Frightful remake

Michael Phillips | Boulder Weekly

Plenty gory, but graced by a jovial sense of humor and an enjoyably guts-centric use of 3-D, director Craig Gillespie’s remake of the 1985 vampire film Fright Night may not tickle the fancies of those who have a close personal friendship with the older version. I have no such relationship. I brought no carry-on baggage to what Gillespie and screenwriter Marti Noxon deliver their way, with a cast of surprising quality.

In relation to the original, some things about the new Fright Night change and some stay the same, though as we know the more things change the more they stay the same. (Also: A rolling stone gathers no moss.) Roddy McDowall played the horror-movie TV host in ’85, the one enlisted to rid teenager William Ragsdale of his next-door-neighbor vampire (Chris Sarandon, who pops up here for a cameo). The remake stars Anton Yelchin as the kid who doesn’t like the looks of the new fellow on the block. Jerry, the manlike creature in question, is played by Colin Farrell, relishing every little insinuating pause and rascally, bloodthirsty come-on. In the McDowall slot, Dr. Who alum David Tennant plays a casino showroom magician — think David Copperfield with a different sort of smarm — who has the tools required to take on Jerry and those he has won over to the vampire way of thinking. And drinking.

I’m not sure how much vampire mythology pop culture consumers can take in one generation, but the answer already has been proven to be between “a lot” and “one hell of a lot.” The distinction of Fright Night is entirely tonal. It’s both funny and funny-scary, and has ways of catching you off-guard, as in the way one of Jerry’s victims, believing herself safe, runs afoul of the oldest kill-the-vampire trick in the book.

Screenwriter Noxon plays by the rules while commenting on everything from Bela Lugosi to Dark Shadows, among other vampire touchstones. Christopher Mintz-Plasse plays Ed, the ostracized friend of Yelchin’s Charley. At one point Charley insults him with a Twilight reference. A beat or two later, in the middle of something else, Mintz-Plasse gives just the right topspin to his rejoinder: “I am seriously so angry that you think I read Twilight!” There’s a first-rate extended sequence with Jerry in pursuit of Charley and his mom, played by Toni Collette, set on a dark highway outside Las Vegas. Digital effects-heavy, the scene nonetheless moves fluidly and well, in long takes of complicated action. This scene took some planning. And that’s why I remember it.

Fright Night has its limitations. The New Mexico shooting locations only go so far in making you believe these suburban characters (including Imogen Poots, sly and engaging as Charley’s fast-adapting girlfriend) are supposed to be living on the outskirts of a blandly sinister Las Vegas. Also, the climax wobbles; it lacks compression and propulsion. The film may struggle to seduce teen audiences unaccustomed to getting some jokes with their gore.

Whatever. Who can predict? Unfolding in dearly beloved Night Stalker territory, this remake may be wholly unoriginal, but it’s also almost wholly enjoyable.

—MCT, Tribune Media Service