“Hey, guy. You’ve been watching me. I’ve been watching you. Your mom, there’s a kind of neglect. Gives off a scent. And your girl? She is ripe. It’s on you to look out for them because there are a lot of bad people out there…”
The strip mining of 80’s culture continues with this remake of the 1985 cult classic directed by Tom Holland (Child’s Play). The original Fright Night was never one of my fondly remembered 80’s vampire movies. I always preferred The Lost Boys, The Hunger, and Near Dark. Still, it had some charm, particularly a fantastic performance from Roddy McDowall as horror television host Peter Vincent. McDowall’s character was a throwback to the protagonists of the classic Hammer horror films. The name itself was an homage to Peter Cushing and Vincent Price. The remake of Fright Night is one of those rare do-over’s that actually improves on the original by quickening the pace and steeping it into modern pop culture.
<itwists its predecessor’s suburban setting by taking place in an artificial oasis just outside of Las Vegas. This is a prefabricated neighborhood of innocuous tract homes with “For Sale” signs littering the front lawns and the neon lights of Sin City illuminating the horizon. High schooler Charley Brewster (Anton Yelchin) lives here with his mom, Jane (Toni Collette), a real estate agent trying to sell these houses. Charley is one of the most popular kids in school with a beautiful girlfriend in Amy (Imogen Poots). But, it wasn’t always this way for Charley. He was once a nerd who engaged in goofy LARPing in his back yard with former best friend Ed (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), who was cast aside for the sake of Charley’s popularity.
Charley reluctantly meets with his ex-BFF when several classmates mysterious disappear. Ed suspects Charley’s new neighbor Jerry (Colin Farrell) is a vampire. Charley is naturally disbelieving until Ed vanishes as well.
The hip nature and clever dialogue of Fright Night owes a lot to the screenplay by Marti Noxon, one of the chief architects of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Noxon is no stranger to writing believable teenagers (I Am Number Four, notwithstanding) and scary bloodsuckers with a mix of horror and comedy. The story plays with the perception of vampires in a post-Twilight world as well as all the usual tropes of the mythology. Let the Right One In answered the question of what happens to a vampire when they come in without an invitation. Fright Night answers the question of does a vampire need an invitation if the house has been abandoned due to a collapsing market. There is an unexpected poignancy to the movie with Noxon touching upon themes of teen angst with vampirism serving as an allegory for the predatory nature of high school and status supremacy. Charley isn’t all that nice of a kid for having so cruelly shunned Ed in favor of the jerks who would have mocked him not long ago. Jerry too is attempting to build his own social circle by using some of his victims to repopulate his species.
Jerry as played by Chris Sarandon (who does the obligatory cameo) was more in line with the classical, seductive vampire. Colin Farrell’s version exudes in alpha male arrogance. He’s Dracula in a tight t-shirt and denim jeans. It’s a role that Farrell is clearly relishing and it’s one of his most fun performances to date. Not as nuanced as In Bruges, but not as cartoonish as Horrible Bosses or Daredevil. In the original film, it never made sense for Jerry not to kill Charley outright. Here, it’s a case of Jerry toyed with his food before the big bite. He’s centuries old with an unfathomable body count. What does he have to fear from a boy? This is exemplified in a suspenseful sequence in which Charley breaks into Jerry’s home (with the help of a handy lock picking app) in order to free a hot blonde neighbor. It is clear Jerry knows they are there, despite their feeble attempts to skulk about unnoticed. The finish to the scene is a real kick to the balls.
Director Craig Gillespie earned strong critical notice for the indie comedy Lars and the Real Girl, but he shows a true flair for stylish action in Fright Night. In addition to the break-in sequence, there’s a thrilling set piece that begins with Jerry ripping up the Brewsters’ gas line and igniting their abode (“Don’t need an invitation if there’s no house.”). This kicks off an exciting chase scene done as a continuous tracking shot with Jerry hurling a dirt bike at Jane’s SUV and trying to carve his way in with his “fucked up vampire hand.” The only detraction to these parts is the obvious CGI. Aside from these scenes, the special effects are strong, but the 3D version should be avoided as it dims the already dark night scenes.
One of the major changes in the remake is the envisioning of Peter Vincent as a larger-than-life stage magician. Vincent is portrayed wonderfully by former Doctor Who, David Tennant, who plays him as Criss Angel by way of Russell Brand.
Fright Night may have been dumped into theaters during the doldrums of August, but it’s the kind of thrill ride that should have been released on Halloween. No sparkly bullshit here, Fright Night takes the vampire back to his spooky, bloodthirsty roots.