Can a 3-D horror movie be a thing of beauty? In the case of the remake of Fright Night, the answer is "yes!"
This violent and violently funny vampire tale covers no new ground, sporting the same jokey tone as the 1985 original. But there's a quirky sensibility we might attribute to director Craig Gillespie, who gave us the gently twisted Lars and the Real Girl. Fright Night also can boast of having the best vampire-villain in ages: Bushy-browed Colin Farrell was born to wear fangs.
But hiring Javier Aguirresarobe, who shot Goya's Ghosts, New Moon and Vicky Cristina Barcelona, also was a coup. His 3-D camera sweeps into smoky, shadowy rooms, lit only by candles or a flickering TV screen, through the empty streets of a Vegas suburb and into the garish neon of Las Vegas itself.
Yeah, the screen hurls blood, guts, shattered glass, arrows and crucifixes in our faces. It is a 3-D horror movie, after all. But the look is as striking as any film to use 3-D.
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The story? Kids and adults are disappearing. But the economy's bad and foreclosed houses are everywhere. And besides, as Charley (Anton Yelchin) says, "Nobody lives in Vegas, they just pass through."
That makes this the perfect spot for a vampire killing spree. Charley pays no attention to the warnings of his nerdy friend, Ed (Christopher Mintz-Plasse). The kid reads "too much Twilight," just one of the reasons Charley abandoned him as a pal. He can't impress the stunning Amy (Imogen Poots) if his geek past is right there in front of her.
But Charley soon has reason to become suspicious of new neighbor Jerry (Farrell), a hunk who seems to do a lot of home repairs at night. Charley can't tell the cops or tell his mom (Toni Collette) or even Amy. Who would believe him, even as the truancy list at his high school grows by the day?
The bulk of the movie is Charley trying to outrun and outsmart a very clever, ruthless vampire, a bloodsucker who deals with the suspicious the same way he deals with everybody else — with a bite.
We know all the "rules" for fighting vampires, thanks to pop culture. Fright Night adds smartphones to the tool kit, right next to stakes of holly, holy water and crucifixes.
Former Doctor Who David Tennant is the drunken, oversexed Peter Vincent, star of a Vegas stage show about fighting and killing vampires, a show called Fright Night. Roddy McDowell played this campy role in the original film — a fraud who passes himself off as an expert but is given a put-up-or-shut-up choice when the kid comes to him for help fighting real vampires.
The vamp-transformation effects are quite good, and the gimmicky uses of 3-D is lots of fun. But perhaps the most special effect of all is Farrell. Pardon the pun, but he chews up this movie.
As we've seen in films from Captain America to The Help, spending the money on landing a very good, very menacing actor to be your villain makes the difference, especially in a movie that otherwise is entirely too familiar to keep us awake all the way through a long night of fright.