Yes, “Fright Night” is a remake of the 1985 horror comedy. No, there is no originality left in Hollywood.
But at least this new version stays true to its origins by having a bit of cheeky fun, and the way it contemporizes the story is really rather clever.
Once again, a vaguely nerdy teenager named Charlie (Anton Yelchin) thinks his mysterious and seductive new next-door neighbor, Jerry (Colin Farrell), is a vampire. No one else believes him except for his even nerdier childhood pal, Ed (Christopher Mintz-Plasse). Come on, the guy’s name is Jerry — how dangerous can he be?
But the setting makes this premise make sense. Director Craig Gillespie’s film, based on Marti Noxon’s script, takes place in the overly developed suburban sprawl outside Las Vegas, where people come and go and those who do live there often sleep all day and work all night. The barren wasteland of abandoned houses — if they were ever inhabited in the first place — is the perfect place for a bloodsucker to lay low.
And so as the bodies continue to pile up and Charlie continues to investigate, Jerry continues to charm everyone around him. That includes the beautiful Amy (Imogen Poots), the girlfriend Charlie always thought was out of his league. (And that’s another way in which this “Fright Night” has been updated: The actors got conspicuously better looking.)
Farrell is clearly thriving doing showy comic parts lately, between this and “Horrible Bosses.” But Gillespie, whose “Lars and the Real Girl” featured a more subtle and surreal kind of comedy, also shows a deft hand at creating tension with Farrell. A scene in which Jerry is standing outside Charlie’s house, teetering at the kitchen door but not entering — because he hasn’t been invited in — offers a masterful little slice of suspense.
The strong supporting cast includes Toni Collette as Yelchin’s skeptical single mom and David Tennant in a scene-stealing turn as a supposed master of the supernatural. Roddy McDowell played the Peter Vincent role in the original; it’s expanded here and provides the film’s biggest laughs, with Tennant playing the character as a flamboyant but self-loathing fraud who peddles his illusions to the masses on the Strip. You wouldn’t mind seeing an entire movie about him.
It all works well enough that it makes you wish it weren’t in 3-D. Gillespie recognizes the benefit of the gimmickry in this sort of genre, sending arrows, crosses and spurts of blood in our direction. But the 3-D also adds a suffocating layer of dimness. That doesn’t exactly help engage us given that so much of the film takes place in the dark, at night. Because, you know, it’s about a vampire.
In 2-D, though, “Fright Night” could have been a great, late-summer surprise.