“Night” of the suburban vampire

fright night

Fright Night

dir. Craig Gillespie

Release Date: Aug 19, 11

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I’ve never seen the original Fright Night in a single sitting. It’s not often I feel compelled to qualify a review, but I feel this one is necessary, based on the volume of “nothing like the original” reactions I’ve observed. Taken on its own merits, the new Fright Night is a decently effective horror flick that downplays the comedy and revs up the 3D-friendly splatter gore. There’s a lot of that; vampires explode, are chewed to death and, in one very creepy sequence, contort and twitch their way out of dirt to feed. As R-rated horror goes, though, this is fairly soft stuff, save for a handful of grisly bite wounds.

Set in the outer part of Las Vegas, where it’s less Vegas and more desert, Charlie (Anton Yelchin) finds himself with an array of problems on his hands. His new girlfriend Amy (Imogen Poots) wants to take the next, physical step in their relationship. His former best friend Evil Ed (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) is convinced that vampires are abducting their classmates and is threatening to unleash Charlie’s mega-nerd past if he doesn’t help him. And then there’s Jerry (Colin Farrell), the attractive new neighbor next door with some suspicious nighttime behaviors.

Fright Night is a traditional horror film through and through, no matter how many current pop songs or Twilight references (mercifully, just the one) director Craig Gillespie wants to attach to polish it up. The trouble is that the extra layer of gloss takes away some of the teenage anxiety that’s made the original a landmark work for a certain generation. It’s refreshing to see a hero more worried about not getting killed than getting laid, and Yelchin turns in a solid performance, giving Charlie a sort of hollow, not-slept-in-days resolve. Farrell is uneven as Jerry, saved mainly by a scene in which he toys with Charlie while lurking in the doorway, uninvited into the home. The tension between the two is at turns funny and incredibly unssettling, and if Fright Night could’ve maintained that balance it would’ve been better off.

The other notable in the cast is David Tennant taking the mantle of Peter Vincent, reappropriated as a Criss Angel-type hack magician by day and a legitimate vampire expert by night. Drinking like a fish and slurring his way through terror, Tennant appears around halfway into the film as the shot in the arm it desperately needs, because one can only listen to stock, “Why won’t you believe me?” dialogue for so long. He’s at turns cowardly and cocksure, and he and Yelchin stand as a believable vampire-murdering team.

The scares, few and far between, rely mostly on Gotcha! moments, but where Fright Night both excels and fails is in the dedication to long, drawn-out sequences of tension. When done well, as in the climactic basement battle, this is a very entertaining movie. When done wrong, with Charlie’s ridiculous attempt to rescue one of Jerry’s victims that involves more hiding behind a corner than a Three Stooges gag (that’s one of a few poorly executed hide and seek games), it’s clear that this was a film with a name, a handful of stellar actors and not a lot else to sustain itself upon. It’s a shame, too, because that kitchen scene and a small handful of others belonged in a better movie than this one.