- Toni Collete, Imogen Poots and Anton Yelchin star.
Rated R, 3.5 stars
I liked the original 1985 Fright Night and I like Craig Gillespie's new version. Both films have parts that are very well done and other parts that are simply ... done. The well done parts are different in each version, which makes for a fun, though occasionally frustrating viewing experience.
The story is pretty much the same in both films. Suburban teenage boy discovers his neighbor is — yikes! - a vampire. The vampire realizes the kid knows. Mind games begin between the two. The kid's girlfriend, freaky best pal and mom eventually get pulled into the insanity. In desperation, the kid turns to a performer who makes his living off the horror genre. The horror hack eventually comes to realize the kid is telling the truth and reluctantly gets involved in the supernatural battle.
So what does the new film do well? First, there's the setting. The story takes place in Las Vegas, where suburban houses are clustered in the desert. From the air, they look so isolated, so vulnerable. While the daytime aerial shots of the city look fantastic, we are reminded that Las Vegas is a transitory community. And with the economy and the housing crisis, the sudden absence of neighbors and classmates doesn't draw as much attention as it might in a different town.
Casting Colin Farrell as the vampire was a good decision — with thick arms, sleeveless undershirts and heavy boots he seems more traditionally masculine than usual here, and he uses that physicality to intimidate the men and women around him. Sensual and creepy-rotic, he murmurs, “Women who look a certain way need to be ... managed.”
The cat and mouse game between Farrell's character Jerry — yes, Jerry the vampire — and Andy the teenage neighbor, ably played by Anton Yelchin, provides some deliciously tense moments. Jerry drops by to borrow a few beers before his date arrives. Of course, he's really there to see if Andy invites him in — a vampire can't enter your house unless he's invited — so Jerry stands at the edge of the doorway, smiling, talking casually, waiting to determine for sure if the kid knows what he is. Great scene.
Later in the film, after playing nice with Andy's girlfriend (Imogen Poots) and mother (Toni Collette), Jerry finally gets fed up and and takes a different approach to the whole invitation-into-the-house thang. The scene is startling, scary and as clever in its own way as the kitchen stand-off.
Alas, to get that dandy encounter in the kitchen, the film sacrifices one of the best moments from the first movie. In Tom Holland's 1985 original, Andy peeks at the new neighbor's house from his bedroom window and gets a glimpse of the new neighbor biting a woman's neck. Then the neighbor looks right back at him — imagine the rush of terror as you not only witness such an assault, but also get caught doing so by the predator!
In the current version, there's a quick, shudder-inducing eye-contact-through-a-window moment between Andy and Jerry, but it doesn't pack as much punch, in part because Andy has already been tipped off about Jerry by his best friend Ed (Chrisopher Mintz-Plasse), or ex-best friend, since Andy is avoiding Ed and hanging with a group of new, cool friends.
About all that: The geeky best friend in the original Fright Night was played brilliantly by young Stephen Geoffreys. I respect Mintz-Plasse, but his work pales in comparison to Geoffreys' occasionally hilarious, unsettling and heartbreaking performance as a borderline hysteric — a truly lost boy. As for the rest of the new film's cool vs. dweeby teenage goings-on, I didn't much care. Then again, I'm nearly as old as Jerry.
In the original, Roddy McDowell did fine work as Peter Vincent, a washed-up TV monster movie host. Since TV monster movie hosts are rather scarce these days, Vincent has been redesigned as a cheesy Vegas magician decked out like Criss Angel, displaying Russell Brand-ish fussiness when offstage. The character may grow on me with repeat viewings, but on first viewing I found this Peter Vincent overwritten and under-involved.
One last gripe: There was a club scene in the original that had an exceptionally nice flow, blending a gliding otherworldly feel with a severe sense of horror. The club scene in the new version is just busy.
All of which leads me to where I started. I liked the original 1985 Fright Night and I like this version. Both films have parts that are very well done and other parts that are simply ... done. The well done parts are different in each version, which makes for a fun, though occasionally frustrating viewing experience.