In this remake of 1985’s Fright Night, Jerry (Colin Farrell) is the vampire living next door to Charlie Brewster (Anton Yelchin). Although he’s Twilight sexy (Chris Sarandon in the original was Disco sexy), Jerry’s still got that nasty shark-toothed over-bite, although when his mouth does its CGI stretch it lacks the drool-dripping, visceral punch of the old-style analog mechanical effect . Surprisingly, Jerry also lacks sexual tension. All he really cares about is his next meal. An isolated housing development gone bust, located on the outskirts of Las Vegas, provides all the takeout he can handle until Charlie realizes why an increasing number of kids aren’t showing up for classes.
This go round, times have changed: Charley’s cool by not being a horror movie-loving geek, and his home is surrounded by desolation and “House For Sale” signs; and Roddy McDowall’s tuned-out horror host turned vampire slayer is upstaged by Tennant’s hip-deep-shallow Peter Vincent, a boozy, profane Las Vegas punk-goth-rock stage magician with Peter Frampton locks, Chris Angel darks, and Mick Jagger thins.
What this updated and glossier version offers is a one-two punch delivered by Farrell and Tennant and no ridiculous sequel--yet--to ignore. (Any Fright Night fan who dares think 1988’s Fright Night Part 2 is remotely worthwhile is persona non grata as far as I’m concerned.) I naturally gravitate toward Tennant, being a Dr. Who fan and all, but here he's part Doctor-making-a-house-call, a tad much of a sod, and all together shamelessly sixes and sevens throughout. His manic cursing and alcohol-induced distancing keeps it dicey flippant while Farell plays Jerry entirely darkly black-humored, and egotistically nasty-mean: he's been around for over 400 years, so he's got attitude.
The revelation for Charlie comes after his outcast former friend Ed (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) disappears, leaving surveillance video behind of Jerry, only you don't see Jerry because vampires--say it with me, faithful ones--don't cast reflections because they have no souls. When Jerry knows that Charlie knows, the cat and mouse fun begins, and Jerry introduces the simple concept of no home? no invitation needed to enter! limiting Charlie's defensive strategy when Jerry blows it up. I can tell you Jerry's a lot more direct in this version. He doesn't have a lacky servant like the green goo-filled handyman Sarandon had in 1985 to do his dirty work.
An exuberant car chase adds a cameo for Sarandon and more CGI opportunities for mayhem as Charlie works the kinks out of his vampire defense. Vincent offers some advice and his collection of vampire-hunting artifacts, but doesn't want to get involved for personal reasons, which are made clear later on. There's a funny--although now standard for hip horror movies--bit involving an eBay-purchased automatic stake-gun, and more humor to be found in the final confrontation beneath Jerry's abode. He's a subterranean vampire, so he likes to dig a lot.
I criticized the shock-drop opening in Don't Be Afraid of the Dark, but I'll go gentler with the one used here as Jerry obliterates an entire family in the blood-spattered opening minutes. It's confusing until the rest of the movie catches up with it and it's still a cheap shot I associate more with straight to DVD amateur endeavors. Do some directors really think horror fans need a quick and loosely attached gore-jolt to settle down for the rest of the movie?
What this new Fright Night lacks is not the talent or the production quality; it misses the mark on raising the emotional thermometer, the feeling a movie can roll you over with, like a steamroller, if its story invests you in it. A handful of horror movies do this and, more and more it seems, many are only concerned with the CGI-involved action quotient instead of the needed quality time between it. Remember the attack on Peter Vincent by Evil Ed in 1985? If you haven't seen it, watch the original Fright Night, then compare that simpler scene to the CGI-effects laden penthouse smackdown in this movie. You tell me which one has more feeling.
Sure, the special effects may be so cool now, Brewster! but back then you had heart. I'd stake my expert opinion on it.