“Fright Night” is the best thing to happen to horror movies since red food coloring and Karo syrup. It delivers the weird toxic jolt of adolescent joy that only a first-class creature feature can provide. Energetic, suspenseful and delightfully original despite its familiar context, it grabs vampire cliches by the neck and shakes them to life.
From those Eurotrash nobles Nosferatu and Dracula to “Twilight’s” affluent Cullens, vampires are generally portrayed as upscale monsters. One of many ingenious twists here is that the thirsty guy is a pickup-driving, T-shirt-wearing construction worker named Jerry, whose castle is a suburban Las Vegas tract house. Bram Stoker, meet Sam’s Club.
Fingering Colin Farrell’s character as a bloodsucker isn’t a spoiler. This is a monster movie, not a mystery. From the moment Farrell flashes his incisors we know this Sun Belt Stanley Kowalski is one dangerous rogue male. His toolbelt machismo mesmerizes his next-door neighbor, single mom Jane (Toni Collette), and puts her protective high school son Charley (Anton Yelchin, Chekov in J.J. Abram’s “Star Trek”) on alert. But he sees Jerry as a wolf, one who gallingly turns Charley’s hot girlfriend Amy (Imogen Poots) to a puddle of goo, too.
Charley’s former pal, fantasy geek Ed (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), warns that Jerry is a for-real bloodsucker who’s behind a rash of student disappearances. Charley retorts that students cut class all the time, and besides, “That’s a terrible vampire name, Jerry.”
When Ed drops off the attendance list, Charley seeks help from Peter Vincent, a long-haired, leather-clad stage magician and self-styled vampire hunter in the mold of Criss Angel. David Tennant (the BBC’s 10th Dr. Who) approaches the role with playful zest.
The conjurer is an egocentric boozer and a fraud to boot, his occult artifacts acquired on eBay. The role seems to have been custom tailored for Russell Brand, but the hyper-energetic Tennant makes it his own. When Sandra Vergara sashays onscreen as his hot-tempered assistant, it’s an uproarious tug of war between two heavyweight scene stealers.
Screenwriter Marti Noxon (of TVs “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Mad Men”) retooled 1985’s hokey “Fright Night” for the 21st century, adding twists and character notes that keep the jumps and jokes coming. Setting the film in sunbaked Vegas is an inspired touch. It’s a place where night-shift workers black out their windows and sleep all day, where the transient population provides plenty of midnight snacks, and where cellphone coverage drops out on dark, lonely stretches of desert highway. Miraculously, even the 3-D effects are clever in an enjoyably cheesy sort of way. When Farrell catches an arrow flying toward the viewer, it’s both gimmicky and cleverly self-aware.
Yelchin has a rich character to play and works it to the hilt. He’s solid as a likable, status-obsessed teen, as a frightened underdog and as a fledgling Terminator in Army surplus armor. He’s fine at comedy or drama, as required.
Farrell, one of the most watchable and dynamic actors in the business, seemingly recognizes the camp potential of the charming, sinister Jerry and has fun bringing him to life. He’s smooth and cool and scary and ferocious, and clearly relishes playing a master vampire. His gusto makes the audience love the character even while he scares the Cracker Jack out of them. Farrell is a villainous powerhouse not to be missed. If you’re looking for a fun comedy-horror night on the town, this movie is right up your dark alley.
Rating: R for bloody horror violence and language including some sexual references
Starring: Colin Farrell, Toni Collette, Anton Yelchin, Imogen Poots
Directed by: Craig Gillespie
Showing at: Landmark-Starlite, Movie Machine, Northrock 14, Warren Old Town, Warren Theatre (east), Warren Theatre (west), Chisholm Trail 8 (Newton), Derby Plaza