The new Dreamworks/Disney teen horror comedy, Fright Night, falls into the better-than-expected category. Like the original Fright Night (1985), the new version is mildly entertaining with some fun performances and some bonuses. Though they don’t hit you in the face with it, director Craig Gillespie ( Lars and the Real Girl) and writer Marti Noxon ( Buffy the Vampire Slayer) have slipped in some interesting economic subtext.
Young Charley Brewster (Anton Yelchin) and his real-estate-agent mother (Toni Collette) live in an isolated suburban housing tract outside Las Vegas (actually shot in Albuquerque), which is shown at night as a rectangle of light against the desert darkness. Charley, who has recently made the transition from geek to semi-cool kid – this is a role Jesse Eisenberg or Michael Cera could have played a few years ago – is now dating the pretty and mature Amy (Imogen Poots) and trying to forget about his dweeby childhood buddy “Evil” Ed (Christopher Mintz-Plasse, a.k.a. McLovin from Superbad).
But Ed has something urgent to tell Charley. He has been documenting the number of schoolkids who have been disappearing, and has narrowed down the suspect to Charley’s new neighbour Jerry, a night construction worker on the Vegas strip whom Ed believes is a vampire.
“Jerry?” scoffs Charley. “That’s a terrible vampire name.”
And Vegas, where the lights never turn off, would seem to be a terrible vampire town, though, as Ed points out, it’s got a transient population with a lot of night workers.
What’s more, it’s a great metaphor for the subprime mortgage crisis, which hit that city particularly hard – whole neighbourhoods emptied as the economic life-blood ran out. The idea of high-risk homeowners (vampires) emptying schools and abandoning houses, and real-estate brokers scrambling to make a living, all makes sense.
Fright Night has a few other grown-up themes. There are touches of David Lynch-style alienation in the bland, half-pretty suburb where Farrell’s amusingly sleazy, pale and muscular Jerry – dressed in black, leering – is about as unobtrusive as a fly on a piece of Angel Food cake.
Jerry’s approach to getting to the neck tends to be crudely sexual, with a lot of air-sniffing and talk about who is “ripe.” Part of Charley’s abhorrence for Jerry is that women, including his single-but-looking mom (a nicely grounded Collette) and his girlfriend are attracted to Jerry’s brand of rough trade.
Even Ed falls for Jerry’s charms, in a scene loaded with homoeroticism. In contrast, poor Charley seems almost as afraid of Amy’s forthright sexuality as he is of Jerry’s bite. Though it’s full of repressed eroticism, the movie has less nudity and fewer overt sexual situations than the original, made more than 25 years ago. After all, Fright Night is still a Disney movie, so the metaphors of sex, death and economic meltdown take second place to family-friendly comedy.
With improbable naiveté, Charley concludes his vampire Google searches by deciding to seek the help of a local illusionist, Peter Vincent (Scottish actor David Tennant of the BBC’s Dr. Who). Tennant, in a part that seems designed for Russell Brand, is amusingly over-the-top at first, though a little goes a long way and the bickering scenes between him and his partner (Sandra Vergara) are repetitive.
Fright Night uses 3-D, mostly for tracking through dark hallways and in the CGI-intense vampire-fighting climax. Mostly, it feels inessential, but there’s the occasional pleasant surprise. In a scene with a fire near the end, sparks appear to hover before your eyes for a moment before blinking out. A small glimpse of magic.
- Directed by Craig Gillespie
- Written by Marti Noxon
- Starring Anton Yelchin and Colin Farrell