Two things before we begin. One: I have never seen the original Fright Night. I know, it’s horrible. Two: I adore movies like Scream and The Lost Boys. As a savvy Blockbuster employee once told me years ago, they are the best sort of “guilty pleasure” flicks. They contain no nutrition whatsoever, they turn your tongue blue, but you’ll never be sorry that stuffed your face full of popcorn and jumped at every slammed door.
While I suppose I’m not in the perfect position to appreciate a remake like this without knowing the root material, there are reviews out there from those fans. I figure I’ll offer a different perspective by telling you what it was like for someone who had no expectations. You know the drill. There’s Colin Farrell. There’s Toni Collette. There’s Ensign Chekov, and McLovin’, and the Tenth Doctor. There’s gore and fangs and crossbows and crucifixes. So, what makes this movie a completely worthwhile evening at the cinema that you should immediately take all your friends and loved ones to?
Well, a healthy dose of comedy doesn’t hurt. Neither do vampire dames or David Tennant in eyeliner.
Teenaged anxieties over fitting in, becoming an adult and dealing with crippling hormones fit hand in hand with vampire tales. Bloodsuckers are customarily sullen, outcast, and full of strange urges that no mere mortal can understand—sounds an awful lot like a sixteen-year-old to me. And so you’re instantly at home once you meet our hero: Charley, a nerdy high school boy who so desperately wants to leave his geek past behind him so that he can kiss pretty girls. He has started to live that dream: the hot girl is dating him, he no longer talks to his dweeby buddies, and he’s trying to fix up a sweet motorcycle.
Then one of his uncool old friends has to go and tell him that his new, muscly next door neighbor is a vampire.
You can see where all this is going, so I’ll spare you the ‘ah-ha!’ and explain what puts this movie firmly in the ranks of its namesake and others like it. For one, the humor is spot on. You’re never left screaming for too long, and some of the more amusing plot points make you wonder how these ideas don’t turn up frequently in vampire narratives. (Las Vegas is the perfect place for vampires to camp out due to its transcient population and mutltitude of night workers! It’s so easy to get the police off your back if you just “explain” why the nice young lady was screaming!) The soundtrack is surprisingly well-conceived, an element that I didn’t expect until I realized that Ramin Djawadi (of Iron Man fame) had been selected to compose. And, of course, you can never make a movie like this without constant ironic song choices during scene shifts. It never stops being funny.
Filming it in 3D created some awkwardness. I went to see it in 2D (3D gives me a headache and just plain annoys me most of the time), and I noticed that the car chase scene was filmed very oddly, as though it were intended for those rides where they strap you into chairs that jolt back and forth while you view a space battle from “inside the cockpit” of your ship. Maybe it looked good with 3D glasses on, but I’d just as soon they hadn’t bothered. It took me out of the film for a minute.
The casting on this one was inspired, and really makes the whole trip worthwhile. Anton Yelchin is easy to buy as our sensitive, wide-eyed hero. His girlfriend (Imogen Poots) is appropriately adorable, and sexually keen without falling into that aggravating “slut girl” stereotype that is so damaging in horror films. Toni Collette is charming as always and so real that she gives the movie a necessary grounding it might have otherwise lacked. Christopher Mintz-Plasse plays the same character that he always seems to play, but this time around he’s given surprising depth to toy with—after all, being that nerdy kid hurts a lot more when your friends decide that “growing up” equates to ditching their D&D dice and ignoring you in school corridors. (Seriously, Charley? You stopped going Farscape conventions? For shame.)
Colin Farrell is a sexy terror, plain and simple. Rather than avoid the cliches of this stock character, Farrell embraces them with all the awkward pausing, sideways glances, and slow stalking required. He makes a menacing villain (and that bite of his is ferocious), but keeps just enough tongue in his cheek for us to laugh right along with him. He’s smooth, but also perpetually off in a way that keeps you nervous. In some ways he’s more on par with old masters like Bela Lugosi, but with a nasty modern edge. It’s quite a feat to pull off these days, in a world where some people think there’s anything even slightly threatening about vampires that sparkle….
And then there’s David Tennant.
All right, being a Doctor Who fan, I was just waiting for this. (The hysterical giggles emanating from quite a few audience members throughout the film let me know I wasn’t the only one.) Frankly, while we’re all aware that Tennant is a superb actor and one of the most solid comedians you could ask for, he isn’t the sort of man you would expect them to pick for this role. Which is precisely why he needed to play it. Rather than choose some obvious Hollywood veteran with nothing better to do than poke fun at his has-been status, they selected a man with just the right combination of gravitas and goofiness to pull Peter Vincent off. I can’t imagine Roddy McDowall playing the part anything like this, and that’s a good thing. His self-loathing, his petty amusements—I could never look at a Midori bottle before, but now it’s going to be even harder—his ridiculous leather pants and fake tattoos. It’s Tennant’s trademark flamboyancy put to an entirely different use, and you never want him to leave the screen once he arrives.
All in all it’s a wild ride, and while the risks are few, the rewards are plenty. If you’re looking for a fun time at the movies, don’t wait. Go now and don’t be ashamed at indulging in this free wheeling guilty pleasure done right.
Emily Asher-Perrin never drinks Midori. Ever. You can bug her on Twitter and read more of her work here and elsewhere.