'Fright Night' Has No Business Being This Good

Some horror movies want to turn your stomach into fermented battery acid. Some want to slap you with political/gender/socio-cultural statements. And some are just there to bring the awesome (and shower you with ironic gore). Which brings us to Fright Night, opening today.

The 1985 original was one of those tepid ’80s movies that make us olds feel all nostalgic but, at the end of the day, was truly crap. The premise was your classic “fear thy suburban neighbor” scenario: teenage kid lives with single mom in Anywhere, USA and discovers the cool single guy next door is a vampire. Clichés and lame special effects abound, and characters flounder in pools of phlegmatic dialogue. The only life in this movie was Chris Sarandon (of Prince Humperdinck fame) as the vampire, though with his oily biceps and Rizzo hair, he looked like he’d sprung straight from the bowels of a Richard Simmons video.

But the remake… Well, it’s simply great. Better than a mid-August ‘80s-remake vampire flick has any right to be.

Director Craig Gillespie knows exactly what he’s here to do: make a smart, mainstream carnage-fest that manages some originality without going all Yōkai torture porn. Give us a dose of savvy dialogue between your standard relatable teens (loveable hero Charley Brewster, played by Anton Yelchin, has a falling out with his former best friend, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, over their LARPing past). Shovel on some gore and monster effects, and then let the characters cut loose. Marti Noxon’s clever script lulls you into “Yeah, yeah, I know where this is going” complacency for the first 20 minutes or so and then tosses in a fantastic loop that takes us fully out of ’80s dullness. The element that makes the plot-craziness work is the setting: Vegas, that sanctum of transience where nothing wholesome or normal ever happens to anyone.

And then there’s the cast. Girls have been getting their fair share of attention in horror lately, but this one’s all about the boys (hey, we can afford to be generous). Thankfully, the two female leads get significant intelligence upgrades from the original; the mom (a tan and sexy Toni Collette) and cutie girlfriend Amy (Imogen Poots) can handle themselves in a crisis and don’t subject us to any of the flailing idiocy of their ’80s counterparts (though Amanda Bearse will always be awesome).

But Fright Night belongs to the dudes. The audience cheered when Mintz-Plasse, aka McLovin, hit the screen (poor kid — but this is the typecasting hand you’ve been dealt, so you may as well run with it). David Tennant is slap-somebody good as “vampire slayer” Peter Vincent, a Midori-guzzling pleather-wearing faux-Russell-Brand-doing-Criss-Angel that’s funnier than, well, Russell Brand. Sarandon shows up for a fun cameo (which almost no one in the theater registered, since they were still encased in amniotic fluid when the original was released). And there’s even a Franco! (Dave Franco, James’s brother, playing the manscaped cool-kid.)

And of course, there’s Colin Farrell, loping across the screen in wife beaters and circulation-cutting jeans, desecrating everyone with his unholy, unpasteurized sexual energy. He’s the perfect monster — who isn’t a little afraid of Colin Farrell? His slightly manic puppydog eyes, his absurd good looks, his sudden, uncomfortable vulnerability, the rumors of his massive, er, shoe size. He’s all id and ego: a walking erect cock. Gillespie plays up the “fear of the predatory bachelor” perfectly with Farrell’s dirt-caked appearance and sparsely furnished house (the only piece of serious furniture is a 50” flatscreen). Farrell knows when to play it “cliché vampire” and when to go off the grid, and he even does humor: The scariest scene in the movie is made hilarious by his watching “Real Housewives of New Jersey.”

Who wouldn’t want to see the blue-eyed, marble-chiseled Yelchin take on this manimal? The contrast between the two — the emotionally vulnerable and slightly weak kid, versus the all-power, all-destruction pillar of virility — is played to maximum effect in one exchange. The scene is blood-free, but by far the creepiest in the film. In it, Jerry the Vampire informs Charley that the women in his life are “ripe for plucking,” and there are a “lot of bad people in the world” who’d be happy to do it. After that throwdown, well, it’s on, and you can’t help but be psyched when Charley metamorphoses from sullen jellyfish to self-sacrificing badass. (OK, maybe you can help it. Now stop looking at Colin Farrell’s ass.)

As for the whole 3D business, when I asked the publicist why 3D was necessary in a vampire flick, she gave me an incredulous look and said, “Why would you watch something in 2D when you can watch it in 3D!?” To which I replied, “Why would you watch something in 3D when you could stab yourself in the cheek with a ballpoint?” (All right, I didn’t really say that. Her attitude exemplifies the current industry sentiment, and I pick my battles.) Still, this 3D doesn’t have the schlocky awfulness of, say, Final Destination 4 and 5. It’s used with discretion and it even heightens some of the best gory moments, like when a Vegas showgirl explodes into a cloud of blood or a motorcycle comes crashing through a van window… you get the drift.

Oh, and there’s merciless mockery of Twilight, too. Win!

So yes, ‘Fright Night’ gets 4 bloody chainsaws (out of five). If you don’t like it then you hate fun.

Melissa Lafsky, The Awl’s Horror Chick, wants to be scared by your movie.