Whatever happened to the Nosferatus of the world? Sometime between that 1921 masterpiece of gothic horror and today, vampires ceased to become cold blooded monsters and started to become the creepy fixation of adolescent girls (not to mention soccer moms) everywhere. The modern day vampire is brooding, sexy, and urbane, more interested in passionate affairs with young, bored women than with devouring the life blood of peasants. The gnarled, bird-like face created by F.W. Murnau has somehow transformed into the rugged, chiseled mugs of Twilight’s Edward Cullen and True Blood’s Bill Compton. In the realm of the supernatural, Hollywood has embraced the politically correct vampire, a misunderstood sufferer rather than the spawn of Hell.
Fright Night, itself a remake of a 1985 cult horror-comedy classic, didn’t get the memo. Maybe because of it’s roots, which stem far before Stephanie Meyer changed (can we say bastardized? ruined? desecrated?) our view of the creatures of the night, Fright Night presents a far more sinister take on vampires. Jerry, the not-so-frighteningly named villain of the film, would much rather devour the local high schoolers than fulfill their harlequin romance fantasies. So when he moves next door to the film’s protagonist Charley (a functional but forgettable Anton Yelchin) and his mother (a woefully underused Toni Collette) and students start going missing, we know exactly where things are headed, and they sure as hell aren’t going to end with any innocent forest hikes or melodrama.
There was some serious skepticism from fans of the original Fright Night when the remake was announced, and for fans of the original, it may have been warranted. But allow me to be perfectly honest: I have never seen the original. I seriously considered watching it for a frame of reference, but so many reviewers seem fixated on the obvious comparisons between the two that I thought it might be more interesting to read a fully fresh take.
With that said, I can say this with confidence: Colin Ferrell is, if not the best vampire of the past decade, at least top three. He simply nails it on every possible level. His Jerry, sporting a buff physique and a laughably incriminating widow’s peak (think Dracula), is a smooth-talking, cocksure, malevolent, virile, and at times even feral creature, and he mixes each part in such perfect measure that you can’t help but be taken in by him. The early Rear Window-esque back and forth between Jerry and Charley is fantastically taught (though short-lived), highlighted by a tense exchange as Jerry lingers right outside the door frame (not invited in of course) and leeringly warns Charley that women like his mother “need to be managed”, and that his girlfriend Amy (played by a cute and likeable if somewhat bland Imogen Poot) is absolutely “ripe”. It’s ultimately the little touches that Ferrell adds that solidify the character. During one monologue, Jerry breaks his cool delivery, just for a moment, to hiss like a cat at beam of sunlight. It’s the tiniest of details, but it goes miles towards solidifying Jerry as a 400 year old monster whose personality is nothing more than a veneer. Ferrell steals every scene he’s in, aided by some excellent special effects when his true form emerges during feeding. And no one has made eating an apple seem more menacing.
Yet despite his odd nocturnal hours (he works night shift construction, he claims, which also explains the blacked out windows) and the ever filling dumpster in his front yard, despite no signs of renovation, no one seems to suspect Jerry of any wrong doings (let alone supernatural activity), save Charley’s former best friend and resident school nerd Ed (played by Christopher Mintz-Plasse, he of McLovin fame). Plasse fits the role nicely and does the best with his limited part, even getting the majority of the early laughs, especially when he blackmails the now popular Charley to come investigate Jerry lest he post a video of the two playing superhero dress-up on the Internet and ruin his social status. However, later scenes between the two former amigos ring a bit false, and left me wishing he’d have been more fleshed out.
The final major performance comes from David Tennant, know, by nerds everywhere as The Doctor. His character of Peter Vincent, host of the titular Las Vegas magic show extravangza Fright Night, is a cross between Aldous Snow and Chris Angel, and he absolutely thrives on the combination. He’s a drunken charlatane with a British accent who quaffs glass after glass of Midori (arguably the lamest drink choice ever for an alcoholic) and whose knowledge of vampire lore seems to come from a passion for drunken late-night eBay binges. Though, as always, there’s more to him than meets the eye. Vincent carries the humor in the second half of the film with his sarcastic one-liners and general boozed-up obliviousness, adding the perfect counterweight to the growing body counts and ever-rising life and death stakes.
Not since 2009’s Zombieland (which I absolutely loved) has a horror comedy so fully “got” what the genre was about. Rather than sacrificing one side to serve the other, Fright Night fully embraces both the laughter and the screams, offering some genuine thrills to go along with some well earned laughs. Yes, the occasional one-liner falls flat, but generally the humor comes from established characters behaving somewhat realistically in ridiculous situations. And not since Let The Right One In has a movie made such skillful use of common vampire lore, such as holy water, stakes, crucifixes, and the fact you can’t see their reflections. Add in some genuinely excellent twists, and you’re left with an enjoyable send-off to the summer movie season. I skipped the 3-D, as it was a post-production add-on, but go for it if that’s your thing; however, the film doesn’t need it to work.
If the first weekend is any indication, Fright Night may be dead in the water among today’s audiences, shunned by those who want their vampires on the cover of Tiger Beat as well as those who hate vampires because they’re now on the cover Tiger Beat, and honestly, that’s a shame. Ferrell’s performance carries an already solid movie to the next level, exposing audiences to what vampires truly are: “fucking killing machines”, as one character so eloquently puts it. They’re wild, ruthless, menacing, cunning, and, most of all, not something to be flirted with. If you loved vampires BC (Before Cullen), or if you own copies of Zombieland or Shaun of the Dead (yes, I just went there), you really need to get out there and support this movie while you can. Unless you like your vampire movies filled with crying girls and pregnancy drama. In that case, I hate you.