Fright Night Review
By Lora Grady
"Fright" of Passage
1985's "Fright Night" was a sleeper of a horror movie that lent a comedic spin to the traditional vampire yarn while simultaneously exploring themes of adolescent angst and sexuality. Fans of TV's "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" will no doubt recognize that mix, and it's no coincidence that the screenplay for the current version of "Fright Night" was penned by Marti Noxon, who produced and wrote for both "Buffy" and its spinoff series, "Angel". With Ms. Noxon's work as its foundation, the new "Fright Night", while not exactly must-see filmmaking, nonetheless justifies itself and proves to be pretty entertaining to boot.
There are some clever tweaks made for the sake of modernizing the story, but the basic plot in the update remains the same as the original: Charlie Brewster (Anton Yelchin, "Star Trek
") lives with his single mother (an underutilized Toni Collette) and enjoys the life of a typical teenager - he's got a new girlfriend, and he's climbing the high school social ladder. Everything's great until strange attacks and disappearances around town begin to mount up, and he starts to suspect that his new neighbor is a vampire.
As played by Colin Farrell, the neighbor, Jerry Dandridge (of course there's some mockery of the name: "Jerry? What kind of a name is that for a vampire??") is a thuggish charmer who lurks around in tight-fitting t-shirts, hits on Charlie's mom, and drops by to borrow beer. Even without the threat of being a vampire he's weirdly menacing, as he counsels Charlie that, "...certain kinds of women need to be... managed", and advises him to keep an eye on his girlfriend. Mr. Farrell has the smarts to play up the predatory swagger of his character rather than making him a suave lothario. It's the right fit for his particular brand of sex appeal, and it underscores the danger as Charlie realizes that he's got a supernatural serial killer living next door.
Steering Charlie toward this disturbing realization is his former best friend Ed (Christopher Mintz-Plasse "Kick-Ass
"), who's hurt and resentful that there's no place for him in Charlie's new social circle. Ed's been spying on Jerry, and he works hard to convince Charlie that his neighbor is a creature of the night. Eventually, his vampire hunting habits catch up with him. While Mr. Mintz-Plasse doesn't initially find quite the same notes of outsider pathos that Stephen Geoffreys brought to the role in the original, he does have fun with his character's subsequent opportunity to tell Charlie, in the broadest possible terms, "I told you so".
As Charlie's troubles mount he desperately seeks help, and he follows Ed's lead to contact Peter Vincent, Vampire Hunter. Roddy McDowell played the role in the original "Fright Night", as an over the hill actor turned horror TV host and reluctant latter-day Van Helsing. Here the part is reimagined as a Criss Angel-esque Vegas showman, and David Tennant ("Doctor Who") takes the reins, turning in a boozy hoot of a performance and stealing every scene he's in. He's a midori-swilling diva whose encyclopedic knowledge of vampire lore and treasure trove of anti-vamp weaponry have ostensibly been amassed in the name of show business... but of course there's more to his story. When the stakes are raised, so to speak, will he hide in his high-tech panic room, or join the fight at Charlie's side?
Given Ms. Noxon's experience in the genre, it's no surprise that this "Fright Night" plays fast and witty, with just enough character development and smarts about its subject matter. Some of the plot beats feel a little misplaced (if a vampire's motivation is to stay under the radar and remain undetected, wouldn't he avoid... blowing stuff up??) and everyone recovers from the mayhem a little too quickly. But overall, it's a fun outing, drawing on the chemistry of its cast and the sure-handed direction of Craig Gillespie ("Lars and the Real Girl
", "United States of Tara"). As recent horror remakes go, this one is much better than last year's ill-conceived "A Nightmare on Elm Street
" and 2009's pointless "The Stepfather
". Let's just hope that the team behind it can avoid the temptation to remake "Fright Night Part 2". Otherwise, we're in for something much scarier than the idea of a vampire next door.