It’s been a summer dominated by sequels, cartoons and remakes, and let’s face it: The few that stood out, like Rise of the Planet of the Apes or the final Harry Potter movie, only cemented how shoddy and cynical most of the summer blockbusters have felt. With that in mind, you couldn’t be blamed for being suspicious of Fright Night, a remake of the 1985, ahem, classic vampire film. But the new Fright Night— opening Friday, Aug. 19—is surprisingly entertaining, a completely self-aware summer movie that’s terrific fun and shamelessly forgettable.
Anton Yelchin is Charley Brewster, a Las Vegas teen who’s risen from the ranks of the geeks to the cool kids, scoring the gorgeous Amy (Imogen Poots) along the way. In his wake is his former best friend Ed (Christopher Mintz-Plasse), who accuses Charley’s new next-door neighbor Jerry (Colin Farrell) of being a vampire. Charley, of course, thinks Ed’s full of it.
Ed has this one right, though, and soon Charley is neck deep in blood and bodies, while Jerry tries relentlessly to track down Charley, Amy and Charley’s single mother (Toni Collette) in hopes of adding them to his larder. The only person Charley can turn to for help is Peter Vincent (David Tennant), a drunken Criss Angelesque performer who specializes in vampires, at least on stage.
There’s a reason the original Fright Night was so much fun. It was a nice blend of crisp dialog and ’80s camp, and Chris Sarandon—who has a minor cameo here—was terrific as the vampire.
Farrell’s been making solid independent films for several years after his first go at Hollywood, and you might be wondering what he’s doing rehashing an ’80s vampire film that had minor cult status, at best. The answer is that he’s having a hell of a good time. His Jerry Dandridge works because he never treats the humans he encounters as people—he’s sizing them up as nothing but a meal.
But there are other factors that make Fright Night so entertaining. Director Craig Gillespie moves past the Is he or isn’t he? segment quickly and early. The audience already knows Jerry’s a vampire, so why shouldn’t the characters in the film? That sets in motion a long-form ending that includes well-constructed chase scenes and some serious violence.Perhaps most importantly, the movie never takes itself seriously. Sure, hardcore fans of the original are bound to be disappointed—you always are when something you love is re-imagined—but this is a movie that recognizes entirely what it is and where it comes from, and it embraces the camp of the original. It’s frothy and funny, and it unabashedly uses its 3-D to spray the theater with blood or just to throw stuff at you. It’s a film that’s designed to entertain and has virtually no other ambitions.
That means, of course, that the emotional arc Charley goes through is vacuous at best, and the filmmakers couldn’t come up with a postscript worth watching. But so what? Updating the characters and sticking them in Vegas works, and giving it an R rating allows the teenagers—and their parents—to use the F-word as frequently and as easily as people do in real life. And while there’s some gore, Fright Night is as much a comedy as it is a horror flick.
I’ve never been one to just turn off my brain for the sake of pure escapism, but I understand the importance of doing so. And if that’s what I needed to do, I can’t imagine a better film to get the job done than the new Fright Night. No, you won’t remember it in a week. No, you won’t be scared out of your wits. But you will be entertained, and that’s kind of what summer is all about.