“Jerry the Vampire” sounds like a circus act or a sitcom villain, not a dangerous character in a horror movie. As embodied by Colin Ferrell in the new Fright Night, though, Jerry is very scary.

Looking like a 50′s rocker, with short black hair and tight-fitting clothes, Jerry swaggers even when he’s standing still. He doesn’t need to strip half-naked to attract the attention of the ladies; the sight of his bare shoulders in a sleeveless undershirt, combined with his smoldering eyes, is sufficient to set feminine hearts fluttering.

Words fight their way out of his mouth, escaping from his throat by pushing down on his jaw, just enough to be heard clearly before they evaporate in the night air. The rhythm of his speech varies — sentences snapped off in military cadence one time, the next statement stretched out with pauses on an irregular beat, as though he’s actually thinking about what he’s going to say next. It’s unnerving.

Ferrell brings the menace in equal measure with bad-boy charm, so that Jerry comes across as a dark, handsome stranger with whom you might want to do bad, bad things, the kind of things that you’d never consider doing in the light of day. Which make sense, because Jerry is very much a creature of the night.

Jerry has moved next door to Charley Brewster (Anton Yelchin) and his mother Jane (Toni Collette) in an isolated suburban development in the far northern part of Las Vegas. Charley is a good kid, a well-adjusted former dweeb who is happily dating Amy (Imogen Poots). Charley likes his life as it is now, and he really doesn’t want to listen to his best friend Ed (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) when Ed points out that one of their friends has gone missing, along with some of their other high school classmates.

Ed is still a dweeb, and their missing friend is a dweeb too, and Charley has left all that behind him. But Ed blackmails Charley into coming along to investigate what might have happened, and then reveals that Jerry is a vampire. Naturally, Charley begins mocking Ed, and it’s not until Charley is presented with incontrovertible proof that he realizes he has to do something to protect those who are closest to him.

Fright Night stands apart from most recent remakes by not being overly beholden to the original 1985 film. It follows a similar pattern, but at some point it feels like the filmmakers crumpled up the plans and decided to build a new house that’s similar to the original, but not an exact duplicate. They recycle some of the original construction materials, but only enough to bring a smile to the face of those who might recognize what they’re seeing.

Most importantly, they captured the spirit of the original, the joking acknowledgment that we’ve all seen vampire movies before and are familiar with the basic plot trajectories. The new Fright Night displays a fair amount of dramatic heft, allowing it to score action, suspense, and thriller points. Yet, cognizant of its place in a post-Twilight movie world, the remake displays an apt sense of humor, with the comic bits serving as tension-breaking asides rather than as the main course.

That’s not to say the filmmakers re-invented the wheel, or even that they bested the original, which remains one of my personal favorite horror films of the 80s. But the remake is a pleasure to watch, and I’m glad they honored the spirit while devising a somewhat different take on the material.

It’s always a crap shoot to figure out who deserves credit for maintaining a balanced tone, but it starts with the story by Tom Holland, who wrote and directed the original, and the script by Marti Noxon, a veteran of both Mad Men and the television incarnation of Buffy, the Vampire Slayer. Craig Gillespie directed; it’s not something you’d expect from the man who made Lars and the Real Girl and Mr. Woodcock, but it works very well.

The cast, which includes David Tennant as a Las Vegas performer, Sandra Vergara as his unhappy girlfriend, and Emily Montague as Jerry’s unlucky date, is very good, with Collette as a sensible mother, Poots as a sexy, supportive, and reasonable girlfriend, and Mintz-Plasse adding levels of comedy by his presence and body language. Tennant absolutely nails his performance.

Yelchin doesn’t seem to bring much to his role; your eyes tend to drift toward whoever else he’s playing with or against. Perhaps that was intentional. Or perhaps it’s simply that, facing off against Colin Ferrell as Jerry the vampire, our eyes are never going to leave the magnetic villain.

You never know what he’s going to do next.


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