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Fright Night

Director: Craig Gillespie
Cast: Anton Yelchin, Colin Farrell, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, David Tennant

(DreamWorks Pictures; US theatrical: 19 Aug 2011 (General release); UK theatrical: 2 Sep 2011 (General release); 2011)

“Do you want to get under the covers?” Poor Charley (Anton Yelchin). He’s been waiting forever to hear that invitation from his gorgeous girlfriend Amy (Imogen Poots), and now that she’s offered, he can’t focus. “Right now?” he frets, as she begins to unbutton her top. The doorbell rings over at the next door neighbor’s, and jeez, Charley’s distracted. See, he thinks Jerry (Colin Farrell) might be a vampire, and now that he’s hearing Jerry proposition another neighbor, the ever-buoyant, ever-short-shortsed Doris (Emily Montague), Charley can’t attend to the blond in his bed. Feeling disrespected, Amy buttons back up and exits. And Charley finds himself at the window, watching Jerry, who watches him back.


In fact, it’s hard to take your eyes off Jerry. And that’s from his first scene in Fright Night, where he’s flirting with Charley’s single mom Jane (Toni Collette). As she looks him up and down, so does the camera, just before it cuts back to Charley, disapproving. Jerry’s fond of himself, that much is plain, and pleased to show off his notable physique, sweating in his dirty wife-beater. Jane appreciates that he’s moved in (“He’s handy,” she notes), as her Vegas real estate business has been down of late, and homeowners are disappearing.


Charley has noticed missing people too, suddenly absent classmates whose names the teacher reads off each morning. No one in town has started to put together these events, but you have, because you’ve also noticed Jerry’s unusual pallor and lascivious looks at Amy and Jane, as well as the numbers of realtors’ placards punched into lawns, on wooden stakes, yes. You’ve also noticed that Charley’s onetime best friend Ed (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) is making sense when he checks off the signs he’s seen, signs that vampires are afoot and specifically, that Jerry’s one of them (he’s blacked out his windows, he’s got an extensive basement).


Ed’s been researching, and he’s got a vampire kit, a duffel bag loaded with crosses and garlic and instructions downloaded from the internet, as well as a brochure for the “Fright Night” show downtown, where Peter Vincent (David Tennant, resembling Russell Brand by way of Criss Angel) vanquishes elaborately mascara-ed and cleavaged bloodsuckers nightly, on stage. His faith in Peter’s wisdom regarding all things vampiric stems from his own googling, as well as the showman’s website, which features not only clicks to purchase tickets but also seeming instructions on the creatures’ proclivities and weaknesses. Because Charley’s been trying too hard to hang with Amy and other cool kids—or at least stave off daily abuses by bullies like Mark (David Franco)—he’s stopped paying much attention to Ed, and now feels embarrassed by his increasingly frantic insistence that vampires even exist.


Of course, most high schoolers know that as a matter of course. Vampires represent all the usual terrors of sex and desire, as well looming adult responsibilities. Screenwriter Marti Noxon (who here works from Tom Holland’s 1985 film) plumbed these terrors repeatedly in Buffy, and here, looking through Charley/ Xander’s wide eyes, these appear even more daunting than to a bona fide slayer. And so, as Charley comes to see Ed’s wisdom (too late for Ed, whose turning by Jerry occasions an especially raucous and resentful quarrel with his ex-best-friend Charley), he’s aware of how his own claims sound. “Two days ago,” he tells Peter on their first meeting, “I would have laughed in my face.” Peter agrees: “You’re a nut job.”


As much as boys in Charley’s position (fatherless, bullied, not as witty as he’d like to think) might want approval from older guys, Charley’s rather surrounded by unsuitable role models. If Peter presents himself as knowledgeable and also not responsible (and also as a ladies’ man, though his current girlfriend/employee/co-actor cruelly dismisses his performance), Jerry is all seething masculine privilege. He consumes (pretty) girls because he can and likes to teach upstarts like Charley (and Ed and Peter) lessons in submission too. “Women who look a certain way need to be managed,” he advises Charley, who takes the threat for what it is, and refuses to invite Jerry into his house.


Charley’s not exceptionally speedy on bringing Jane and Amy into his own circle of knowledge, but when he does at last, and the action begins in earnest, Fright Night turns more regular. Now the monster’s appetite—for Amy in particular, as a means to bait Charley—looks properly heterosexual, though at least part of this film’s initial charge lies in the homo-tensions. These telegraphed in a series of glances between Farrell and Yelchin, and underlined (obliquely) by repeated references to Charley’s un-manhood: the bullies complain that he drinks macchiatos, hangs with Amy and her girlfriends, wears the wrong sneakers. 


Amy likes exactly all this about him, of course, which makes the film’s shift into more familiar plotting (the boy has to rescue the girl) not only predictable but also uncool. Both Charley and Amy have to assume those adult responsibilities, however traditional and tedious they may be.

Rating:

Cynthia Fuchs is director of Film & Media Studies and Associate Professor of English, Film & Video Studies, African and African American Studies, Sport & American Culture, and Women and Gender Studies at George Mason University.


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