Las Vegas is the perfect place for vampires.
No one thinks twice if you sleep all day and drink all night. No one knows who’s coming or who’s going, who just lost his shirt to the house or four pints of blood to a pale neighbour. And with slogans like “the city of sin” and “what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas,” it’s like being given carte blanche to do whatever evil one wants.
This is why the choice to set Fright Night in the desert wonderland perfectly revives the 1985 vampire classic.
The names and premise are the same: Anton Yelchin plays Charley, an average teenager with an above-average looking sweetheart named Amy (Imogen Poots). Charley is skinny and shaggy haired like a cockerdoodle and even he can’t believe that he’s hit the girlfriend jackpot. But it didn’t come without a cost; he had to ditch his nerdy childhood buddies including Ed (Superbad‘s Christopher Mintz-Plasse, who can now add geeky vampire to his credits, after geeky superhero and geeky cartoon viking).
One day, Ed informs Charley that local students are missing and provides his most logical explanation: no, they haven’t run off to join the Cirque du Soleil; they’ve been eaten by Charley’s new nocturnal neighbour. Of course, Charley accuses him of reading too much Twilight and a bitter Ed utters a familiar line — and makes it sound more authentic than the original: “You’re so cool, Brewster.”
Colin Farrell is Jerry, the newest and coolest Las Vegan (that moniker, I think, better suits the people-abstaining Cullens in Twilight). He’s dark, gruff and muscly with that supernatural confidence that every monster should have. When we first meet him, he suggests to Charley and his flirty mother (Toni Collette) that they get together for “a drink.” Farrell delivers that line then pauses, squints, smiles and exhales — allowing himself and the audience time to relish the irony, to imagine the scenario, maybe have a sip of cola — before adding: “Soon, OK?”
Farrell turns the simplest dialogue — “Catch you later,” he says nonchalantly to his fleeing victims — into gold. More vampires should be like Jerry. Not sparkly or tortured. Just happy to indulge, hungry to build an estate and eager to play life like it’s a game (which actually describes every visitor to Vegas).
Chris Sarandon’s Jerry in the original was also dark and mysterious but more sophisticated and therefore less interesting. He spent the film sexing and slaughtering, though, surprisingly, there is less of the former in the remake. (Look out for Sarandon’s bloody cameo.)
Yet another improvement on Tom Holland’s original version is the character of Peter Vincent, who Charley turns to for help. In the original, Roddy McDowall’s character was an actor who played a vampire slayer on TV. In the remake, he’s a Vegas magician with a personal stake in vampire slaying. Dressed in a wiry wig and pulling on the crotch of his leather pants, Vincent (David Tennant, Doctor Who himself) channel’s Russell Brand’s rock star character in Get Him to the Greek.
Director Craig Gillespie (Lars and the Real Girl) balances horror and humour well. Fans of the television shows Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel will recognize the style of the wit — “Don’t expect me to join your little Scooby gang,” Vincent tells Charley — because the film’s screenwriter, Marti Noxon, wrote and executive produced both series.
What sets this film apart from other vampire fare is that it doesn’t venture down the obvious roads. This is a feat in a time when audiences are saturated with vamp-lore. For example, in the original, Charley’s mother invites Jerry over (vampires can’t enter a home unless invited); in the remake, Jerry finds a more explosive way inside.
Sure, there is conventional 3D shlock such as blood squirting at the audience and cheesy lines such as: “The hours you keep, it’s like living with a vampire.” But there are also enough twists to surprise and a solid scary scene featuring a ravenous vampire coven.
The odds are this film will re-establish vampires as the wonderful villains they should be. I’m on Team Jerry.
This article was originally published in the National Post, August 18, 2011