Let’s face it, vampires are pretty boring. Everyone’s got their own take on the standard nocturnal immortal undead blood-sucker mythos, but for such key players in the movie Monster Mash, they are very rarely scary. However, being that it’s played more for yuks and gags than genuine terror, Fright Night understands it is hardly going to keep you up at night, positioning itself closer in tone to Joe Dante’s underappreciated The ‘burbs and, of course, the original 1985 film, of which this is an effective update.
Teenager Charley Brewster (Anton Yelchin)’s new neighbour Jerry (Colin Farrell) keeps to himself and only comes out at night – nothing too unusual when living in the suburbs of Las Vegas. However, when a friend goes missing, Charley’s former best buddy ‘Evil’ Ed (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) is convinced Jerry is in fact a vampire and tries to enlist a reluctant Charley to investigate. When the evidence becomes overwhelming, Charley goes to occult-inflected stage magician and self-proclaimed ‘vampire expert’ Peter Vincent (David Tennant) for help.
From a purely technical level, Fright Night is something of a mess. I had unfortunately forgotten the film was to be presented in 3D, and wish the filmmakers had too. It’s left to some very silly ‘things thrown at the camera’ to try and explain why there’s any need for it at all. Coupled with some very poor CG, it all proves majorly distracting. A car chase sequence in particular is practically incomprehensible with a rotating camera, dodgy computer effects, and the added darkness of the 3D glasses to the night-time setting making it largely open to the reactions of the cast to work out what’s going on (a la this 2012 re-edit). And a question: is there some Adobe After Effects program where you can just copy and paste a pre-made ‘vampire turning to burnt ashes’ sequence? Because it seems it hasn’t really changed since Blade.
However, director Craig Gillespie’s strength is in character, and thanks to an interesting cast, Fright Night delivers some fine performances. Yelchin, the best thing in Terminator: Salvation and an endearing Chekhov in the Star Trek reboot, is a likeable lead, ably supported by Imogen Poots and Toni Collette on girlfriend and mother duties respectively but with a lot more to them than their roles would suggest. It’s Farrell and Tennant in particular though who get the best roles, and both make the most of them.
Jerry is menacing and creepy, with a sly unsettling confidence that makes his exchanges with Charley snap and crackle. Farrell clearly has a good time toying with his prey, but it’s Tennant who gets the opportunity to really cut loose, and steal the scenes too, in his first big Hollywood role (and don’t give me that Harry Potter crap, he’s barely in that). Pitched as a cross between Criss Angel and Russell Brand, Peter Vincent is a drunken husk of a man, accounting for roughly 90% of the foul language and a fair chunk of the laughs too (particularly in his verbal sparring matches with his girlfriend/assistant). And while there’s little ostensibly in common with Roddy McDowall’s original version of the character, a late night horror movie TV show host, he certainly still provides the comic relief with a degree of heart and soul.
Though the script has its fair share of plot-holes and narrative leaps, it mostly works and feels surprisingly fresh despite its cultural baggage. It manages to surprise and subvert more than could be realistically expected, and the relationships between the main characters are well-drawn.
In the grand vampire horror film tradition, Fright Night is ultimately a footnote of a footnote, adding very little to what’s come before. But that doesn’t stop it from being an entertaining romp despite its flaws – just avoid the 3D version.