Monday, July 2, 2018

Second Comings: FRIGHT NIGHT

by Alejandra Gonzalez
So, it’s true – there’s an elephant in the room that needs addressing.

It’s been about forever since this column last had a new installment, and while the guilt keeps me up at night, I firmly believe that it’s never too late for a second coming. With horror remakes being among the most anticipated releases of the next few years, particularly Suspiria later this year and Pet Sematary in 2019, I thought there could be no better time to return to the remakes we already know and love (to hate, for some).

It’s hard to believe that as vampire-obsessed as I am, it has taken me this long to cover what is one of my most beloved vampire movies of all time. Fright Night was released originally in 1985 by writer and director Tom Holland and has been revered in the horror community since, but the same seems to be untrue of the 2011 remake by Craig Gillespie. I remember having great fun with the remake my first time with it, so the criticism it got from other fans of the 1985 original seemed harsh and unfair. It stood no chance being compared to a movie that could be considered close to perfect. Still, I hadn’t revisited it until now, and let’s just say that I may have some apologies to make.

The Characters
The original Fright Night is beloved for many reasons, but its characters being the most outstanding part of the movie is a belief for which I’m willing to die. Because of that, it feels like a recipe for failure when 2011’s Fright Night does all it can to rewrite every last character in major ways, making them almost unrecognizable to fans of the original. I’ve always admired a remake that embraces its changes, but Fright Night (2011) is not effective in doing so.

This is especially true in regards to our two main characters, Charley and Jerry the vampire. In 1985, our protagonist, Charley Brewster (William Ragsdale), is portrayed as neither here nor there in terms of popularity. He’s considerably average when we meet him, but as the movie goes on we become very fond of his bravery and determination. I seriously love Anton Yelchin, but the Charley Brewster we got in 2011 is one of the most unlikable and boring characters in my recent memory. His main concerns seem to be his popularity at school and getting laid. This is true even at the expense of leaving his old friends behind and now being a part of the group that humiliates them. This may have been a better choice on 2011’s behalf if by the end of the movie we knew that Brewster had grown as a character, but all we know is that he defeated a vampire and finally got to have sex. The same applies with Jerry Dandridge, the sinister vampire who has newly moved into town seeking fresh victims until he realizes that Charley has uncovered his secret. Now, hear me out: I could watch Colin Farrell watch paint dry, but 2011’s Jerry Dandridge feels like he’s never really completely developed. He hardly holds a candle to Chris Sarandon’s Jerry, who is not only quick with wit and charm, but terrifying because of it. He is carefully calculated, hypnotic, a relentless predator to victims who are completely unsuspecting. Colin’s Jerry Dandridge lacks most of these qualities and is more straightforward and aggressive with his preying, which is clearly because this movie’s main objective seems to be to provide more disposable kill sequences than to establish a genuinely menacing antagonist.

The same incomplete feeling applies to Fright Night’s (2011) supporting characters.What did they do to poor Evil Ed (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) in this remake? Evil Ed is one of the best parts of the original, being played almost maniacally by Stephen Geoffreys, and is imperative to the progression of the plot as Brewster’s best friend who is skeptical about the existence of his vampire neighbor. You could remove Evil Ed completely from the 2011 version and the movie would still tell the same exact story, sans the single “you’re so cool, Brewster” that was almost forced into it for fan service. Amy, Charley’s girlfriend played by Amanda Bearse in 1985 and Imogen Poots in 2011, is another character that I preferred in the original version. She just has more to do in the original, eventually serving as a believable motive for Jerry.

I know it sounds all bad so far, but David Tennant as Peter Vincent was a great choice for the Fright Night remake. Peter Vincent (as played by Roddy McDowall in 1985) was written as a washed up, broke television host quickly on the decline from stardom. Clearly influenced by Vincent Price and Peter Cushing, he is an homage to Hammer Horror and brings a certain gothic element to Fright Night that makes it both appealing and familiar to fans of the genre. The Peter Vincent presented to us in 2011 starkly contrasts Roddy McDowall’s portrayal, as he is younger and incredibly successful. This was a smart choice for the remake to make; 2011 marked the height of the most recent vampire craze in pop culture (read: Twilight and The Vampire Diaries). In 2011, a magician/vampire slayer like Peter Vincent would have absolutely been that rich and popular, so choosing to portray him as a successful celebrity was a fun and refreshing choice on Fright Night’s behalf.

The Plot
Because the 2011 remake changed so much about the characters we already loved in the 1985 original, the plot was bound to suffer the same effect. Gillespie’s Fright Night seems to be focused on being fast paced and more action oriented, while Holland’s Fright Night focuses on building tension between characters that erupts in the last act to provide an incredibly satisfying conclusion to Brewster’s story. Charley spends the entire first two acts of Fright Night (1985) trying to convince his friends that his neighbor is a vampire and is behind the deaths circulating the news. In the remake, it’s Evil Ed who tries to convince Charley for a small part of the first half of the movie, and once Ed goes missing during the first half hour, it takes almost no time for Brewster to convince Amy and his mom because Jerry reveals himself almost instantly. Obviously this happens so that the high speed chase between Jerry and Charley can ensue, but it feels significantly less gratifying when Charley finally defeats Jerry.

Even more troubling than these major changes in plot between 1985’s Fright Night and its remake were the tiny details that were completely disregarded in 2011, which made the original so effective. The most notable instance is the moment in 2011 where Jerry’s mom, Jane, refuses to invite Jerry in to their home, so he blows up the house. First of all – what? So much for not bringing attention to yourself, Jerry the vampire. Second, it’s the moment in 1985’s version where Jane invites Jerry over that we become aware of just how menacing Jerry’s charm can be. He is essentially working to make Charley unreliable in his accusations, making it less possible to get the help he needs to defeat him. The remake also omits the incredible scene in the original where Peter Vincent joins the group in trying to disprove Jerry’s vampirism to Charley, which if nothing else adds charisma to the 1985 version.

My real problem is that the original movie is not solely about Charley trying to defeat his vampire neighbor, but rather his trying to convince those around him about the danger that they’re in. I will admit, there were moments in the original where I didn’t believe Charley myself. The remake lacks that quality, and therefore becomes a simple, straightforward story about trying to defeat a monster.

The Other Stuff
Speaking to what was said about Peter Vincent earlier, I understand why the 2011 remake doesn’t have the gothic atmosphere that the original uses so well. The Hammer Horror elements that are missing make the remake feel less familiar and less easy to fall in love with, especially because it’s not really made up with anything else. As far as score and soundtrack goes, there’s no way they could have rivaled the original so I’m glad they didn’t even seem to try. 2011’s Fright Night did have a pretty cool poster, though!

Final Verdict
While I do think 2011’s Fright Night is fun, I feel slightly guilty for being disappointed with it this time around. There is ultimately no competition: the original is as close to perfect as vampire movies can get. It’s both charismatic and scary, and introduces some of the most beloved characters the genre has to offer. Because this column is supposed to be about celebrating remakes, I will say that Fright Night (2011) on its own is entertaining and has an incredible cast playing characters I just wish felt more familiar. It’s always risky to take a film that is loved by so many people and change almost everything good about it, but it just didn’t quite work for Fright Night. I find that having watched it with the intention of comparing it to the original for this column could be the reason I had a hard time enjoying Fright Night (2011) this time around, but I do believe the movie is fine on its own. The remake deserves credit for making bold changes, and fans of the it are right to enjoy such a good time.

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