Vampires have been in a sorry state for over a decade. With the advent of Twilight, True Blood and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, these creatures of the night have been defanged by popular culture. Turned into tortured and misunderstood souls, the once great monsters became the mopey teens of the horror genre.
That’s why it’s a delightful surprise that Fright Night allows its vamps to have some bite.
The film follows high schooler Charley (Anton Yelchin: The Smurfs) during an important change in his life. He’s started dating popular hot girl Amy (Imogen Poots: Jane Eyre) and has decided to dump his geeky best friend Ed (Christopher Mintz-Plasse: Marmaduke).
But Ed isn’t willing to let go of Charley so easily. He blackmails Charley into one last geeky caper: to spy on Charley’s new neighbor Jerry (Colin Farrell: Horrible Bosses), whom Ed suspects is a vampire. In spite of the unlikely moniker of Jerry, Ed turns out to be right. Now Charley must find a way to fight off Jerry without letting his mother or girlfriend know what’s happening. He’d hate to seem like a geek.
To learn how to combat vampires, Charley turns to the closest expert he can find, magician Peter Vincent (David Tennant: United). Vincent’s Vegas show involves scenes of the occult, and his website gives advice on staking vamps. If Charley can ever get the pickled magician to sober up, Vincent might impart some useful advice before Jerry eats the entire neighborhood.
A remake of the 1985 campy horror classic, Fright Night cleverly pays homage to its predecessor while updating the story for a modern audience. One inspired update is moving the film to Las Vegas, in a desolate suburban settlement surrounded by miles of dessert: the perfect hunting ground. It offers a great cover for the vamp’s fanged existence, as many of the suburban neighbors work nights at casinos and sleep during the day. Jerry blends right in with the Sin City population.
Strong performances raise the film above typical horror fare. As the booze-addled magician and mystic, Tennant is a mixture of Russell Brand and Criss Angel as he swans about in leather pants and rub-on tattoos. He could be a caricature, but Tennant’s wild-eyed rants on the supernatural hint that there is a secret he’s trying to drown with absinthe.
As Charley, Yelchin is moody, uncommunicative and insolent: in other words a believable teen. The film isn’t afraid to show you that Charley wants to be popular more than he wants to be a good person. Only when the bodies pile up does Charley start acting like a hero.
Farrell, however, owns the movie with an unapologetically evil performance. Jerry prowls his suburban hunting grounds, chatting up Charley’s mother and flirting with Charley’s girlfriend while sipping on Bud Light. He underplays his monstrous strength and appetite, remaining still and calm when interacting with mortals. But his dark eyes size up every person he speaks to as if he’s mentally shuffling through his human recipe book.
Despite a few plot lapses and the unnecessary addition of 3D, Fright Night remains a funny and spooky salute to vampire films of old. Just make sure you skip the 3D show; Jerry has plenty of bite in two dimensions.