Fright Night (1985 & 2011)

This article was originall published on 12ftdwende.com on 19 August 2011

I think remakes get a bad rap. It’s true that the sheer volume of remakes out there indicate a lack of originality in the film industry (or, more aptly, a lack of will to finance originality), but they’re not all bad. Three movies were made out of Dashiell Hammet’s novel The Maltese Falcon. The famous John Huston-directed one with Humphrey Bogart? That was number three. The Wizard of Oz has been made into a number of films. The famous musical one with Judy Garland was preceded by at least five different movies based on the same source material. Martin Scorsese’s Academy Award winner The Departed? Remake of Andrew Lau’s Infernal Affairs. In horror movies, the number of great remakes goes up exponentially. Despite many people’s reverence for George A. Romero’s 1978 classic, most people agree that Zack Snyder’s 2004 remake of Dawn of the Dead was pretty great. A lot of people think Breck Eisner’s 2010 version of The Crazies handled the subject matter better than Romero’s 1973 original did. Moreover, you’d be hard-pressed to find a horror fan who doesn’t think John Carpenter’s 1982 The Thing is a superior movie to Christian Nyby’s (and Howard Hawks’) 1951 The Thing from Another World. Even remakes like Marcus Nispel’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Friday the 13th and Samuel Brayer’s A Nightmare on Elm Street are respectable continuations of the franchises, even if they don’t best their originals. A lot of it seems to come down to an unnatural reverence for the original films. While people are often too dismissive of the horror genre, a lot of these movies are intended to be silly and fun. They’re not sacred cows that can never be touched. Some of them do actually have rather significant room for improvement. But horror fans can be a nostalgic bunch. Well, today Fright Night comes out. I thought it would be best to take a look at the 1985 original first…

                       

Fright Night (1985)

After watching it, I’d say the reason Fright Night ranks as a horror classic is that it’s just fun. Charlie Brewster (William Ragsdale) is a normal teenager, trying to get into the pants of his girlfriend Amy (Amanda Bearse from Married… with Children, believe it or not). However, his priorities shift somewhat once he discovers that the serial killer at loose in his town is his new next door neighbor Jerry Dandridge (Chris Sarandon). Also, Jerry isn’t so much a “serial killer” as he is a vampire. Worst of all, Jerry knows that Charlie knows. Charlie tries to get help from Amy, from his best friend “Evil’ Ed (Stephen Geoffreys), and aging horror movie star Peter Vincent (Roddy McDowall). Of course no one believes him. Like I said, the movie is a lot of fun, but it is far from perfect. Apparently Geoffreys’ performance is considered a “fan favorite” (whatever that means) but I found him obnoxious and am not really sure how he got cast in a major motion picture (I’m just going to write it off as an 80s thing). In the 90s, his career descended into gay porn so apparently I’m not alone in not being a huge fan (either that or gay men REALLY wanted to see him naked). It’s also really weird for me to try to look at Marcy from Married… with Children as an object of desire. I just keep hearing Al Bundy’s constant derision in my head. Of course that’s not her fault. She was kind of cute in a tomboyish way. My favorite part of the movie is McDowall. Obviously named after Peter Cushing and Vincent Price, his character is the type of person who would have starred in Hammer horror films (archived footage of Christopher Lee as Dracula is used for one of Vincent’s films). He also fits in to one of cinema’s favorite stock characters: the Hollywood has-been. Watching him go from being a phony to trying to save the day is probably my favorite part of the movie. The scariest thing about Chris Sarandon’s Jerry is just how little of a threat he seems to view Charley as. If anything, the kid is an annoyance. Sarandon does overplay it from time to time (especially when Jerry is threatened by a cross). The makeup effects that helps turn Jerry from a smug neighbor to a demonic presence are pretty cool, if rather dated. In the end, I supposed Fright Night does earn its status as an 80s horror classic, but not one that couldn’t benefit from a little fine-tuning.

