I never thought I’d say it but there’s not only a horror remake I enjoyed this year but it happens to star Colin Farrell. After seeing some of his more choice roles, such as Alexander, I didn’t believe he could be in a movie I liked that isn’t called Minority Report.

However, I’m pleased to report not only that Mr. Farrell is extremely engaging in Fright Night but that he’s one of many really excellent parts of one very entertaining whole.

Fright Night is a smart remake, one that keeps hold of all the aspects that made its predecessor fondly remembered while shifting away many of the ones that aren’t as well emphasized when people are discussing it now. The original movie is very much set in the 1980’s to the point where my brother used to call it “Disco Dracula” from the one scene set in the dance club. It’s a film I’ve always enjoyed since renting the VHS at the now defunct Movie Warehouse when I was younger but it’s not one I’ve often had pop up in conversations over the years. Really it was confined to me and my siblings though with this version approaching I’ve found several people who are passionately against its role in the continuing wave of horror remakes going into production. I’ve been relatively indifferent to it as most of them are of movies I’ve been drastically detached from but this is the first time the two circles have coalesced. Fortunately, it’s a good crossover as both versions have their own merits.

One sterling example of the quality of this version is the performance of Colin Farrell. He owns the role of Vampire-next-door Jerry Dandridge, channeling aspects of weird uncle, charming bastard and complete tool. All he does to make protagonist Charlie Brewster’s life complete hell is enormously entertaining to watch while you hate him for doing it; the undercurrent of every creep you’ve ever met rolled into one makes for great tension and suspense even when the man isn’t taking action. Dandridge is at first the ultimate nightmare neighbor, that passive aggressive jerk that always makes your life awful while making it seem you’re being paranoid to everyone else. But the film quickly does away with that, not bothering to draw out the dilemma of revealing Jerry’s true nature to the rest of the cast, much less the audience. Within his second appearance you’re well aware that he’s a vampire and this early reveal allows them to get very ambitious with a lot of the situations that arise.

The movie is just over 100 minutes but you never feel that they left much out as things get breathless very quick. Once Charlie goes to meet Peter Vincent, now a Criss Angel inspired Vegas showman instead of a late night movie host, the game is on. Someone’s running, fighting or bleeding for the majority of what comes afterwards as Jerry doesn’t bother with maintaining the “mystique” given to his species: he’s a vampire and he’s going to kill Charlie while keeping few surprises in reserve.

You’re going to see comparisons to Buffy throughout a lot of the reviews, especially with how post-modern the film is about a lot of the thematic content. Charlie’s situation is a total teenage nightmare with a super powerful, dangerous monster right across the yard who’s trying to steal both your Mom and your Girlfriend all while looking like a smoldering Hollywood hunk. It’s no surprise to see that they tapped one of the Buffy writers to cover the material; screenwriter Marti Noxon flies through the familiar parts of vampire fiction like someone on Supermarket Sweep bringing everything you expect but making it feel fresh and fun in the process. None of the characters behave stupidly, their actions only contradicting that fact when they’re being heroic. As a result we have a showdown between two sides that have plenty of intelligence though they may be mismatched in natural talents. The exposition for the nature of vampirism is made quickly and clearly with all the tools used against the creatures getting similar treatment. In fact, this is one way the remake trumps the original with Dandridge’s original motivations being clearer and several of the events in the last act being well set-up rather than feeling a little convenient.

As good as Farrell is as Jerry, Anton Yelchin really anchors the film with his turn as Charlie. He’s frustrated with the spastic behavior of his nerdy childhood friend Ed while trying to act cool the way that High School demands for you to be acceptable socially. Once things get rolling, Yelchin looks frazzled but resilient, determined yet spastic enough that his Mom’s initial doubt of him is believable once he sees Jerry’s evil firsthand. Having Ed do all of the legwork in uncovering Jerry’s nightlife was a stroke of genius as all the evidence to convince Charlie falls right into place. Christopher Mintz-Plasse has a ton of fun here and his interactions with Yelchin give two completely sets of tones at different points in the movie.

Toni Collette as Charlie’s Mom is a great turn on the oblivious horror movie parent: she’s really invested in what’s troubling her son but frustrated by the fact that he won’t tell her anything. This time around, Charlie doesn’t bother telling anyone as he already knows how they’ll react from his own treatment of Ed. So it’s great to see Collette put the opposite spin of what we typically see just as much as it’s refreshing for Imogen Poots to be more than a damsel in distress as Charlie’s girlfriend. Amy’s fully competent without Charlie around and when either of them becomes truly endangered it’s because Jerry is such a clever and highly competent creature to contend with.

There’s a reason that they don’t show David Tennant in the trailers much: basically every scene with Peter Vincent that would be trailer fodder is filled with spoilers. In fact, I have to commend the people who made the trailers as they showed much less than I would have imagined; I’d say only about 35% of the finished film is in those ads and even then most of its out-of-context enough for it not to feel like you’ve been cheated when you’re watching the final product. Virtually everything after the car chase wasn’t shown and that’s not especially far into the movie. As for Tennant himself, he’s a lot of fun as the disenchanted and boozy version of Vincent we see here. He’s much more competent as well which helps set him apart from the cowardly but ultimately noble character shown by Roddy McDowall in the original. This Peter Vincent has similar aspects to his predecessor but plenty of flippant behavior to set him apart. He’s a believable dick who’s both demanding and dismissive to Charlie at first rather than the doubting and befuddled goof who’s out of his depth hunting vampires. They’re both funny which is what’s required for the character that’s arguably the most memorable aspect of the original franchise.

I have only passing familiarity with Craig Gillespie’s previous films, Lars and the Real Girl and Mr. Woodcock, but knowing what I do about them I wouldn’t expect the kind of film he’s made here in Fright Night. Then again, I might not expect him to have made either of those movies after having done the other. There’s a surprising amount of technical ambition for a horror movie and most of it works very well, excluding some of the awkward camera movements in a continuous shot done within a mini-van. I’m interested to see what he’s going to do next as it seems he knows how to make a project come together. Even the 3D is good to the point where I was surprised to find that it was a conversion. It is used as something to occasionally throw stuff at you but it never feels gratuitous and never looks cheap, a quality I’m glad to say it shares with most of the SFX in the movie.

The end of the summer is here and while there are quite a few movies being released every weekend through the end of August, Fright Night is a choice one. It’s funny, suspenseful and clever while making much of all that seem effortless in the process. Disney has a quality piece of work on their hands and I’m interested to see how things develop for it on the road to horror movie season proper. It’s uncommon to find a horror movie capable of making you smile and laugh for the right reasons

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