An R-rated horror-comedy with sharp fangs and a goofball soul, Fright Night cashes in on the coffin craze by spit-taking blood all over the Twilight franchise. Turns out, the bad guy isn’t the vampire squid Goldman Sachs. It’s the actual vampire next door.
Anton Yelchin, suddenly all grown up and leading-man handsome, plays Charley, the geek turned stud who, as soon as puberty hit, ditched his geeky bestie Ed
(Christopher Mintz-Plasse, stock nerd nonpareil) for the cool-kid table and his girlfriend Amy (Imogen Poots). It’s actually Colin Farrell, whose every creepy leer at Charley’s mother (Toni Collette) screams MILF bloodlust. Sure, Farrell’s performance may not make much sense, but neither do centuries-old vampires living in Nevadan subdivisions. At times, Farrell is as hilariously over-the-top as Nicolas Cage in Vampire’s Kiss. The film is written by Buffy the Vampire Slayer alum Marti Nixon as a möbius script of endlessly looping meta-references to vampire lore and franchises. Even Doctor Who fans will be gratified to see David Tennant playing Peter Vincent, an absurd Criss Angel–style neo-Goth occult star with a collection of vintage vampire-slaying tools and the looks of Russell Brand’s dissipated cousin. The film isn’t a radical reconfiguration of vampire mythology; it’s a goofy, ridiculous monster-mash-up of your favorite vampire tunes. The film falters toward the end, as Gillespie begins to take the stakes a little too seriously and the jokes get lost in all the blood-sucking, stake-stabbing, and vampire-incinerating. A dumb-fun horror movie earns mocking laughter, and straight horror elicits nervous laughter, but the best horror-comedies can make you laugh and gasp and scream, all at the same time. Right before seeing Fright Night 2011, I watched Fright Night 1985 for the first time, and it's a flawed movie; although it has its charms (namely a silver-tongued Chris Sarandon), it also takes some great threads in its third act, namely the actions of Amanda Bearse's character Amy, and throws them away for a mediocre, drawn-out finale that jumps around without much rhyme or reason. The basic idea is still the same: Charley Brewster (Anton Yelchin) lives with his mom (Toni Collette) on a quiet suburban street. One day, he meets his new neighbor, Jerry Dandridge (Colin Farrell), a handsome, charming fellow who appears to have a suspiciously active night life. Further investigation (by Charley in the original, and by Charley's friend "Evil" Ed in the remake) reveals the unlikely but disturbing truth: Jerry is a vampire, and more than that, he's noticed that someone's figured him out.
At the same time, Noxon poorly defines the difference between Charley and his new friends, to the point where the movie becomes crudely sexist. When Charley finds proof that Ed's theories about Jerry are true, he turns to Vincent, the only vampire expert he can find. In the original, Vincent was an aging B-movie star relegated to hosting a weekend movie program on basic cable, but it's so much more unbelievable that Charley would be able to track the guy down, and watching the 2011 Vincent face his fears doesn't isn't as potent a character redemption story the way as it is when the 1985 Vincent rises from his funk. Never mind the fact that "Peter Vincent" was named after Peter Cushing and Vincent Price...
Both Fright Nights are about the allure of the vampire, and Farrell exudes it as well as Sarandon, if not better. Fright Night 1985 is inspired in concept but imperfect in execution, the exact kind of material that calls out to be remade, and yet Fright Night 2011 is a remake that resolves problems by avoiding them entirely. Fright Night is one of the last movies of the summer, and it's like a masterclass in how to make a perfect summer movie. It's a nice little character-based adventure with real scares and action and stuff. We've actually been lucky enough to have a number of well-made, solid films this summer, including a few decent superhero movies and a few films that revitalized some moribund franchises like Planet of the Apes. The movie moves at a pretty break-neck pace, with Evil Ed announcing his suspicions that Jerry is a vampire pretty early on. The movie plays with a lot of the standard horror-movie tension-raising techniques, but then subverts them pretty handily to deliver bigger and better shocks. Plus you get bonus points for adopting the British show Ultraviolet's conceit that vampires don't show up on video. Charlie's motivation is pretty clear: He was a dick for not believing his friend Evil Ed when he first told Charlie about the vampire, and now Evil Ed is missing, presumed toast. Probably a lot of us are just going to see this film for David Tennant, who plays Charlie's reluctant mentor, a stage magician named Peter Vincent. As I mentioned before, this is a weirdly optimistic movie, considering that a fair amount of dark, scary stuff happens, and the incident that launches the movie is a crucial betrayal of friendship on Charlie's part. It works quite well.