What makes the new version of Fright Night work so well is that it feels just so damned different from the original. Yes, the bare bones of the story -teenager suspects next door neighbour is a vampire and enlists the help of an old horror hack to defeat him- is the same, but that’s about it.
Probably the best decision made was to up route the setting from Everytown USA in the original to the suburbs of Las Vegas. When all the locals livelihoods depend on a city which exists for its nightlife, who’s going to notice when people disappear in the night? It also makes the film much more of a working class movie. Charley Brewster (Anton Yelchin) and his mum live next door to strippers and casino workers. The vampire himself, the knowingly daft-named Jerry, is all workmen’s clothes and plumbing, gone is the swish classic vampire look of Chris Sarandon in the 1985 film. Charley’s girlfriend maybe from a richer group as she pulls up in her Beetle convertible but that only emphasises Charley’s lower status.
Lots of other things have changed too. Charley’s best friend last time round was the wonderful Evil Ed. This time Ed is his ex best friend. Charley has dumped him for the popular kids and the hot girl (who can blame him on that front) leaving him alone trying to investigate the vampires in the neighbourhood. This kind of makes Ed the tragic anti hero of the film, unsupported by his friend he is inevitably doomed to be consumed by the vampire as really he has nowhere else to go. The always good Christopher Mintz-Plasse plays the early stuff pretty straight, only goofing it up later on in the film. Not as goofy as Stephen Geoffrey in the original but then who could be? The guy was a unique acting maniac. Did you ever see him in Catholic Boys as the kid with a mastibating addiction? 5.6 times a day? It’s no wonder he got into porn.
I do think that one thing that this version of Fright Night doesn’t do particularly well is the comedy side of the horror-comedy. Maybe because it played on the classic tropes of old school vampires, reincarnated lost loves, gothic architecture and old horror movie icons, but the original film was pretty funny. Here, everything is much more serious. Jerry keeps girls locked up in his coldly clinical cells to feed on at will like a human monster might keep sex slaves. When he is in pursuit of our heroes during the big car chase scene it is played for thrills and fear rather than laughs, although it works, it’s a good scene. The one aspect of the film which isn’t played seriously is the character of Peter Vincent, the old horror hack who knows about vampires.
In the original, Peter Vincent, played by Roddy McDowall, presents an unwatched horrors show on TV. He’s a has-been who has a chance of redemption though helping Charley beat Jerry the vampire. It’s a perfect homage to old time horror actors, even taking a name of each from Peter Cushing and Vincent Price. Here, he’s an Emo-type successful magician, which fits in nicely with the Las Vegas location but just doesn’t quite work in the context of the story. Also, as painful as it is to admit (because I think David Tennant is incredible most of the time) Tennant plays it mostly for laughs whilst the rest of the cast play it straight, and he stands out too much, and not in a good way. Even his apartment, a baroque museum full of magical artifacts feels like it is from a different film.
Who really works though is Colin Farrell as Jerry the vampire. He stalks about like he’s a big cat on heat: Constantly sniffing the air for prey, eyeing up Charley as potential threat, and checking out Imogen Poots’ Amy, Charley’s girlfriend, as potential food. He tells Charley she is ripe, ready for the plucking. Wicked man. Ed is right when he says “he’s like the shark from Jaws. Kills and feeds until everyone around him is dead.” He is the ultimate predator. Not only is a he a murderous monster but this is one of the few times in cinema where the vampire as a sexual being actually works while still being scary. Charley and Amy have yet to consummate their relationship but here is this older, more experienced man threatening to take her away from him. It’s every teenage boy’s nightmare!
Farrell brings all his dark charm to the role and everyone else does their best too. I still prefer the old-fashioned joys of the original, although that felt pretty fresh with its modern prosthetic effects at the time, but this Fright Night is still a good night out out. Groan… sorry about that.