Fright Night (2011) Review

The last few years have been a sad, sorry state of affairs for vampire movies. Once superhuman monsters dripping equal parts blood and villainy, recent vampires have been relegated to sullen emo teens, who cannot be in the daylight because they’re just too sparkly. Fright Night returns the vampire to his rightful place in the movie monster pantheon, and delivers a nimble spook house thrill ride that will make you laugh and protect your jugular.

The movie wastes no time. As the opening shot sweeps over an isolated suburb in the Las Vegas desert, organ chords and menacing percussion paint a picture that might as well be Transylvania. High school student Charley Brewster (a perfectly cast Anton Yelchin) leads an idyllic life, hanging out with the cool kids while dating Amy (Imogen Poots), the hottest girl in school. When his former best friend Ed (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) warns Charley that his new neighbor is a vampire, Charley chocks it up to a make-believe nerdy conspiracy. After all, his new neighbor Jerry (Colin Farrell) is so beefy and charming, that Charley almost wishes his single mom (Toni Colette) would date him. But things change when Ed turns up missing and Jerry starts stalking Charley’s house. Realizing he needs help, Charley turns to Peter Vincent (David Tennant), a Vegas magician and self-proclaimed vampire expert. With pluck and the right tools, Charley goes on the offensive.

This film is markedly different from the original Fright Night made in 1985. Though the premise of the vampire next door is the same, the vampire is a vastly different character. The original Jerry (Chris Sarandon) was an 80’s yuppie intellectual. The new Jerry is a smoldering blue-collar guy; the kind that can build your house or fix your pipes while seducing your wife. Colin Farrell oozes animal confidence and stalks his prey with swagger. He’s glib, chatting up his victims, enjoying their panic before the kill.

The brisk pace carries audiences to the meat of the story quickly. Charley sheds his vampire doubts almost immediately, and with the mystery out of the way, he gets to the business of plotting against his new bloodthirsty neighbor. It’s refreshing that the film takes for granted that audiences already know what vampires are. There are no long histories or legends, no trips to the ancient library or bookstore, no long monologues about the origins of vampires. A vampire has simply moved next door and this is a story about how to get rid of him.

Physically, Charley is slight and no match for Jerry. Watching Yelchin perform against Farrell is kind of like watching a mouse try to evade a snake. But Charley is resourceful, and it is a blast watching him try to outwit Jerry as he places himself in situations that become progressively more dangerous. We put ourselves in Charley’s shoes, and it is terrifying to try and hide from a guy that can smell you before he sees you.

David Tennant’s Peter Vincent steals the show. British, narcissistic, alcoholic and cowardly, he is the most unlikely of allies. Yet the interaction between Charley and Peter become the highlight of the movie, as they realize their mutual survival depends on each other. Peter provides the perfect comedic relief – a panicked man who pretends to be a master of the occult, but is in reality afraid of his own shadow. His cynicism and panic offset Charley’s earnest determination.

But most of all, this movie is self aware and fun. Fun! It takes open pot-shots at Twilight, with Ed remarking that Jerry is a vampire and “not all noble and Edward Cullen-ish either.” The hide-and-seek sequences will have audiences on the edge of their seats. The chase sequences are unnerving. And the fight sequences against Jerry are unlike any other vampire fights audiences have seen before. Charley throws everything he has into the crusade against Jerry and it’s thrilling. Theatregoers haven’t had this much fun at vampire movie since From Dusk Til Dawn or The Lost Boys. Fright Night never forgets that first and foremost it is a monster movie, and its primary responsibility is to entertain. The real vampires are back and it’s about time.