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At The Picture Show
August 2011

'Night' of the vampire hunter

True to genre form, 'Fright Night' proves a surprisingly effective comic thriller

Fright Night
Touchstone Pictures
Director: Craig Gillespie
Screenplay: Marti Nixon, based on a 1985 screenplay by Tom Holland
Starring: Anton Yelchin, Colin Farrell, Imogen Poots, Toni Collette, David Tennant and Christopher Mintz-Plasse
Rated R / 1 hour, 46 minutes
Opened August 19, 2011
(out of four)

For a film that doesn't aim particularly high, Fright Night sure nails its landing. Here's a movie that, in business terms, seems to be scrapping for the last available dollars in the death rattle of the vampire fad. And to make matters worse, it's yet another largely unnecessary remake of a film that came out during my lifetime - and I'm not that old.

On artistic merits, neither vampire movies nor pointless remakes have an especially good track record. Consider this one the exception to the rule.

Having never seen the 1985 cult favorite, I have no point of comparison. Maybe the remake is so similar to its source, it renders itself utterly moot. Or maybe it's a completely new take on the material. I wouldn't know. In any case, Fright Night is tight as a drum, breezily entertaining, and funny without slipping into farce territory.

Utterly devoid of the self-seriousness of other vamp flicks and franchises I could name (but won't; they're like Voldemort at this point), Fright Night is more along the lines of what Jennifer's Body wanted to be. There's the similarly vacant suburban backdrop, the nerd/popular kid dynamic between two friends, the tongue-in-cheek take on the underlying sexuality of vampire mythology.

The film doesn't have lofty ambitions by any stretch - but what it does, it does well.

Set in and around a modest suburban Las Vegas neighborhood, Fright Night makes no bones about its intentions or its trajectory. We know from the start that Jerry (Colin Farrell) is indeed a vampire. There's no mystery there. We know he's been using the hidden rooms, nooks and crannies in his new home to do his dirty business. That the local population is gradually dwindling, its inhabitants leaving without much of a trace, is of little concern to anyone else. After all, this is Vegas - no one lives here permanently.

Which, of course, makes it the perfect cover for Jerry, who we come to find out has been at this for years. One of the things I liked most about the character is how he doesn't seem overly concerned whether anyone finds out about his true nature. He's been surviving for centuries; no mere mortal can do anything to stop him, right? If someone catches him, he can just kill him. Or, if worst comes to worst, simply look for a new place to live.

The film amusingly gets some mileage out of the old "new neighbors moving in next door" archetype, with our protagonist's mother (Toni Collette) openly complaining about the mess in the new neighbor's yard, then openly flirting with him when he finally comes outside and introduces himself, as it turns out he's a good-looking chap who likes working with his hands.

Naturally, this flirtation is bad news for Charley (Anton Yelchin), a high-school senior and recovering nerd who'd rather his mom stay away from the guy who, he's just been informed, is a vampire. He received this information from his former best friend, Ed (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), a vampire enthusiast who has inconveniently gone missing.

To add to his troubles, Jerry - who, being a vampire, isn't too discriminating when it comes to his targets, but still leans heavily in favor of attractive young women - has just been introduced to Charley's nubile girlfriend, Amy (Imogen Poots).

Once Charley knows what he's up against, he reverts back to his nerd roots and seeks out Vegas showman Peter Vincent (David Tennant), a self-proclaimed vampire killer and master of the occult.

On stage, at least.

The fact that Vincent's lair (read: elaborate hotel penthouse) is filled with all manner of ancient weaponry, all of it shrouded in myth, telegraphs the direction of the story - but does so intentionally, and with good humor. Having said that, the film doesn't play out like a monotonous cliché, which it easily could have.

The last half-hour or so, despite being purely in suspense/action/plot resolution mode, held my interest to a surprising degree. There may not have been any mystery, but solid (if workmanlike) filmmaking goes a long way, especially after a summer like this one.

And, it must be said, Colin Farrell, makes a great vampire. But now I'm just stating the obvious.

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