Fright Night
Fright Night
The best horror movies are, on some level at least, allegories for other, more realistic fears that plague us. The smart horror movies manage to take well worn cinematic beasties (be they zombies, werewolves, serial killers, or, as in Fright Night, vampires) and exploit them not just for the elemental fear they always represent, but also to reflect fears that plague us currently. At heart, Fright Night is a vampire movie, yet in many of its smartest, and most chilling moments, it makes the encroaching horror a fairly clever analogy for the housing crisis and the foreboding of foreclosure. Whether the film lingers, as it does in its opening moments, on a desolate suburban housing track just far enough from Vegas and just abandoned enough for real evil to go unnoticed, or on the bottoms of "For Sale" signs that are just the right shape and material to become stakes, or even the way the film's primary antagonist hunts the Vegas suburbs. Las Vegas has the nation's highest foreclosure rate right now, so who will notice when a few houses turn up empty, seemingly abandoned in the night?

The plot of Fright Night, a remake of the 1985 film of the same name, this time directed by Craig Gillespie (Lars and the Real Girl) and written by Marti Noxon (of Buffy the Vampire Slayer fame) is pretty straightforward. Newly "cool" high schooler Charlie (Anton Yelchin) is pulled back into his life of former geekery by his old best friend Ed (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), who has reason to believe that Charlie's new neighbor Jerry (Collin Farrell) is a vampire. At first, Charlier is too distracted by his new life and new girlfriend (Imogen Poots) to pay much attention. Yet soon he fears for the life of his mother (Toni Collette) and decides to do some investigating, including seeking the guidance of supposed vampire expert and Criss Angel-like Vegas showman Peter Vincent (David Tennant).

Gillespie is pretty good at pacing the film, delivering the right ratio of shocks to fake outs to keep you on your toes, but the real pleasure of the film comes from Noxon's script, which not only ties its references to the housing crisis in subtly, but also plays with the sexual chaos of Farrell's attractive killer and includes enough laughs and self-awareness to keep even non-horror afficianados (myself included) entertained throughout. The performances are also surprisingly solid for a movie that could easily have eked by on laziness. Toni Collette is always a pleasure, and does much with the little she is given. Yelchin, Poots and Mitz-Plasse play basically the beats you'd expect, but do so with enough charm to keep things chugging along. Tennant is a scene stealer, conjuring just the right amount of Russell Brand swagger and his own sense of smart ass-ery to make Vincent a compelling and funny character. He is overshadowed only by Farrell, who's Jerry is a cool and confidant killer, if a bit of a novice at blending into society.

The last third of Fright Night may devolve a bit into the standard action-horror-comedy tropes, but the ground is well laid enough I found it hard to care too much. Yet the film is at its best in the early scenes, when Farrell is pacing, prowling like a barely caged Bengal Tiger who has just identified a weakness in his prey and knows exactly how to exploit it. Fright Night rarely exceeds expectations, and most of its surprises aren't all that surprising, but it remains fun enough throughout its run time, and smart enough in places, to be enjoyable throughout. And when its firing on all cylinders, it can be a real blast.

Grade: B
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