It’s amazing that, in the long and unillustrious history of sexy screen vampires, no one thought till now to put fangs on Colin Farrell. Forgettable in most leading-man roles (see The New World and Alexander), he comes alive when allowed to play a smarmy, cold-blooded bastard. In this week’s ’80s remake, Farrell has plenty of fun with the role of a vampire who can leave a half-drained victim in his basement and go upstairs to knock back a Bud and chuckle at “Real Housewives.” He’s the blood sucker as bro.
Back in 1985, when the original Fright Night came out, its premise seemed pretty clever: Dracula meets the teen sex comedy. Jerry the vampire is a suburban swinger who moves in next door to insecure high schooler Charley (here, Anton Yelchin) and alternately terrorizes and humiliates him by threatening to seduce both his girlfriend (Imogen Poots) and his lonely single mother (Toni Collette).
Nowadays, there are no clever ideas in fictional vampiredom. We’ve had vampires next door, vampires on motorcycles, vampires as good ol’ boys and postapocalyptic superheroes and slick businessmen and teen dreamboats. The only way to make vampires fresh again is to pretend we never heard of them for a few decades, or maybe a century.
But, working with a strong cast, director Craig Gillespie and screenwriter Marti Noxon (a veteran of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”) do their best to squeeze some juice out of Fright Night. The result is the rare remake that stays true to the spirit of the original — and one of the better R-rated comedies of the summer.
Yes, comedy. That should be clear from the presence of Christopher Mintz-Plasse as Ed, Charley’s dweeby friend. When he tries to convince Charley that their neighbor in a sterile Las Vegas subdivision has blacked out his windows not because he works on the Strip but because he’s undead, Charley scoffs and invokes the T-word all horror geeks dread — Twilight. To which Ed retorts that this vampire isn’t “romantic, or tormented or noble. He’s the shark from Jaws.”
The filmmakers get mileage out of that comparison. When Jerry menaces Ed, he does it in a swimming pool with John Williams-esque thumps on the soundtrack. Farrell moves like a predator and works a menacing deadpan; he doesn’t make the vampire a fop, as Chris Sarandon (who seemed always about to whip out a bottle of Harvey’s Bristol Cream) did in the original. Fright Night has its genuinely disturbing Cape Fear bits, particularly a harrowing action sequence that demonstrates why you shouldn’t assume you’ve protected your home from a vampire by declining to invite him inside.
But, while some chills (and hyperbolic blood spatters) are on offer, laughs remain paramount. David Tennant, known to all nerds as the 10th Doctor Who, does a memorable turn in the role originally played by Roddy McDowall. Here, the “vampire hunter” to whom Charley turns for aid is a Vegas celebrity magician with eyeliner and a gothic shtik. Tennant has chosen to play the character as if channeling Russell Brand, shrilly protesting his ignorance of the actual occult between glugs of poisonous-looking liqueur. He steals all his scenes, though Yelchin and Poots are improvements over the stiff hero and heroine of the original film.
One might ask why, with the Internet at his fingertips, Charley turns to a “vampire hunter” whose cheesy spots he’s seen on TV. That’s one endearingly ’80s aspect of Fright Night the filmmakers haven’t altered, though they have axed the jangly synth music and made the female characters smarter. CGI effects have been combined with traditional ones for a look that’s reasonably creative — though, if you see it in 3-D, don’t expect to enjoy Javier Aguirresarobe’s cinematography.
Horror comedies have always served a niche market, and with ads that misleadingly present it as a teen thriller akin to Disturbia (with fangs!), Fright Night seems destined not to last long in theaters. But if you belong to the rare breed that thirsts for this kind of fare, check it out.
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