Fright Night (2011)

Well, fine-tune it they did. Aside from the less-imaginative poster seen above (I’ve said it before but man did they have better posters in the 80s) they have built upon and in many ways improved what worked in the original. First of all the film benefits from a new setting: the suburbs of Las Vegas. It’s a nocturnal environment where most people sleep during the day anyway. A lot of people are living on the fringes so they wouldn’t necessarily be missed. The area was hit hard by the Recession so people are leaving without explanation all the time. Second, and most importantly, they nailed the casting across the board. You might recognize Anton Yelchin as Ensign Pavel Chekov from J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek or Kyle Reese in McG’s Terminator Salvation (unless you were lucky to steer clear of the latter, though Yelchin’s Michael Biehn impression was pretty good). He’s an engaging young actor and you get to like Charley, even though Charley can be a bit of a jerk sometimes. The relationship with “Evil” Ed (Christopher “McLovin” Mintz-Plasse) is built up more in ways that were only referenced in passing in the original. Charley and Ed used to hang out and shared many dorky interests, but then Charley started dating a popular girl and had no more time for Ed. Now one of their mutual friends is missing and Ed is distressed that Charley doesn’t seem to give a shit. I’ve been consistently impressed the past couple years how Christopher Mintz-Plasse has been able to build up almost a kind of diversity (for lack of a better word) within the confines of his narrow “geek” wheelhouse. McLovin from Superbad, Red Mist from Kick-Ass, and “Evil” Ed in Fright Night are all dorks, sure, but they’re separate character that the guy has created and different enough that I feel the guy deserves some props. Charley’s mom (Toni Collette) plays a bigger role in this film than the ’85 original. Also, no disrespect to Amanda Bearse, but humorously-surnamed English actress Imogen Poots (from 28 Weeks Later and the saddest part of V for Vendetta) looks much more like the type of girl you’d risk your life fighting vampires to save. Call me shallow, but I think that would factor into my life-risking decision…

Colin Farrell takes over the role of vampire Jerry Dandridge (the original’s Chris Sarandon has a brief cameo). Farrell plays the role more threatening. Every interaction with Jerry has a strong undercurrent of menace. In a time when vampires have been overly eroticized by the likes of Anne Rice and Stephanie Meyer (and even the original Fright Night to some extent, though homo-eroticized might be more apt), Farrell puts a dark spin on that. Jerry is essentially a rapist with fangs. When he claims one of his first victims, he just… relishes the violation so much that it makes the dark allegory very clear. Opinions will vary, to be sure, but I prefer this approach to Sarandon’s overconfidence in the original. As I mentioned above, however, my favorite part of the original Fright Night was the character of Peter Vincent…

The aging horror actor pictured above gets a little bit of a revamp in this new version…

Played by former Doctor Who actor David Tennant, Peter Vincent is reimagined as a Criss Angel-style Las Vegas magician with an elaborate vampire-themed stage show. While given a more tragic backstory, he maintains the same character arc of going from show business phony to real vampire hunter. Tennant brings a great sense of humor to the role and the film’s balance of comedy and horror rests largely on him (though Yelchin and Mintz-Plasse certainly do their part). There are a couple new characters like Charley’s douchey friend Mark (Dave Franco from Scrubs), hot neighbor Doris (Emily Montague), and Peter’s girlfriend Ginger (Sandra Vergara, younger sister of Modern Family’s Sofia Vergara) but they exist mostly just to (um, spoiler warning I guess) pad the body count (it’s really not that big of a surprise). There are exciting action sequences, particularly one set in a minivan being chased by Jerry. A fight in Vincent’s penthouse and the climactic battle at Jerry’s house also provide some thrills. The effects are great, at the hands of horror icons KNB (Evil Dead 2, From Dusk ‘Till Dawn). This movie comes close to walking that delicate ballance of practical makeup effects and CG that I know can be acheived. Maybe they err a bit on the CGI side, but it still looks really cool and I applaud any horror film that doesn’t throw out the old methods in favor of cartoony CGI.

This movie is actually worth seeing in 3D if you like that (some people don’t even when done well), seeing as it was shot in 3D and not post-converted. Seeing it the same day as Conan the Barbarian with it’s worthless flat post-converted 3D was like night and day. Fright Night uses gimmicky horror 3D but I thought it made the movie fun. That’s the key word with Fright Night: fun. Unless they’re a wuss about blood, I can’t imagine the movie would scare anyone but I had a good time watching it. Opinions will vary (they always do) but I would deem this one of those rare (though less rare in the horror genre) superior remakes. It’s worth checking out.

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