Quick: What do you do if your next-door neighbor’s a vampire who happens to look like Colin Farrell? This dilemma is at the heart of Fright Night, a fun, frothy, Las Vegas-set remake of the 1985 camp horror classic.
The adorable Anton Yelchin stars as Charley Brewster, a teenager living with his real-estate agent mom (Toni Collette) in a picture-perfect cul-de-sac of tract homes. A former geek, Charley now hangs out with douchey pretty boys (including James Franco’s little brother, Dave, as the douchiest of the bunch) and dates a bedroom-eyed blonde named Amy (the unfortunately named Imogen Poots). But then his ex-best friend, Ed (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), informs Charley that a vampire is terrorizing the suburbs and killing off their classmates. Even worse, the vampire is Charley’s new neighbor, Jerry (Farrell).
Most thrillers don’t trot out the killer’s identity until the climactic third act, but, refreshingly, Fright Night is not a mystery—Jerry stalks and attacks Ed within a few moments of being outed. The real tension comes from the decidedly unneighborly face-off between Charley and Jerry. Charley can keep himself and his family safe as long as he doesn’t invite Jerry into the house—or run into him after dark—but he can’t prove anything to the cops (even after he discovers a holding cell for victims behind Jerry’s closet, he can’t present any evidence since the bitten hostages disintegrate in daylight). And even though Jerry seems to be systematically feeding on the entire high school, he manages to avoid the suspicion of everyone except the boy in his own backyard. They’re both trying to kill each other, and the drama hinges on who will do it first—and how many of Charley’s loved ones will perish in the process.
Of course, this being a horror movie, let’s just say you’d be safe putting your money on the scrappy underdog. Charley arms himself with as much vampire-slaying knowledge as he can Google, even going so far as to recruit the help of a cheesy celebrity magician, Peter Vincent (David Tennant, who does fine even though his drunken British playboy role seems to have been tailor-made for Russell Brand). And while Jerry can be intimidating (Farrell is nothing if not skilled in the art of the smoldering, slightly menacing stare-down), his moves seem limited to strutting around the suburbs in a white T-shirt and jeans like a suspiciously pale, overgrown greaser. Not to mention that he unwinds by watching The Real Housewives of New Jersey.
Fright Night doesn’t take itself too seriously, which works both for and against it. On the one hand, it’s refreshing to watch a horror flick that’s sharp and funny without lowering itself to Scary Movie-level parody (thank screenwriter Marti Noxon, a former executive producer and writer for Buffy the Vampire Slayer). At the same time, the scares are relatively few and far between—at least if you’re counting shriek-inducing moments. In keeping with the up-front nature of the plot, you see most of the violence coming. Still, there are some fantastic moments, as when Jerry brutally attacks a passerby (a fun cameo by Chris Sarandon—better known to some as Prince Humperdinck—who played Jerry in the original), his face morphing into a grotesque monster mask, before returning to normal form, wiping the blood from his lips, and turning back to Charley with a casual “Hey,” as if they’d just run into each other at the supermarket.
Vampires are notoriously cold, but they’ve never been this cool before.