For a film with such a campy title — and for a film about a suburban vampire — “Fright Night” is awfully cool. Self-aware without being ironic and funny without being a joke, this remake of the 1985 second-tier cult classic has a few jolts of funhouse scariness, but it’s mostly content to emphasize the second half of the “horror comedy” label. You do get your money’s worth in terms of bloody mayhem, though.
The setting is Las Vegas, where the nocturnal lifestyle makes it easy for a vampire to blend in. Charley Brewster (Anton Yelchin), a former geek who cast aside his action figures and role-playing games to make high school bearable, lives with his mother, Jane (Toni Collette), in one of the city’s many, many sets of tract homes. Happily dating the gorgeous Amy (Imogen Poots) and associating with the in crowd, Charley now avoids his erstwhile best friend, the still-geeky Ed (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), in order to maintain his reputation.
But Ed has vital information for his old buddy: the man who has just moved in next door to the Brewsters is a vampire. His name is Jerry, which Ed acknowledges is a terrible name for a vampire, and he’s played by Colin Farrell, who turns out to be a far more entertaining and casually creepy bloodsucker than you might have guessed. Any questions about the validity of Ed’s assertions regarding Jerry are put to rest for the viewer pretty quickly, and for Charley not long after. Jerry is definitely a vampire, and potentially a very dangerous one.
There develops a “Rear Window” scenario (translation for our younger readers: a “Disturbia” scenario), with Charley seeking proof of Jerry’s evil intentions while Jerry nonchalantly goes about his business of being charmingly masculine, all the better to woo the ladies, including Charley’s mom. Charley also seeks help from Peter Vincent, a flashy magician of the Criss Angel school who has a show on the Strip and claims to be an expert in the occult. In a parallel universe, this role would be played by Russell Brand, but here it’s David Tennant, preening and posing hilariously.
The screenplay, based on Tom Holland’s original, is by Marti Noxon, whose many years of writing and producing for “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Angel” seem like good credentials. (Did I hear a reference to “Scooby-Doo” in there, just like Buffy used to make?) The story moves at a satisfying pace, and doesn’t lean too heavily on the frustrating angle of Charley and Ed knowing something that nobody will believe. I missed whatever explanation there might have been for how Ed knew Jerry was a vampire, or how Ed knows so much about real-life vampires in general, but hey, nobody’s perfect.
The director is Craig Gillespie, who made “Lars and the Real Girl” and “Mr. Woodcock” and is therefore, unlike Marti Noxon, not an obvious choice to be involved in a “Fright Night” remake. But he does just fine in his first foray into the supernatural, handling both the action and the comedy scenes smoothly.
Wisely, Gillespie mostly stays out of the way and lets his actors have fun with their characters, which they do in great abundance. Yelchin is an agreeable lead, albeit an improbable one; pale and scrawny, he’s the laid-back version of Jesse Eisenberg. And when was the last time Colin Farrell appeared to be enjoying himself this much? I’ll tell you when: last month, in “Horrible Bosses.” But before THAT, it was a long time ago. David Tennant makes the most of his flamboyant showman, with Sandra Vergara earning some laughs as his angry girlfriend/assistant; Dave Franco and Reid Ewing have a few good moments as dimwitted bullies who harass Ed; and Christopher Mintz-Plasse continues to find new ways to refresh his McLovin character without wearing out his welcome.
This remake was probably green-lighted to capitalize on the recent popularity of vampires in entertainment, but Noxon and Gillespie were smart not to follow any of the current trends. Their vamps aren’t like the ones in “True Blood,” “Underworld,” or (obviously) “Twilight,” not in appearance or behavior. “Fright Night” might be a response to a craze, but it gnaws out its own niche within the catacombs of B-moviedom.
B (1 hr., 46 min.; )