Movie Review :: Fright Night (2011) (R)

It’s fashionable to bemoan the tragic life of a vampire, as recent films such as Let Me In and the Twilight saga have so clearly demonstrated. In all fairness, they make a valid point: There’s nothing appealing about vampirism, which transfers a desperate need for human blood and bestows the curse of soulless immortality. The interesting thing about Fright Night is that it takes everything we know about this blatantly parasitic lifestyle and still manages to make it look cool, if not downright sexy. This is helped in large part by the casting of Colin Farrell; although his character is a centuries-old vampire, his bad boy mystique is undeniably present-day, and while his soul is certainly damned, he genuinely seems to relish it. It’s not so much that he needs blood, but that he wants to need blood. It’s a game he likes to win at – the art of seduction, the thrill of the hunt, the rush of going in for the kill.

The film is, of course, a remake of the 1985 film directed by Tom Holland and starring Chris Sarandon and Roddy McDowell. As is the case with most films nowadays, remakes or otherwise, it has been released in 3D. Although there’s no question that a 2D projection would have been much brighter, I was pleasantly surprised by the fact that, even during the shadowy scenes, I could clearly see what was going on. Perhaps it helps that the film was actually shot with a 3D camera system, as opposed to it being shot in 2D and then converted in post production. I will not go so far as to say that I felt completely immersed, but I know this much is true: The demise of a vampire is a lot more fun when blood flies directly at the camera. Wait for the moment when one of them explodes after being exposed to sunlight – you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about.

Talking place in Las Vegas, it tells the story of a teenager named Charley Brewster (Anton Yelchin), who, after noticing that his classmates have been disappearing, has reason to believe that his new next door neighbor, the charismatic Jerry (Farrell), is a vampire. We, of course, already know this to be true, but we still anticipate the moment he will get some proof. Lo and behold, he breaks into Jerry’s house and discovers a hidden door in the back of his closet, which leads to a small hallway and a series of holding cells, behind which lie victims in waiting. The trouble is, no one will heed Charley’s warnings to stay away from Jerry, not his single mom, Jane (Toni Collette), or his girlfriend, Amy (Imogen Poots). The only one who would have believed him – the one who tried to warn him about Jerry in the first place – would be his former best friend, “Evil” Ed (Christopher Mintz-Plasse). After Charley shunned him for his embarrassing nerdy behavior, he went missing.

The police aren’t much help. They never are in movies like this. But they know that Jerry has legitimate reasons for being the way he is. In fact, living in Las Vegas gives him the perfect excuses for covering up his windows and emerging only at night – if there was ever a city catered to night owls, Vegas would be it. It seems now the only one who can help Charley is Peter Vincent (David Tennant), the headliner of a vampire-themed illusion show called Fright Night. Boozy and obscene (imagine a cross between Criss Angel and Russell Brand, and you’ve got it), Vincent also happens to be Vegas’ preeminent expert in vampirism and the occult. He initially doesn’t give Charley the time of day, although it has nothing to do with not believing in vampires. All will eventually come down to a series of chases and a final climactic battle in the basement of Jerry’s house, when all the gadgetry and creature effects are put on full display.

The film is equal parts horror and comedy. This is not a bad thing at all, and I’ll be the first to admit that it features a number of well-written jokes and amusing sight gags. But horror comedies are risky, mainly because audiences might not know when a joke has ended. The people I sat with, for example, seemed to think that everything Colin Farrell did was intended to be funny. I really do mean everything; the slightest smirk, the tiniest movement of his finger, and they would get the giggles. There’s really no accounting for a person’s sense of humor, but I strongly believe the film was supposed to walk the line and provoke screams as well as laughter. If you really want an excuse to laugh, perhaps even to applaud, then just wait for a cameo appearance by … but no, I will not spoil the surprise for you.

The standout performance of the original film was Roddy McDowell, a washed up horror movie star turned host of the late night creature feature show. In this version, Farrell is the one who brings it to the table, which is only fitting since he’s the one playing the evil vampire. Credit also to Yelchin, who was wise to play it straight, and to Plasse, whose take on “Evil” Ed is infinitely less annoying than that of Stephen Geoffreys. Given the innately unexceptional nature of the story, all the actors do about as well as they possibly can. Fright Night was directed by Craig Gillespie, who wowed me in 2007 with his brilliant debut film Lars and the Real Girl. The two films are not comparable, but that’s beside the point; Gillespie has proven that, in addition to compelling character studies, he can make gory horror comedies that give audiences license to have a little fun.


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