Set amidst the suburban sprawl of Las Vegas’ surrounding desert landscapes, this year’s remake of the 1985 horror comedy “Fright Night” refuses to settle for being a carbon copy of its predecessor.
With a witty script by former “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” scribe Marti Noxon and taut suspense courtesy of “Lars and the Real Girl” director Craig Gillespie, “Fright Night” may even come close to rivaling the original’s ode to vampirism.
Shedding the modern trend of overtly sensationalizing these fanged beings on hit shows such as “True Blood” and in films such as “Twilight,” “Fright Night” casts its devious vampire as an everyman named Jerry (Colin Farrell). Jerry is your typical off-putting but occasionally friendly next door neighbor, only he operates under the guise of a nighttime construction worker to hide his murderous ways.
When several of the citizens of this suburban Las Vegas community go missing, a local high schooler named Ed (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) attempts to persuade his former best friend Charley (Anton Yelchin) that there’s a real life monster at the root of these disappearances. Spurred by the persistent absence of one of their mutual friends, Ed threatens to expose Charley’s nerdy past to his new trendy clique if he doesn’t assist his search.
What follows is the revelation that everything certainly isn’t as it seems, and the cause of all this evil may be residing right next door to Charley. Jerry is indeed an ancient vampire who keeps humans in a feeding catacomb in his home, so there goes the neighborhood.
“Fright Night” is at its best when unraveling these sort of mysteries, offering genuine suspense and unsettling atmosphere over the clichd jump scares and bloodletting that has taken over much of the horror genre today. In other words, it’s a horror movie that fans of the genre will love, but thankfully for a general audience it isn’t just for that sect.
Unlike the original film, the 2011 update takes time to examine the friendship of Ed and Charley, and how Charley’s shortcomings as a companion and desperate attempts to fit into the high school hierarchy ultimately undermine the initially good intentions of Ed. When Ed makes the unfortunate turn to a ruthless bloodsucker early in the film, it’s both heartbreaking and frightening all at once, with “Superbad” actor Mintz-Plasse doing some of his best work as an actor to date.
Also worth noting are the rest of the ensemble, particularly “United States of Tara” star Toni Collette and British actress Imogen Poots, who provide a strong female supporting cast to balance the film’s testosterone levels. The real show here, though, belongs to Farrell and “Doctor Who” star David Tennant, who make a real go at having a “Fright Night.”
Farrell’s performance as Jerry is flat-out unnerving, particularly during an exchange between Jerry and Charley in the doorway of Charley’s home. Charley is keen to Jerry’s vampirism, but Jerry verbally pokes and prods Charley in a way that unsettles the audience as much as the film’s lead character.
As for Tennant, it’s hard to fulfill a role that was handled so graciously by veteran actor Roddy McDowall in the original film, so Tennant takes the performance in a completely different direction. Besides having the character of Peter Vincent changed from a late-night horror movie host to a Criss Angel-type magician, Tennant trades McDowall’s neurotic ways for a Vincent that is filled with regrets and insecurities aplenty.
The performances, along with Craig Gillespie’s direction, provide “Fright Night” with a core that helps keep the film grounded when it’s flashy computer generated effects and trendy 3-D visuals take effect later on. It’s when “Fright Night” plays out like a low-key vampire drama that it works best and also when practical make-up effects are employed over the film’s shoddy CGI.
With this week’s Blu-Ray and DVD release from Disney Home Entertainment, fans of the film will be able to forgo the 3-D version, which has been singled out by critics like Roger Ebert as a major weakness during the film’s theatrical run. The Blu-Ray and DVD offer a pristine transfer of the film, keeping intact the picturesque Las Vegas landscapes, and making composer Ramin Djawadi’s haunting score sound particularly great at high volumes.
While a commentary track with Gillespie and Noxon waxing nostaligic about the film’s production and vampire lore would have been nice, since the film didn’t perform well financially upon its initial release in theaters, it may be a few years before the already amassing cult of fans that prefer or adore this version of “Fright Night” can warrant a proper special edition release.
In the end, “Fright Night” poses the question “Who are the people in your neighborhood?”, and yields some disturbing but altogether enjoyable results. It’s a story about the terrible neighbor next door told in a Grand Guignol manner, with enough laughs and bloodletting to satisfy human and vampire alike.