Fright Night

As a long standing fan of vampires, werewolves and things that go bump in the night, I’ve been relatively disappointed with the neutering they have all experienced in recent years.  The fun, intelligence and charm of films like Nosferatu, From Dusk Till Dawn and The Lost Boys has been lost and in its place Edward Cullen and his ilk have risen to take their place in the public consciousness.  The modern day vampire is cold, emotional and weepy, a far cry from the carnal magnetism and cultured viciousness that made the vampires of old so alluring.  Movies like Let Me In and 30 Days of Night have done their best to keep the genre alive and well, but even they have struggled to keep the vampire of lore from rotting on the vine.  Luckily for them, Fright Night, a 3D remake of an 80s horror classic (three things that will almost immediately turn me off of any film), has come to breathe some life into a dying mythology by striking a rich blend of comedy and horror in one of the most fun filled cinematic experiences I’ve had this summer.

Chaley Brewster (Anton Yelchin) is recently cool, has a hot new girlfriend named Amy (Imogen Poots) and lives with his single mother Jane (Toni Collette) in a suburb nestled in the desert surrounding Last Vegas.  Things seem pretty sweet for Charley until students at his high school begin disappearing.  It isn’t long before Charley’s friend from his nerd days, “Evil” Ed (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), points out that the recent vanishings coincide with the appearance of Charley’s mysterious new neighbor Jerry (Colin Farrell).  Whats more, Ed suspects Jerry of being a vampire.  After some investigating, Ed’s suspicions prove to be true, setting the stage for a battle between Charley and Jerry set in the suburbs.  Only armed with what he learned from movies, Charlie seeks the help of the reluctant modern day Van Helsing, a leather clad Las Vegas performer named Peter Vincent (David Tennant) who claims to be the ultimate authority on all things nosferatu.  Together, Charley and Peter must face the vampire menace to once again make the suburbs safe for the innocents that live there.

One of the superb choices made in the making of this film is the casting.  As Jerry, Colin Farrell oozes masculine charm.  Handsome and dangerous with a chilling predatory stare, Jerry is the ultimate alpha male, welcoming Charley’s attacks with a wicked smile.  Farrell walks a fine line in this movie making Jerry both terrifying and hilarious and turns in one of his most enjoyable performances ever.  David Tennant strays from the path blazed by his predecessor Roddy McDowall and plays the role of Peter Vincent with more Russell Brand bravado, drinking and swearing his way to a scene stealing performance.  As Charley, Anton Yelchin has the good sense to play the part with both sincerity and quiet insecurity, making him in every way Jerry’s opposite.  By playing it this way, Yelchin clears a path, making himself straight man to Farrell and Tennant which ultimately allows all three to play better on screen together.  Toni Collette, a fine actress, isn’t given much to do, but does just fine with what she’s given.  Imogeen Poot, is beautiful and does a sufficient job of playing the damsel in distress that every good horror movie needs.

The script, written by Buffy: The Vampire Slayer scribe Marti Noxon makes smart updates to the plot while remaining faithful to the original film.  The idea of setting the film in Vegas is inspired.  Sure, Jerry blacks out all of his windows, only comes out at night and seems to bring a different woman home every night.  But in the nocturnal town that is Las Vegas, this describes half of the transient population making his behavior seem much less suspect then he would in any other suburban neighborhood.  Additionally, the film honors vampire lore while playfully and lovingly poking fun at the rules that film and television have established over the years.  Its no surprise that Noxon also packs the script with clever references to pop culture, lovingly referencing Buffy while taking sly stabs at the Twilight series.  After years of freelancing on shows like Grey’s Anatomy, Private Practice and Mad Men, its clear that Noxon belongs with the monsters as this is her sharpest script in almost a decade.  Likewise, director Craig Gillespie who started his career with critical darling Lars and the Real Girl proves he has a certain panache for the genre, perfectly balancing humor, horror, action and well executed suspense.

On the surface, Fright Night seems like another movie cashing in on the crazes that are 3D, remakes and vampire movies.  Instead, it delivers one of the better vampire tales in recent memories.  Wisely taking a cue from the original, it blends fun and fright into an enjoyable ride that doesn’t take itself too seriously, but respects itself enough to never let it descend into campy silliness.  With a smart script, a great cast and fun direction, Fright Night manages to overcome the recent plague of vampire films and prove that vampires still have the charm and terror to provide some real cinematic bite.

RATING:  8.5/10

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~ by Andrew Craig on August 22, 2011.

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