*Fright Night (R)
Carmike 10, Chapel Hills 15, Cinemark 16, Hollywood Interquest, Tinseltown
It's rare, but sometimes digging up the past is a good thing. I haven't seen the original 1985 Fright Night, but I've seen my share of '80s flicks. And this delightfully perverse little movie makes me more nostalgic for that time and the feeling that those movies gave me.
It was the way stories were told not so long ago. They were smaller in scale, not always about saving the whole damn planet, and yet more emotionally intense.
I'd chalk that up to a normal side-effect of being a teen then, but I'm north of 40 now, and this new Fright Night still evoked a much more powerfully visceral reaction than what passes for "movies for teenagers" today. These kids with their mopey emo hipster vampires ... what the hell is that all about?
In Fright Night, Colin Farrell's Jerry is such a robust, dangerous presence that as characters joke about "Jerry" hardly being a good vampire name, you laugh and cringe at the same time. For Jerry is as repellent as he is alluring — as a vampire should be, equal parts sexy and scary.
Farrell is only 10 years older than Twilight's Robert Pattinson, but the characters are infinitely more dissimilar than that would suggest: Edward Cullen is a perpetual child, and Jerry is all man. Vampires have, Twilight aside, always been about predatory sexuality, and it's nice to meet an on-screen vampire who oozes horrifying charm and is both walking sex and walking death again.
The supposedly comforting, supposedly safe milieu of the American suburbs, à la '80s Spielberg flicks? Fright Night has that, too. Sweet teen Charley (Anton Yelchin) has but an inkling of the danger of his new next-door neighbor Jerry. Mostly he thinks about how Jerry seems to be hitting on his mom (Toni Collette), at least until his friend Ed (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) alerts him to the darker reality. There's a bittersweet element to their friendship, too: Ed is still a geek, as Charley used to be, until he found a way into the in-crowd.
Where it goes from there is startlingly funny and brutal and creepy, often unexpectedly so. The horror comedy shocks you into uneasy laughter, with moments that are terrifying partly because they're unpredictable and partly because you should have predicted them. The tropes of the traditional vampire story are tossed around so much that you can't trust your own expectations.
Director Craig Gillespie (Lars and the Real Girl) manages to invoke the retro without being cheesy, the amusing without being winking, and the creepy without being awkward. His cast hits just the right notes throughout, most particularly David Tennant as Criss Angel-esque stage magician Peter Vincent, who has some vampire-hunting tips for Charley. Tennant drips a hilarious combination of cowardice, panic and, eventually, resignation that is totally at odds with what fans of his turn on Doctor Who will expect. And the hilarious byplay between Vincent and his stage assistant Ginger (Sandra Vergara) exudes a wonderful sort of naughty filthiness.
Fright Night remains intimate, whether it's being smutty or scary or droll. It succeeds because it doesn't aim for the epic, making it remarkably fresh at the moment.