The James Clayton Column: Fright Night and fang fatigue

In this week’s column, James gets his teeth into Fright Night, and asks whether we’re now officially bored with vampires…

Colin Farrell is a vampire! I like the sound of this supernatural scenario. Indeed, this is a case of inspired casting that allows a talented and adaptable actor a juicy role he can really get his teeth into.

It’s just a shame that the Irishman is only becoming a seductive bloodsucker now for Fright Night, and not at the beginning of his career when he spent some time in Ballykissangel. It would have been fun to see young Farrell terrorising BBC primetime TV, worrying the sheep and spreading unholy terror through the County Kerry countryside.

Ah well, never mind. Farrell has finally got fangs for his appearance as Jerry Dandridge in the 3D remake of the 1985 flick. I’m going to naively pretend that the new Fright Night movie isn’t a cynical attempt to cash-in on the 3D craze, offering nothing more than the novelty of Dracula dentures in an extra dimension. It’s clearly an essential mission to ensure the Irish actor achieves immortal life as a roguish, undead antihero.

This fresh Fright Night also stars David Tennant as a dandy showbiz occult expert, which is in effect the Doctor regenerated as a cross between Russell Brand and Aleister Crowley. If Tennant the mascara-wearing magician doesn’t move you, the trailer also promises vampires in Las Vegas, and scenes in which have-a-go-hero Anton Yelchin wields a crossbow to battle the bloodsucker menace.

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Altogether, it looks like an enjoyable comedy horror package with a top cast. Plus it’s also interesting to consider the possibility that your neighbour might be a vampire. Fright Night will, thus, stimulate the same kind of ponderings prompted by Swedish masterpiece Let The Right One In.

The difference is that Hollywood’s latest piece of vamp-camp won’t hollow me out and send me into numb depression like Tomas Alfredson’s ‘bloodsucker next door’ feature did. It’s beautiful horror cinema at its best, but it’s also so bleak and chilling that you need a week of sunshine and Looney Tunes cartoons to cheer you up after watching it.

Enough despair though, and let’s leave the 80s where the original Fright Night and morose Scandinavian children dwell. Let’s swoop on upbeat batwings back to present day America, where Jerry the vampire is stalking the suburbs and rousing high school teen Charley (Yelchin) to take up arms and impersonate Buffy.

This new picture has promise, and with all its intriguing elements, impresses itself as something worth going to the cinema for. Sadly, Fright Night hasn’t really received massive, enthusiastic buzz, and hasn’t made it as a hit of the late summer blockbuster movie scene. In fact, after its underwhelming North American release, industry experts lobbed the “box office flop” label at it, in spite of generally positive reviews.

In Hollywood, getting that toxic tag is a fate worse than death. If you imagine each individual film personified as a vampire (they want to possess audiences, who exist as their life blood), receiving the “box office flop” brand is like getting your canines capped in plastic and being forced to wear garlic perfume for the rest of your eternal life.

They can still creep about and capture victims in the comfort of their own homes (on Blu-ray and DVD), but they’re always going to be coming from a weaker position, and carry an unfortunate stink of failure behind them.

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Fright Night won’t suffer as much as “box office bomb” Conan The Barbarian (poor Conan is going to be carrying a lot of garlic for a very long time), but it’s worth asking why the flick hasn’t been a great success. In part it’s probably due to audience aversion to 3D, which is something that has also compromised Conan’s box office performance.

More significantly, though, I’d suggest that something else has entered the minds of the cinema-going public, and encouraged them to pass on the comedy horror remake. To give this thing a catchy nickname, and a pseudo-scientific air of being a serious medical problem, I’ll call it fang fatigue.

My diagnostic hypothesis is this – vampires are cool and bloodsucker-based pop culture is appealing, but audiences are bored of them. The undead fiends are ubiquitous and, consequently, the masses have grown jaded, and don’t regard them with the same amount of awe or intense fascination any more.

The sharp canines have become so clichéd and humdrum that they don’t command attention like the supernatural nasties of yore, and have now become unexceptional furniture that fit into the cultural environment without causing a fuss.

This isn’t an ideal state of existence for a paranormal monster. Fear is killed by overfamiliarity, and you can’t frighten people if they aren’t surprised by your presence. The fanged folklore creatures are now so commonplace that their killer edge, exciting mystique and sense of danger have become undermined.

Vampires are also less threatening, I suppose, to an increasingly secularised modern society that doesn’t fret much about their soul’s eternal fate. Nevertheless, I’d argue that fang fatigue has more to do with the Twilight phenomenon than Christian faith. It used to be the case that the word vampire conjured up images of Bela Lugosi, or Christopher Lee with blood all over his chin.

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Now, people think about Robert Pattinson and armies of hysterical teenagers who want lovebites from a sparkly dreamboy with beguiling golden eyes.

It’s not all Twilight’s fault, though. A hundred years ago, vampires were shadowy hellspawn that only lurked in myths, legends and the pages of gothic literature. Suddenly they became movie star monsters, and the ultimate silver screen icons of abject fear.

In spite of this, films like Nosferatu and the Universal Dracula series didn’t reduce the horror, but guaranteed folk traditions thrived throughout the 20th century. Images of Max Schreck (or even Klaus Kinski in Werner Herzog’s remake, Nosferatu The Vampyre), and the surreal sequences of Vampyr, for instance, carry a creepy resonance to the present day.

The origins of fang fatigue came in when the ethereal undead left Transylvania and found themselves in the modern, mass consumer world. They spread everywhere, and in the process, the enigmatic threat they represented became naturalised.

Thanks to TV like True Blood and Buffy The Vampire Slayer, and films like Twilight and Jennifer’s Body, audiences are now inured to vampires, and the average person probably wouldn’t be surprised if their next door neighbour did turn out to be an undead blood junkie.

They wouldn’t be scared either, especially if said neighbour looks more like Colin Farrell than Klaus Kinski. Shame. Count Dracula is probably turning in his grave.

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James’ previous column can be found here.

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