'Fright Night': Telling a Nerds vs. Jocks Tale, With Vampires
A remake done right, the film taps into real-life social dynamics while remaining scary and fun
Vampires have gotten a bad rap over the past few years, having been transformed from the stuff of nightmares to shy, sensitive pretty boys and the stuff of pre-teen obsession. Fright Night, a re-imagining of the 1985 blood-sucking horror flick of the same name, strikes a blow for the vampires of past decades with a cool, scary, and fun take on the nocturnal genre. The story of an unlikely geek hero, Fright Night is like Revenge of the Nerds, only this time the jocks are blood suckers, and the nerds have stakes. Lots of stakes.
Unlike the modern breed of teen horror, which more often than not is just a glorified, horror-fied depiction of social clique politics, Fright Night is a monster movie in the more classic vein. Colin Farrell plays Jerry Dandridge, the suave lothario who mysteriously move into town just as people start disappearing. We soon learn that Dandridge is a vampire, and a hungry one at that. Fortunately, he's a far cry from the soft, sensitive vampires of Twilight. Rather he's a stone-cold predator in the tradition of, as one character puts it, "the fucking shark from Jaws," whose preferred snack is the skimpy blonde bimbo.
Jerry the Vampire's would-be slayer is his neighbor, Charlie Brewster (Anton Yelchin), a lanky high-schooler who has recently graduated from Dungeon Master-level nerd to cool kid by way of his more popular girlfriend, Amy (Imogen Poots). Basking in his new-found cred, Charlie ignores the warnings of his former best friend Ed (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), who tries in vain to expose the murderous Jerry. Charlie dismisses his pleas as paranoid, Twilight-inspired delusions, but is disturbed when Ed goes missing as well. Upon investigating his room, Charlie finds a cache of evidence proving Jerry's nocturnal activities. He decides he has to man up and take Jerry out.
Charlie's motivation isn't strictly revenge, or even survival. When Charlie first meets Jerry, he finds the 400-year old killer engaged in a flirtatious exchange with his recently single mother (Toni Collette). When Amy takes also takes a liking to Jerry, the rivalry between Charlie and the undercover vampire becomes sexually motivated. As Charlie tries in vain to warn his mother and girlfriend to stay away from Jerry, the line between his concern for their safety and his jealousy of Jerry's seductive power becomes blurred. Charlie's frustration mirrors the real-life plight of the nice guy. Some women like bad boys, and no amount of nagging can keep them away. Charlie's concern is his jealousy in disguise, a tension that's expertly played throughout.
While everyone is comfortable in their roles, especially Christopher Mintz-Plasse-his cheeks constantly puffy with nerdy indignation-it's worth mentioning that possibly no modern actor could have played Jerry Dandridge better than Colin Farrell. The real-life playboy is entirely in his element as a womanizing douchebag, smugly aware of both his character's appeal and his own real-life allure. When women swoon, it's fully believable. Likewise, Charlie Brewster is the perfect vehicle for Yelchin, who is himself trapped in a gray zone between a hunk-in-the-making and a pencil-necked geek.
With a smooth screenplay from former Buffy: The Vampire Slayer writer, Marti Noxon, and a re-tooled story from original writer/director Tom Holland, Fright Night circa-2011 feels like more than a just shiny new 3D paint job. Horror fans would do well to ignore the remake stigma and give this one a chance.