Humor, horror put bite in 'Fright Night'

Posted8/18/2011 5:45 AM
  • Jerry the vampire (Colin Farrell) teaches Charley the teenager (Anton Yelchin) a lesson about crucifixes in the horror remake "Fright Night."

    Jerry the vampire (Colin Farrell) teaches Charley the teenager (Anton Yelchin) a lesson about crucifixes in the horror remake "Fright Night."

Craig Gillespie's "Fright Night" isn't just a clever and entertaining remake; it takes the nuts and lightning bolts of Tom Holland's 1985 comically scary horror film and tweaks them into something fresh and bold.

Holland, who directed and wrote the original film -- starring the late Roddy McDowall and Chris Sarandon -- refurbished the storyline himself.

This, no doubt, is why the update works so well. (Holland also wrote the respectable sequel to Alfred Hitchcock's classic "Psycho," so the guy knows the genre.)

Plus, Gillespie has just the right off-kilter sensibility to pull off this remake, as evidenced by his quirky 2007 romance "Lars and the Real Girl," in which Ryan Gosling takes up romance with a mannequin.

A third and major reason "Fright Night" is so watchable: Colin Farrell's ingeniously engaging performance as Jerry the neighborhood vampire.

Chris Sarandon played the original Jerry (he has a cameo as Jay Dee here) with cool, GQ aplomb.

Farrell's Jerry becomes a merry prankster who's so amused by teenage Charley Brewster (Anton Yelchin, replacing William Ragsdale) and his pathetic attempts to stop him, he taunts and toys with the poor guy for a while.

Then things get nasty.

"Fright Night" begins with a lame and superfluous action opening in which an unseen creature with a bad manicure dispatches a family in a tract-house subdivision of Las Vegas, city of chance.

A suggested social split between Charley and his best friend Evil Ed (Christopher Mintz-Plasse replacing Stephen Geoffreys) clearly puts the two pals in conflict.

That doesn't stop Ed from blurting out to Charley that his new next-door neighbor Jerry is a vampire! He's got the video to prove it: Jerry opening a car door -- and he's not there in the frame!

Charley thinks Evil Ed could be a basket case, or just resentful. But many of their classmates have been missing lately. Still, Vegas is, after all, the transient capital of the universe.

Charley begins to suspect something is wrong with Jerry, and he advises his mother (Toni Collette) never to invite Jerry inside their house, because, as we all know, vampires can't enter a home unless invited.

Gradually, Charley begins to believe Jerry could be what Evil Ed says, and we see that Jerry suspects that the teen knows his secret. So, both of them wind up playing that game where they pretend not to know what they know.

"Fright Night" is an R-rated thriller that doesn't play with plastic fangs. There are some gruesome moments handled with coiled, edgy suspense.

The conflict between Jerry and Charley remains fitfully psychological for a long while.

Jerry isn't above targeting Mom and Charley's hot-to-trot girlfriend Amy (Imogene Poots, replacing Amanda Bearse) in their quiet skirmish that's about to explode into a gory war for survival.

Jerry's house has hidden cells to keep fresh victims, a chilling addition to the original "Fright Night" that smacks of something we'd hear about on the nightly news during a story on a deranged serial killer.

Gillespie also whips up a nail-biter of a car chase sequence in which Mom, Charley and Amy attempt to escape from Jerry, who's really fast and virtually unstoppable.

The original "Fright Night" offered Roddy McDowall's aging late-night creature-feature TV host Peter Vincent as Charley's reluctant ally in fighting vampires.

Vincent has been updated to a Siegfried-and-Roy-like Vegas occult show star played by "Dr. Who" actor David Tennant, channeling Russell Brand as a bogus professional vampire hunter.

He, like everything else in Gillespie's remake, feels familiar, yet spontaneous and new.

Especially Jerry the vampire, a gratifyingly shocking, humorously frightening performance by Farrell, played to the max as if everything in this movie were at stake.