens the story quite a bit with better characters and bigger set-pieces. Were you mindful of the 1985 movie while making yours?
Craig Gillespie: Yeah, definitely. Obviously, there were some strong points in the original. There’s a certain '80s style to the original, that’s very strong; there’s that mix of humor and horror that makes that movie very fun, and that’s what we were trying to capture in this. One of my favorite films growing up was An American Werewolf In London, which was such a rollercoaster of emotions and a great mix of tones.
When Marti [Noxon] wrote the script for our film, she definitely put a lot of that horror and humor in it, and it’s a very straightforward script in the sense that this guy’s just a vampire from Hell. He’s your worst nightmare, a predator living next door. And I loved that she simplified the vampire in that way and took all of the emotional baggage out of it.
Backtracking a little bit, Fright Night is your first movie since 2007’s Lars And The Real Girl, a simple human drama with quirky humor and unique sweetness. Typically in Hollywood, once a director hits it big with a movie, like you did with Lars, he or she is sent a gang of similar scripts. Fright Night, however, is a much different kind of movie. How’d you come across the project initially?
It’s funny, really. Ultimately, I loved that it was so much different than everything I’d done before. Doing Lars, which is very close to my heart, I did get sent a lot of similar stuff, but I didn’t want to repeat myself. That is such a personal film to me, I’d already gone down that road, and I wanted to do something completely different for my next project.
That being said, I was attached to a couple of projects, which were independent, and just with the economy being as it were, we were having a tough time getting things made. It was right during the height of the recession. But then this script came along back in April of last year; I was going into a meeting with Dreamworks, actually. I’d done United States Of Tara for a season, so I’d worked with Dreamworks through that. When they sent me the Fright Night script, I thought, “I’m not gonna do a vampire movie, there’s just so much of that out there.” But then I read the script and I just loved its mix of horror and comedy.
It was that, plus Marti had written this vampire who was so much more like a sexual predator, and remorseless and so aggressive. That was the fun thing for me, so I kind of jumped on it. It really wasn’t in my wheelhouse at all, in terms of things I was thinking about, but once I read the script I couldn’t resist it.
Since it wasn’t in your wheelhouse, was their any trepidation in your mind? Shooting an effective horror sequence seems like a much different beast than the smaller character moments you’ve handled in Lars And The Real Girl and United States Of Tara.
That’s what I get attracted to, in general: balancing two tones at once. I did some of that in Lars, and with Tara, which has very heavy subject matter and you’re trying to infuse some humor. So, oddly enough, it was the two tones of Fright Night that made it feel more right up my alley. In my mind, if it had been straight horror, then it would have been a drastic change. I’ve done commercials for sixteen years, so I’ve used all of the toys—they just haven’t been applicable to the work I’ve done in features, prior to this. In horror and thriller films, the camera is such a character, so to be able to use the camera in that way. And, on top of that, it was 3D, which was another opportunity for me.
Was the film shot in 3D from day one?
Yeah. It’s a monster, believe me. [Laughs.] It’s like going back to the '40s. You see all of those old cameras that were massive, and the one we used for Fright Night, with the massive rig, weighed 90 pounds—it was ten-and-a-half by three feet. So, you’re very conscious of how you’re going to move that thing around, because you want it to move. It’s in 3D, so everything looks better when the camera is moving because it gives you that sense of depth. And then there are certain restrictions; you can’t do handheld in 3D, it takes all of the 3D out of it, and I think it’d become a real strain on the viewer.
So there were a lot of things that we were thinking about while we were doing it. Ultimately, though, all of those concerns lent themselves to a more classic style of filmmaking. There are longer takes between cuts, and the camera is creeping around—I like that. That was fun.
That’s interesting, because there’s a really effective car chase scene where the camera keeps spinning around inside of one car as it captures crashes, a motorcycle getting tossed into the back windshield, and the vampire’s hand ripping through the floor. That must have been incredibly difficult to shoot with a 90-pound camera.
Yes, it really was. [Laughs.] I figured out the shot that I wanted to do; we produced the shot, and animated it. Then I showed it to the crew and they all scratched their heads and said, “Well, OK—how in the hell are you going to do that with a 90-pound camera?” We tried things for several months, testing stuff on the weekends; we tried hanging a 90-pound camera on a bungee, and kinds of things like that.
Ultimately, how we did it, we literally could have shot it back in the '40s. I remember when I saw Rope, a movie that [Alfred] Hitchcock did, he shot it in four takes, four 20-minute rolls, and it all takes place in an apartment. They moved all the walls and the furniture as the camera would move around; they ended up making so much noise as they were doing it that they had to dub the whole movie.
With our scene, we ended up chopping up the van into eight pieces, and all the chairs were kept to the doors; as the camera moved, the actors were slid out of frame and then slid back into frame. The car was like a big Rubik’s cube. We designed that whole thing. It’s all practical, which is cool, but it was this crazy scenario where actors were saying their lines, sliding out of frame, coming back into frame and saying more lines, and so forth. [Laughs.]