Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Sat Aug 20, 2011 7:37 pm 
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The nerd was right

The earliest Fright Night was a Three Stooges comedy in 1949. In that light it may not be surprising that this new one, by Lars and the Real Girl director Craig Gillespie and starring Collin Farrell, moves in a direction that's both timely and tongue-in-cheek, without giving up a strong dose of horror. This movie is a remake of the 1985 Tom Holland Fright Night, with Chris Sarandon and Roddy McDowall, about a teenager who discovers his next door neighbor is a vampire. But it's smarter and more contemporary than its predecessor, moving from the Midwest to a desolate ticky-tacky suburb of Las Vegas where the recession is deeply felt, with "for sale" signs everywhere. Since a lot of the inhabitants work on the Strip at night and sleep all day, it's a perfect place for a vampire to "turn" his victims. This Fright Night has something going for it, including a cast full of name actors. It doesn't deserve a completely free ride, because its long last segment abandons its original approach in favor of a finale that's conventional and effects-dependent, but this is a polished offering that's only pretending to be a B picture.

Charley Brewster (Anton Yelchin) is interested in girls now, so has turned away from his nerdy former best friend Ed (played by Superbad's Christopher Minz-Plasse). The irony is vampires are too much the stuff of geeks like Ed for Charley (Anton Yelchin), who now is interested in appearing cool for his cute girlfriend Amy (Imogen Poots). And Ed's local authority on the undead Peter Vincent is a tacky, alcoholic Vegas magician (David Tennant) who's like Russell Brand with worse hygiene and way too tight leather pants. The new neighbor (Farrell) is single, a macho beer drinker called Jerry. How can he be a vampire as Ed thinks? Vampires are kids stuff, fantasy. Charley's single mom Jane (Toni Collette), a real estate agent whose business isn't doing well and who needs a man, just finds Jerry attractive.

But though Jerry may be pallidly handsome (has a vampire ever had such big eyebrows?) he's doing something fishy with a dumpster in his lawn and working late at night. Besides, as Ed points out, students are disappearing from their classroom. Charley still has enough nerd in him to begin gradually to heed Ed's repeated warnings and start spying on Jerry, with dire results. But it's Ed who falls prey to Jerry first.

The 1985 version was overdone. What's good about this version is how matter-of-fact Farrell is, and how slowly Charley arrives at Ed's level of fear, how casually Jerry turns to blood-drinking. Charley at first rejects Ed in favor of smart-ass, good-looking high school jerks like Ben (Reid Ewing) and Mark (James Franco's kid brother Dave), who really have contempt for him and are jealous of his liaison, still Platonic, with the hot Amy. If looking a bit too old as most Hollywood screen highschoolers do, Yelchin is otherwise well cast here, because he hovers between geeky and sexy.

Fright Night goes back to basics, unlike the romantic and hokey Twilight productions -- which Ed explicitly scorns as not the way real vampires are at all. It lacks the elaborate plots and settings of Twilight and settles for stark, inexpensive contemporary housing instead of the ornate Victorian manse Jerry occupied in 1985. This new Fright Night is more sophisticated than either the earlier version or the Edward Cullen dramas, because it's both a tough contemporary riff and refrains from taking itself too seriously. When the CGI kicks in, Jerry gets nastier and nastier, morphing in and out of snarling beast mode. Charley joins forces with the drunken Peter Vincent, who, while rather repulsive (Brand carries off the louche English thing with more charm), helps to liven things up and justify the fire and brimstone and crossbow battles. Vincent has a whole panoply of vampire-killer weaponry, including one that conveniently not only kills your creature but turns back his victims to humans again.

There is a danger that this new Fright Night won't totally satisfy anyone: not solemn and scary enough for horror fans, not absurd enough for those looking for laughs. But with Farrell's presence and confidence and strong support from Collette, Yelchin, Poots, Tennant, and the rest, this is watchable summer fare. For some, its rough macho bloodsucker, who wastes little time getting down to his grisly business, will seem a refreshing break from the moony sexual repression of Stephenie Meyer's girly tales.

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