What do you think the Devil is going to look like if he's around? Nobody is going to be taken in if he has a long, red, pointy tail. No. … He will look attractive and he will be nice and helpful and he will get a job where he influences a great God-fearing nation and he will never do an evil thing... he will just bit by little bit lower standards where they are important. Just coax along flash over substance... Just a tiny bit. And he will talk about all of us really being salesmen. And he'll get all the great women.
– Aaron Altman, Broadcast News
When the Albert Brooks character in Broadcast News tries to convince a woman that his rival for her affections is evil he admits or asserts that he is "semi-serious." But it is hard to convince a woman in the throes of lust that the object of her affection is up to no good. Or a teenager to convince adult authorities that a blob from outer space has landed in the countryside, that there are ghosts in the TV, or that the new neighbor is a vampire.
Here is how the IMDB summarizes the plot of Fright Night: "A teenager suspects that his new neighbor is a vampire." That's high concept but proves to be slightly inaccurate. It is not Charley Brewster (Anton Yelchin) who suspects that Jerry Dandrige (Colin Farrell) is a vampire, it is Charley's childhood friend Ed (Superbad's Christopher Mintz-Plasse). Charley and Ed have had a falling out. Ed is a glasses-wearing nerd. Charley has graduated to semi-adult hood, or at least the high school version of it. He has a hot girlfriend, Amy (Imogen Poots) and a group of cool friends who police each other's clothes and speech and manners for signs of the un-cool. Charley has left Ed behind, but while Charley's new cool friends detect that Ed is suspiciously close to Charley, Ed suspects that the new neighbor in Charley's Vegas tract-house neighborhood is a member of the living dead. Ed has good evidence for this. Videotapes of the new resident can't capture the man on film, and he only goes out at night. Unfortunately Ed has to die for Charley to awaken to the validity of Ed's suspicions, especially when Ed, like so many other students of the school, fails to show up one day for roll call.
Fright Night touches on something difficult here: the way that people outgrow each other, also captured in the Thomas Hardy poem about his friend Horace Moule, "Standing by the Mantelpiece," subtitled "H.M.M., 1873," in which Hardy seems to be lamenting his inability to fully embrace the woes of his friend (who was later to commit suicide). As Martin Seymour-Smith notes in his biography of Hardy, this is an example of Hardy's ability to confront hard truths that until then found no home in poetry, in this case how we sometimes recoil from our friends, as if awakening from a dream.
But this segment of Fright Night is only the platform to the larger plot of Jerry and his attempts to insinuate himself into the Brewster household, where he can then claim Charley, Amy, and Mrs. Brewster (TV's Toni Collette). It turns out that a few of the rules guiding vampire conduct as enunciated by Bram Stoker still hold true – vamps can't enter a house unless invited, and are burned up by the sun.
These laws have been forsaken in modern vampire movies since about the time of Near Dark. Recent lovesick vampire chronicles for teens emphasize the dark romanticism of the creatures or make them victims of discrimination or both. Fright Night has the virtue of returning evil to the vampire template. Jerry is not a nice guy, and is not conventionally attractive to an audience that is always presumed in critical cliché to "like" the villains more than the heroes because, if nothing else, they are more interesting.
In fact, Jerry seems to be the devil. This is such an obvious observation that someone has to have made it before but obviously the vampire in lore is clearly a stand in for Satan. As Aaron Altman says in Broadcast News, the devil won't look evil, in fact he will seem nice and helpful. And he will get all the girls, as Jerry does, at one point even necking with Amy while Charley looks on helplessly. Jerry's method of getting girls, like any vampire's, is to lure them into his den then bite them into submission, "turning" them into bloodsuckers themselves and thus forever beholden to him. Farrell's performance in this film is remarkable, and he walks a fine line among a network of tones including greed, cynicism, contempt for the merely human, charm, and lust. In some cases he seems to dance through the part, especially in a scene where he has asked Charley for the loan of a beer, but can't enter the house and must flit back and forth before the open door, attempting to hypnotize Charley with his grin, his eyes, and even his Bogdan-sized eyebrows.
Fright Night is directed by Craig Gillespie (Lars and the Real Woman) and credited to screenwriter Marti Noxon (I Am Number Four) and they do a fine job, giving a realistic Spielbergian suburbia feel to the layout and the school stuff, but of course the source is Tom Holland's great original from 1985, when Chris Sarandon was the charming new neighbor (he has a cameo here) and the late Roddy McDowall was Peter Vincent the vampire slayer. Cleverly, in this version the Van Helsing is a louche Vegas showman played by TV's Dr. Who, David Tennant. Yes, the movie ultimately descends into a long battle sequence between teens and titans, but until then Fright Night is a horror film with an unusual amount of nuance, and a whole lot of sorely missed evil.