Fright Night (2011)
106 min., rated R.
The dog days are over for Tepid-to-Bad Horror Remakes rendering Hollywood creatively bankrupt. By default, all of them are unnecessary ("The Texas Chainsaw Massacre," "Halloween," Friday the 13th"). Once in a while, though, a remake can pay homage to the original and update old material, and thus manage to carve out a personality of its own. 1985's Tom Holland-directed "Fright Night" was not a flawless classic but a campy, entertaining horror-comedy that still holds up today, so a remake was not totally unacceptable. Like a late-summer surprise, the "Fright Night" remake is more than welcome.
Anton Yelchin plays Charley Brewster, our teenage hero who tries so hard to uphold a cool rep at school. He has a hot, ripe girlfriend, Amy (Imogen Poots), but avoids his nerdy former best friend, Ed (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), who points out that kids in their class have gone missing. As a remake should, this one moves the story to the Nevada suburbs just outside of Las Vegas, which is a perfect home for a vampire (work at night, sleep during the day). That brings us to Jerry, the tall, dark, and handsome handyman that lives next door to Charly and his single real-estate-working mother (Toni Collette).
Definitely not cut from the broody "Twilight" cloth, a cocky-creepy Colin Farrell deliciously plays Jerry as a nasty batman. He's less of a suave ladykiller than the original Jerry (Chris Sarandon, who gives a memorable cameo here), but still hunky and gives off a dangerous scent. It seems Jerry has a savoring for beer, Granny Smith apples, and human blood, but he's such a polite neighbor that he won't attack unless invited. In the '85 version, Roddy McDowall's unlikely 'Van Helsing,' Peter Vincent, was a Vincent Price-type horror-movie host trying to regain his faith. For this generation, David Tennant (of the BBC TV series "Doctor Who") impishly plays Peter Vincent as a Criss Angel-type illusion-showman by way of a preening, boozing Russell Brand who's trying to regain his own soul and bravado.
Stylishly made and playfully delivered, "Fright Night" is a respectable remake and deals out a lot of fun on its own terms. As Tom Holland deftly handled the camps of horror, comedy, and camp, director Craig Gillespie (2007's "Lars and the Real Girl") carefully balances the spooky terror with cheeky humor in equal measure. Right off the bat, Gillespie and screenwriter Marti Nixon cleverly twist the opening sequence of its '80s predecessor with a vicious surprise. The story remains the same, aside from a few different beats, but it's more streamlined than before and downsizes Peter Vincent's time. Not only can a horror film have fun with itself and not pour on the gore without cracking wise, but the cast actually comes out strong. Anton Yelchin, though making Charley a little less likable on the outset, is pretty appealing and capable of holding of his own alongside Farrell, who easily steals the show with Tennant a close second. Imogen Poots has some spice to go with her sugar in the role of Amy, and Toni Collette manages to do more than what she's given on the written page, but proves she'd be a cool mom and a spunky real-estate agent. Christopher Mintz-Plasse is kind of touching as the ostracized Ed, who still lives in the past when he and Charly were pals. It's just too bad that once he turns into "Evil Ed," the character doesn't reappear until the movie is already half-over. Nobody, not even McLovin, can top the memorable cackling of "You're so cool Brewster!" like the original's Stephen Geoffreys.
The CG vampire effects stick out without detracting, and the practical outsized fangs for Amy are freakily used again as homage to the original. And Ramin Djawadi's score delightfully borrows orchestral notes from "Dracula," while still nicely putting a hip soundtrack to our ears (including Foster The People's "Pumped Up Kicks," Kid Cudi's "Pursuit of Happiness," and Hugo's cover of Jay-Z's "99 Problems" over the end credits). Sure, there are nits to pick, but such issues could've been solved with tighter editing. The pacing is uneven but mostly brisk in its first and third acts. One tensely jittery scene is that of Charly breaking into Jerry's house to find a secret padded cell where he keeps his prey. There's also an exciting chase set on a long stretch of desert highway that makes fluid use of camera work and, what do you know, 3-D (!), from all the ashes, stakes, blood, and a motorcycle being thrown in our faces. While we're on the subject, yes, "Fright Night" is being released in 3-D (and 2-D if you are $3 poor). Needless? Yes. But proudly to report, the 3-D is not the post-converted afterthought, but the gimmicky, immersive kind. Not condescendingly self-aware nor terribly gory, "Fright Night" rarely bites off more than it can chew. It knows what it's doing, all while honoring its ancestor but still thinking for itself.