Rounding out a full day of film and television, the director, writer and stars of DreamWorks’ Fright Night descended on Comic-Con International on Friday to discuss the 3D remake of the cult-hit 1985 horror comedy.
Director Craig Gillespie and writer Marti Noxon were on hand for a press conference alongside stars Colin Farrell (Jerry Dandridge), Anton Yelchin (Charley Brewster), Imogen Poots (Amy Peterson) and Christopher Mintz-Plasse (“Evil” Ed Thompson), and Chris Sarandon, who played Jerry Dandridge in the original film.
Farrell led off the Q&A by answering who would win in a fight, Twilight’s Edward Cullen or Fright Night’s Jerry Dandridge. “It depends on what they were fighting for,” he said. “If they were fighting over a lump of meat? Jerry. If they were fighting for the love of a woman? I’m afraid Cullen would have me.”
Noxon, best known as a writer and producer of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, touched upon what it was like adapting a classic horror film like Fright Night.
“I think I was lucky in that I wasn’t aware of how much of a classic it was when I first came on,” she admitted. “I stayed away from the Internet. I was very lucky because the version we have has such a great premise and such great characters to work with. Also, in the 25 years since the original was made, the world has changed a lot. The boys are a lot more aware of genre convention, they live in a Twilight universe, these kids. So, I wanted to be really respectful to the original but there were a lot of ways I thought we could explore character a little differently now. It was just a challenge of the things we knew we wanted to stay true to and the places where we needed to reinvent. Of course Craig and the actors did such a great job putting the fun and I think the heart that was in the original.”
Farrell, as the antagonist Jerry Dandridge, was asked about the differences between the character he plays and Sarandon’s original portrayal.
“They both need blood to survive,” he said. “The old Jerry Dandridge as I remember him, as I first experienced him when I was – when I first laid eyes on Jerry, he was incredibly debonair, had a certain dignity to him, felt like an intellectual, felt incredibly cultured, suave. My guy’s kind of none of those things. I kind of felt more like a social parasite, somebody who really did enjoy the threat that he posed to those around him, if indeed he allowed – if he exposed himself and let those around him know who he was. My guy would be nothing but the fear, the fear he would instill in people. He felt like somebody who treats humans like a cat treats a ball of wool, as playthings, not just as a source of sustenance, but as playthings. It was kind of brutal, I got a chance to play a grizzled vampire who wasn’t concerned with anything – with love – had no fear and no human virtues that would be recognizable at all. Just as somebody who traveled the world for 400 years and then possibly got tired of his own company, but his vibe is grizzled and very much had kind of the M.O. of a serial killer.”
“Obviously it’s tricky to do research, you can’t walk down the Third Street Promenade of Santa Monica and have a nibble on some panzer’s neck,” Farrell continued. He also mentioned that he’s loved movies like Lost Boys and many incarnations of Dracula since he was young. “I was seeped in the lore already, but maybe playing a vampire really attracted me as a fan. That’s how I approached it first, and that’s not always you approach films, you don’t approach them as an actor, just as a human being. Not as an actor, just as a man or a woman and see how the piece affects you.”
English actress Imogen Poots was asked about her experience working with both the tenth and eleventh Doctors – David Tennant in Fright Night and Matt Smith in Christopher and His Kind – and how their experience playing the Doctor factored into other roles.
“They’ve got this exceptional [talent] to take on these humans that are essentially creatures,” she said. “Both of them share that. David is hysterical. It’s fascinating to watch them from a place of London where I recognize them from playing the character Doctor Who, which is such a big deal in the U.K. and now here. So, with the character of Doctor Who, they’re constantly adapting to different forms and different situations.”
Fright Night retains a good amount of humor mixed into the horror. For Gillespie, striking a balance between the two was the focus. “We tried to approach this twofold. One, my script has genuine horror and thriller and suspense,” he said. “That was at the forefront for me. There is always somebody that can put that tension on the screen. And then we have the humor of it. As much as Christopher [Mintz-Plasse] and David are really funny, their characters always came from a very real place. Everyone was really in that reality of what was going on, so we had this really great balance.”
“I think what we were trying to do was make the characters people who are funny in a very scary situation, as opposed to let’s make a funny scary situation,” Noxon added. “What would you really say if you had a weird sense of humor in this particular instance.”
The discussion took a turn toward Yelchin, who spoke about the choreographed fight scenes with Mintz-Plasse. “Most of the prep was for the emotional journey of the character,” Yelchin said. “Chris and I rehearsed the fight sequences quite a bit because it was such a choreographed piece. Probably two or three days’ rehearsal for that. The more you do it, the more it become sort of a natural thing, I think, and you just hope you don’t smack the other person.”
Fright Night was filmed in 3D, and the original Jerry Dandridge, Chris Sarandon, mentioned that not only did he enjoy the film -- “I saw it last week and I think it’s just brilliant” – but he thought the 3D was particularly well done. “I think that what you’re looking for with 3D is not spears coming at you,” he said. “When I was a kid, that’s what we went to 3D movies for. We’d put the paper glasses on and we’d have natives throwing things at us. I think what Craig was looking for was sense and texture of using the 3D. It wasn’t using it for the purposes of being a gimmick, but to enhance the experience of the movie and that’s what it does.”
“What was enticing to me is you would see it through this large spectrum of the rabbits in Alice in Wonderland and these huge walls,” Gillespie continued, “but to see two guys talking in the kitchen and that tension and see one friend put a hand on the other’s shoulder and see more of what’s going on – the intimacy of a horror replay where you go down hallways and have truer aspect, having that depth was exciting.”
Circling back to the core concept of Fright Night’s vampires, Mintz-Plasse detailed why he thought Farrell’s vampire was an excellent portrayal. “I think Colin did a fantastic job just kind of bringing back the one vampire, kind of sexy, kind of charming, but he’s just pure evil,” he said. “I think that you did in the original one of my favorite types of vampires – one predator hunting down one other person. It’s more intimate.”
“That’s what’s exciting about the script, right off the bat, this guy is truly a terrifying character,” Gillespie said. “We treat him more like he is sort of this pathological serial killer. It remains a part of who he is and he’s got to feed on human blood. How does he go about keeping people, not being detected and on top of that he’s got all this charm and charisma that seduces people but then at the end of the day he’s attached from emotion.”
Unsurprisingly, Noxon’s experience on Buffy the Vampire Slayer did come into play in a minor way, as she expressed how character work was similar between the television series and Fright Night.
“When they were saying, ‘Who’s your favorite vampire?’ my favorite before Jerry was Spike when he was bad,” Noxon said. “Spike before he got all soft and mushy over Buffy. I still liked him, but I was just trying to get the guy to bite something. The characters in the story are so real that I could really identify with them, with Jerry’s journey, in the same way that Buffy was a very grounded character. We never had an episode where we didn’t spend a lot of time relating our personal experiences and portraying them in this really supernatural world. Anton’s character, I felt like there was a story to be told about these generations of kids now who are into pop culture and they’re so into their imagination and they get to a certain age and it’s not cool anymore. They try to abandon that part of themselves and then what happens if it actually turns out to be true? He’d have to change and adapt to this new world. That’s very personal to me so it was really fun to write.”
Toward the end of the conference, Sarandon gave the film a ringing endorsement, saying, “There was a certain amount of skepticism, but when they sent me the script, I thought, ‘They got it.’ They figured out how to make it contemporary and at the same time, make it enough of an homage so that the fans of the original move would appreciate it and at the same time, take them on a different kind of ride. I think that’s what this movie does.”
Fright Night opens on Aug. 19.