Frightfully Good: ‘Fright Night’ remake takes its time to scare while vampire Colin Farrell smolders
Sometime toward the middle of “Fright Night,’’ a teen named Charley (Anton Yelchin) in a barren Las Vegas subdivision hears a scream, calls the police, picks a lock, enters the house, pokes around, and calls out for a stripper who might be on the premises. Charley has snuck inside the home of his next-door neighbor - Jerry (Colin Farrell) - whom he suspects is a vampire. He’s looking for another neighbor, the stripper, who had a date with Jerry, who’s vacated the premises in his pickup truck.
It’s a long sequence that’s half-funny, half-suspenseful. For some of it, whoever’s playing the strings in the score is sawing hard and deep, as if the point were to start a fire. Jerry comes back, the kid hides. Shots of Jerry tooling around the house, having a gruesome snack, then sitting in front of the television are balanced with Charley hiding and trying to sneak out of the house. It seems unremarkable. But the director, Craig Gillespie, takes his time.
If you’ve seen “Final Destination 5’’ - or most nominal horror movies made in the last 10 years - you can appreciate the patience at work. Most horror movies don’t have arcs or acts or set pieces. They have editors who dump scenes into a blender to make gore smoothies. All the so-called horror happens in postproduction.
“Fright Night’’ has about a dozen scenes; one is set inside a speeding minivan. I didn’t count, but I remember them, in part because Gillespie’s orchestrated them. Working with a script by Marti Noxon, he had a plan. You can look around the frame. It’s odd to single out a filmmaker for doing his job. But too many horror directors can’t direct.
The movie is a remake of a clever, effective 1985 film that Tom Holland wrote and directed. Act one was a situation comedy: How does Charley convince people that Jerry really is killing the kids in the neighborhood? In the second act, Charley got the sad old host (Roddy McDowall) of a late-night creature-feature program to help him deal with Jerry, and the movie became a special-effects lament for the classical vampire in an age of slasher movies. McDowall’s part is now a British Criss Angel-like diva, played by David Tennant, whose Vegas act casts him as a kind of Van Helsing.
The remake isn’t openly nostalgic. In a sense, this is another sexy vampire movie. But Farrell does something special with the sexuality: It’s simultaneously omnivorous, dangerous, and a hoot. He comes on to Charley’s mom (Toni Collette) and, in some way, his nerdy best friend (Christopher Mintz-Plasse, whose congested geek routine hasn’t yet hardened into shtick). When Charley’s blond girlfriend (Imogen Poots) is finally ready to, you know, he can’t take his eyes off Jerry’s house.
Chris Sarandon played the hammy neck-biter in the original. This Jerry is some kind of landscape guy. He drives a pickup truck and spends the movie in a tight T-shirt and jeans. He looks so handy you want him to put his hands on you. His voice is low, his eyebrows narrow. He looks horny and needy. One of the running jokes is that Jerry can’t enter a stranger’s house unless he’s invited, and the sight of him standing in a doorway waiting for a skeptical Charley to ask him inside is a perverse thrill. To paraphrase a recent, decent vampire film: Let him in.
Gillespie, whose previous movie was the deftly managed Ryan Gosling-loves-an-inflatable-doll comedy, “Lars and the Real Girl,’’ has borrowed the chill and lighting from “Let the Right One In,’’ a Swedish vampire movie that got an American remake last year called “Let Me In.’’ Gillespie’s movie is light and enjoyably foul, and part of the pleasure of watching is the evident pleasure everyone involved had in making it.
The movie is available in a 3-D version, which means that for $14 you can swat digital embers out of your face. Of course, what you get from some stars is better than 3-D - like Farrell’s erotic hoodoo. When he looks at you, there’s a serious risk of hormonal self-immolation - or immaculate conception.