Fright Night is a 3-D remake of a vampire movie, and so in theory should be a state-of-the-union address of everything that is currently wrong with Hollywood, but instead it ends up getting a surprising number of things right.
The film largely works not because the plot hews closely to that of the 1985 original excepting a few smart updates that help brush off the graveyard dirt but because it also resurrects its spirit: offering up equal parts scares and fun, without letting them fuse into camp. Anton Yelchin is Charley, a high school student living with his single mother (an underused Toni Collette) in the copy-and-paste tract housing of a Las Vegas exurb. When his former best friend (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) alerts him to the fact that his new next-door neighbor the innocuously named Jerry may be a vampire, his dullish life quickly turns into a battle for survival.
Colin Farrell’s performance as Jerry is the pulsing, stakeable heart of the movie. If the Twilight melodramas have tamed bloodsuckers by turning them into gelded (and gilded) objects of affection, Farrell makes his vampire terrifying precisely by returning his sexual agency and ramping up his dangerousness. At one point, he’s called ''the shark from Jaws,'' an apt comparison: He circles his victims with chilling deliberateness, black eyes flashing hungrily. But Farrell also evinces another type of predation. As a hunky, virile guy-next-door he drinks Bud as well as blood he tries to ingratiate himself with Charley’s mother and win an invitation into their home. A well-executed sequence in which Charley keeps Jerry at the threshold of their back door, as they both begin to understand exactly how much the other knows, expertly ratchets up suspense.
The movie’s Van Helsing stand-in, a role originated by Roddy McDowall as a cheesy Hammer-era horror host, is played by David Tennant as a willowy, Midori-swilling illusionist with eyeliner and cheeky swagger courtesy of Russell Brand. The script also cleverly updates the story by using the volatile housing market as the cause for Jerry’s appearance in the suburban sprawl: Vampires don’t need to be invited into abandoned houses, you see. A memorable use of a Century 21 sign hammers this point home, or at least into a ribcage.
Unfortunately, the fun and frights are nearly undone by one of the most extraneous and ill-conceived uses of 3-D in recent memory. From the Corey Hart absurdity of having the audience wear tinted glasses for a movie set mainly at night, to the countless CGI blood geysers needlessly thrown in to justify the extra dimension, it’s both a distraction and a detraction. It doesn’t ruin the experience, but it’s the only aspect of this vampire tale that really, truly sucks. B