Witty, scary, and darkly funny, Fright Night is one of those rare remakes that not only stands on its own but also improves on the original. It retains much of what made its ancestor a cult classic, while retooling it to have some sharper edges.
Anton Yelchin stars as Charley Brewster, a high school senior living in a cookie-cutter Las Vegas suburban tract with his mother (Toni Collette). Charley is a reformed dork who’s outgrown his awkward phase and acquired cool new friends and a hot girlfriend (Imogen Poots); in the process he’s left his childhood friend Ed (Christopher Mintz-Plasse).
Ed chokes down his resentment long enough to convince Charley that the Brewsters’ charming new neighbor, Jerry (Colin Farrell) is a vampire and responsible for a number of disappearances. He is eventually forced to seek help from flamboyant, dissolute stage magician Peter Vincent (David Tennant, channeling Chris Angel by way of Russell Brand).
Screenwriter Marti Noxon gives the original story a crucial tune-up, ditching the camp and horror cliches in favor of a harder edge. The change of location from idyllic Iowa to a recession-era Vegas sprawl allows Jerry a more believable hunting ground without sacrificing the notion of predatory evil in an unlikely place. Think about it: In a half-empty suburb outside a city where people work all night and sleep all day, who’s gonna notice a vampire?
Director Craig Gillespie (Lars and the Real Girl) has a knack for surrealist humor, which he wisely dials down here in favor of more tension-fueled black humor, and impressively balances that with some genuine suspense. The early cat-and-mouse games between Charley and Jerry make one squirm before giving way to open warfare.
Saddled with the typically thankless roles of the hero and his love interest, Yelchin and Poots manage to hold their own against the antics of their co-stars. Mintz-Plasse is in full McLovin’ mode, and Tennant effectively exorcises whatever remnants of Doctor Who that might have been left in his system. It’s a hoot watching him and Farrell battle for the spotlight, and the latter is equally charming and creepy as an undead overgrown frat boy running amok.