It Doesn’t Suck
It’s a rare thing, but sometimes digging up the past and giving it another spin is a good thing. I haven’t seen the original 1985 Fright Night, but I have seen lots of 80s flicks — grew up on ’em, fell in love with the movies because of ’em. And this delightfully perverse little movie makes me more nostalgic for that time and the feeling those movies gave me than the self-consciously retro Super 8 does. That feeling isn’t about Spielbergian lens flare and Goonies adventures — or at least, it’s not entirely about that — but about the way stories were told, not so long ago and at a time when, even then, Serious People were decrying the Death of Movies. They were smaller in scale, not always about saving the whole damn planet, and somehow just more emotionally intense. I’d put that down to a normal side effect of simply being a teenager, as I was back in the 80s, with all the accompanying hormonal upheaval, except that I’m north of 40 now, and this new Fright Night still evocated a much more powerfully visceral reaction than what passes for “movies for teenagers” today.
I mean, for one thing: These kids today with their mopey emo hipster vampires who aren’t even proper vampires (I’m looking at you, Edward Twilight). What the hell is that all about? Colin Farrell’s Jerry is such a robust, dangerous presence that, even as characters joke about “Jerry” hardly being a good vampire name, you laugh and cringe at the same time, for Jerry is as repellent as he is alluring… as a vampire should be, equal parts sexy and scary. (And so, too, while other movies aimed at teen boys often disparage and deny female sexuality out of fear of it, here we get a much more potent depiction of that fear without the disparagement, partly though Charley’s remarkably healthy relationship with his girlfriend, Amy [Imogen Poots: Solitary Man, Me and Orson Welles].) Farrell (The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, Pride and Glory) is only 10 years older than Twilight’s Robert Pattinson, but the characters are infinitely more dissimilar than that would suggest: Edward Cullen is a perpetual child, and Jerry is all man. Vampires have, Twilight aside, always been about predatory sexuality, and it’s, er, nice — in a storytelling sense, anyway — to meet an onscreen vampire who oozes horrifying charm and is both walking sex and walking death again. It feels like it’s been a long time since we’ve seen that.
The supposedly comforting, supposedly safe milieu of the American suburbs, à la 80s Spielberg flicks? Fright Night has that all over, too. Sweet teen Charley (the always wonderful Anton Yelchin: The Smurfs, Terminator Salvation) has but an inkling of the danger of his new next-door neighbor Jerry — mostly it’s about how he seems to be, yuck!, hitting on his mom (the always wonderful Toni Collette: Tsunami: The Aftermath, The Dead Girl) — until his friend Ed (Christopher Mintz-Plasse: Marmaduke, How to Train Your Dragon) alerts him to the reality of Jerry. There’s a bittersweetness in their friendship, too: Ed is still a geek, as Charley used to be too, until he found a way into the in-crowd. Here, too, perfectly reasonable adolescent anxieties — about changing friendships, about peer pressure, about desires to fit in — are examined without anyone having to be genuinely insulted about where they fall on the popularity spectrum.
Where it goes from there is startlingly funny and brutal and creepy, often unexpectedly so. This new Fright Night — the screenplay by Marti Noxon (I Am Number Four), based on the 1985 film written and directed by Tom Holland — is horror comedy that shocks you into uneasy laughter with moments that are terrifying partly because they’re unpredictable and partly because you should have predicted them: the tropes of the traditional vampire story are tossed around so much here that you can’t trust your own expectations. Director Craig Gillespie — who went from the weird sweetness of Lars and the Real Girl to the crudity of Mr. Woodcock to this — manages to invoke the retro without being cheesy about it, the amusing without being winking about it, and the creepy without being awkward about it. His cast hits just the right notes throughout, most particularly David Tennant as Criss Angel-esque stage magician Peter Vincent, who has some vampiring-hunting tips for Charley: Tennant drips a hilarious combination of cowardice, panic, and — eventually — resignation that is totally at odds with what fans of his turn on Doctor Who will expect. And the hilarious byplay between Vincent and his stage assistant Ginger (Sandra Vergara) exudes a wonderful sort of naughty filthiness that too many movies these days miss when they shoot at it.
That’s Fright Night in a nutshell: It’s intimate, whether it’s being smutty or scary or droll. It doesn’t aim for the epic. That is, alas, remarkably fresh at the moment.