There’s one moment in the original Fright Night that’s authentically chilling. The aging TV horror host Peter Vincent (Roddy McDowell), having been recruited by a young man to help him slay what he claims is his vampire neighbor, eventually faces the real McCoy and comes to realize that there’s more at play here than a boy’s inflated fantasies. A monster in the guise of an anonymous suburban dweller called Jerry Dandridge (Chris Sarandon) approaches Peter with clearly ill intent and so Peter, falling back on the ancient tropes of the schlock films he’s helped to peddle all his adult life, thrusts a cross in Jerry’s face. Jerry initially feigns pain but almost instantaneously pushes forward on Peter with an unsettling sneer of contempt. “It only works when you believe.”
That moment, sadly, isn’t reprised in the inevitable remake that was released last summer, but this new Fright Night is a surprisingly different creature in intent and execution. As the above would imply, the first film was a redemption movie about rediscovering faith—a comic buddy movie where two men of opposing ages teach one another a thing or two about respect and reverence. The new Fright Night, however, is a sexual comedy of manners. The first film flirted with this implication, as teenage hero Charlie Brewster (William Ragsdale) was clearly just as put off with neighbor Jerry’s comparative sophistication and implied sexual experience as he was with Jerry’s penchant for draining people dry. But the new film promisingly runs with that notion, giving Charlie a single and sexually frustrated hot mom, a sexier girlfriend, and a sexier undead antagonist. Boys battling the shame of the nerdy prolonged virgin have it hard enough in high school, but that’s an especially tall order.
This Fright Night has been transplanted to the outskirts of Las Vegas, and the film has a corresponding air of stagnant sexual frustration. This time Charlie is played by Anton Yelchin, an actor who serves this film with his odd mixture of charisma and anonymity. Yelchin is convincing in the big hero moments as well as the far superior moments of doubt and emasculation. Jerry is played by Colin Farrell, a terrific actor who gets a number of laughs out of his ridiculously inauthentic use of the word “guy.” Imogene Poots is the girlfriend, while the game but predictably underused Toni Collette is the mother.
There are a number of effective moments that testify to the potential pleasures to be had from remaking an enjoyable, schlocky movie. Jerry’s introduction to Charlie and the girls is a pointed, blunt manifestation of all of Charlie’s worst fears of sexual inferiority. There’s also a long, scary moment that restages the lore of a vampire seeking invitation into a residence as a big-dick contest between alpha and beta male—a moment that’s paid off later on in a sexy club scene when Jerry finally (temporarily) takes precisely what he’s been threatening to take from Charlie all along.
These moments glimmer like odd, random jewels, as the rest of the film is a mostly formulaic Vamps Gone Wild excursion. Fright Night is well staged, well paced, and generally amusing, but one can’t help but regret the funnier, more original movie that seemed to be within the filmmakers’ grasp. Fright Night is undeniably the strongest of all the naked cash-ins on horror-movie-nerd nostalgia that continue to plague the multiplexes, but it tells you something about the state of the genre when that qualification has to be offered at all.
The 7.1 DTS-HD certainly can be said to put you at the center of vampire combat. This mix captures the film's fairly impressive sound design, which earns a few jump scares with the contrast of foreground and background effects, a sentiment that should sound obvious but that remains unexploited by most contemporary horror films. This Blu-ray isn't just loud, it's textured, which lends the illusion of immersion. The image transfer is spottier. The daylight scenes have strong, clear contrast, but the dark scenes are sometimes, perhaps intentionally, hard to make out. A big set piece on a highway, for instance, is somewhat difficult to follow.
The extra features are all intentionally cheeky and disposable—a tribute to the filmmakers' intention to make what would have once been a drive-in movie. "Peter Vincent: Come Swim in My Mind" and "Squid Man: Extended and Uncut" are full-length videos of snippets that partially figure into the feature film. I can't imagine anyone other than a DVD reviewer watching them, but they're brief and vaguely amusing. The Official "How to Make a Funny Vampire Movie" Guide is the rare puff piece that admits to being just that, thus intentionally earning a little viewer latitude. There's also deleted scenes, a blooper reel, and a music video that was shot to correspond with the release of the film.
Decent, not-quite-good horror flick is worth picking up for the nerds who hope to be at the center of a vampire-hunting blood bath. You know who you are.