Fright Night – the recent remake of the 1985 thriller- has quite a few merits: a star-studded cast with David Tennant, Colin Farrell, and Anton Yelchin; a good sense of humor, and a rather decent plot for a horror movie. Its greatest strength, however, is its use of the figure of the vampire.
We’re all a little too used to the sparkly, sensitive vampire who is redeemed by his love for an innocent woman. He’s gone from being a mysterious, meaningful figure to another angsty teenager. But before Twilight, the vampire was a metaphor for our deepest fears. Dracula was an aristocrat, an outsider, and also a male who threatened the virginal purity of the book’s female protagonists. And in Fright Night, Jerry, the vampire next door, is terrifying – and that’s what makes the movie meaningful.
Fright Night begins with a TV advertisement for “vampire slayer” Peter Vincent’s show Fright Night. It features just about the most stereotyped view of vampires possible, including the usual Gothic costumes and virginal maidens. Juxtaposed with that is the normal suburban life: the protagonist, Charley, going to school, his inevitable teenage worries and high school drama. And in the midst of that everyday reality, there’s Jerry. He doesn’t have a gloomy castle in the mountains; he’s the normal – and even quite approachable – guy next door. Played by Colin Farrell to perfection, his suave, smooth demeanor is made absolutely terrifying by the knowledge that he’s hiding his fangs – and his mercilessness.
Jerry has no redemptive features, no soft side. He is evil. And, as such, he shows the fears we hold in our complacent suburban lifestyles. What if the nice man next door is really a monster? Not an actual vampire, that is, but a murderer, a rapist, a sexual predator?
If you live in a small suburb in the middle of nowhere, what do you do when a maniac begins chasing you and setting your house on fire? The implications this film makes with Jerry are frightening. There’s one scene, for example, in which Charley watches his neighbor’s house from his room. Everything seems to be completely normal and life goes on – except that the guy next door is coming to get you. What do you do? And when Jerry shows up and has a man-to-man conversation with Charley, asking whether he’s up to protecting his single mother and his girlfriend – everything gets even scarier.
Jerry threatens everything Charley holds dear in his ordinary life, and throughout the story, he must learn to protect that, even while the people he’s trying to save don’t believe there’s a threat. That’s the scariest part – Jerry has won them over, and only Charley knows the predator lurking behind the mask. How does he save the people he loves?
It’s not blood and gore and monsters that make horror movies scary; it’s what those movies can do to us psychologically, what the monsters can represent. Fright Night is the perfect horror movie with the disconcerting question: how well do you know your neighbors?