If nothing else, Fright Night is a prime example of how tax incentives for filmmakers could improve the portrayal of Nevada (and Las Vegas in particular) on the big screen. Set in Las Vegas but shot entirely in New Mexico, the new remake of the 1985 horror-comedy does a pretty poor job of representing the city, using obvious stock footage for generic establishing shots, erroneously situating the Hard Rock Hotel on the Strip (and featuring interiors that in no way resemble the actual hotel) and inventing an entire fake suburb for teenager Charley Brewster (Anton Yelchin) and his family and friends to inhabit. For anyone not from Vegas, those details are probably irrelevant, but they’re a sign of the empty flashiness that director Craig Gillespie and screenwriter Marti Noxon bring to Tom Holland’s original ramshackle vision.
Holland’s movie is far from a masterpiece—it’s an affectionate if sloppy tribute to vampire B-movies, with a scene-stealing supporting performance from Roddy McDowall as washed-up horror actor Peter Vincent. Noxon and Gillespie reimagine Vincent as a Criss Angel-style Vegas stage magician, played by David Tennant doing his best Russell Brand imitation. And Vincent here is much less central to the story, in which Charley suspects that his charming, creepy new neighbor Jerry (Colin Farrell) is actually a vampire. While Holland played on the idea of too many late-night movies clouding Charley’s judgment, the new Fright Night is much more serious and intense, but not in a particularly entertaining way. Yelchin’s Charley is kind of a jerk, who dumped his nerdy best friend Ed (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) to hang with the cool crowd.
It’s Ed who first alerts Charley to Jerry’s vampire status, and although Charley is initially skeptical, it’s not long before Jerry is terrorizing Charley, his mom (Toni Collette) and his hottie girlfriend (Imogen Poots). Farrell can’t seem to figure out if he wants to play Jerry as menacing or sarcastic, and he ends up coming off as a pretty weak villain, although the movie is significantly more violent than the original. Tennant often seems like he’s inhabiting a different movie entirely, inserted in from the goofier version of the story and then forced to prop up a pointless attempt at serious vampire mythology. Noxon was a writer and producer for several seasons on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, a show that effectively balanced supernatural threats and character-based humor, but here she can’t seem to figure out that dynamic. Just as it presents a poorly conceived, inaccurate version of Las Vegas, Fright Night has similar trouble putting together a coherent horror-comedy.