Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Fright Night (1985) vs. Fright Night (2011)

Title: Fright Night (2011) and Fright Night (2011)

Directors: Craig Gillespie and Tom Holland (respectively)

Cast: Collin Farrell, Anton Yelchin, David Tennant, Imogen Poots, Toni Collette, Christopher Mintz Plasse, Chris Sarandon, William Ragsdale, Amanda Bearse, Roddy McDowall, Stephen Geoffreys


The original Fright Night was one of the first films (along with Nightmare on Elm Street: Dream Warriors) to get me hooked on horror films. When I was a kid, horror films scared me like crazy, but it was Fright Night that taught me how fun horror films could be. Fright Night mixed a love for old school horror films with modern day make up effects. It had awesome characters all through out; Charley is the bookworm, the mild mannered regular Joe who suddenly finds himself dealing with the fact that his next door neighbor is a vampire, and nobody believes him. He befriends Peter Vincent, an aging horror film actor who pays the rent by doing ‘Fright Night’ a television program that showcases old horror films, Peter is the host of the show. Following Charlie in this adventure are Evil Ed, Charlie’s best friend who also happens to be a horror film connoisseur and Amy, Charlie’s nerdy unbelieving girlfriend. The whole cast was made up of the perfect actors for their respective roles. William Ragsdale was perfect as the nerdy Charlie, so naïve, so innocent yet brave enough to do what he’s got to do. Roddy McDowall was perfect as Peter Vincent, an actor who seems like a coward at first but then discovers he wants to become what he always played in the movies – a real life vampire killer! Stephen Geoffrey’s plays one of the most memorable vampires in cinematic history, the drooling, rambling Evil Ed! But the most memorable of all roles on this film was the role of Jerry Dandridge, played with gleeful delight by the great Chris Sarandon. That’s one thing that the original Fright Night had, great characters played by great actors, and an involving story.

Let’s not forget one of the most outstanding things about the original Fright Night: the show stopping make up effects! The vampires looked really demonic on this one, very animal like. Huge fangs, yellow eyes, long finger nails! And we even get a scene in which a vampire transforms into a werewolf! An awesome sequence if there ever was any. This is one of those movies that no matter how much time has passed, the make up effects are still awesome to watch. I still love this movie to death, I re-watch it every now and again, and not just to the ‘good parts’, I love the whole thing. I love how it pays respects to the horror movies of old. For example, Peter Vincent plays a character not that different from Vincent Price or Peter Cushing. Peter’s always remembering the golden days when he participated in making classic horror films. So it’s a film that understands and respects where it’s coming from, it pays homage to all those vampire movies that came before it. At one point Charlie is watching a horror film on television, it turns out he’s watching Hammer films Scars of Dracula (1970)! At another he is watching Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things (1973)!

The dynamics between the characters always pulled me in as well. I especially enjoy the friendship that Peter and Charlie develop; Peter becomes something of a father figure to Charlie since Charlie has no father. I liked how they became truly good friends, a friendship that crosses over to the sequel Fright Night Part II (1988); and a worthy sequel that one was, not as great as the original, but still pretty damn respectable as far as sequels go. So when a remake to Fright Night was announced, I had incredibly mixed feelings about it. On the one hand I was curious as to what it would end up being like, with all the modern special effects available nowadays. But at the same time a question kept creeping into my mind: would they get it right? Or would this be another one of those ‘remakes’ that doesn’t pay respects to the original?

Well, I’m happy to announce to you guys that Fright Night (2011) was not the disappointment I expected it to be. The promotional material for this film made it look very tame in comparison to the gruesomeness of the original. Is it just me or did the poster for this remake say “blah” every step of the way? Something that I love about the original film is that awesome poster with the clouds forming into the face of a vampire. To this date, the poster for the original is still one of my favorite horror film posters EVER. The new poster is so freaking bland, it says nothing to me. It certainly doesn’t tell me that Im going to be watching a vampire film. So already, my doubts were raised. And this was just the poster! Would the film be just as bland? Then came the previews, which didn’t inspire a lot of confidence either. No make up effects show up on the trailer for the film, so immediately I’m thinking they toned down the look of the vampires and the gore, because you know, this is the day and age of the watered down action and horror film. So immediately after seeing the previews, my wings of hope where shot down. In my opinion, as far as I could tell, this new Fright Night was going to suck. Still, my curiosity got the best of me and so I ended up at my local theater to see it. I just couldn’t help myself. Plus, to my surprise, the film was actually getting good reviews all around, so I was like “things cant be all that bad”.

Anton Yelchin, the new Charlie Brewster

As expected, a few changes have taken place from old to new. First up was the big surprise that Charlie is no longer a nerdy book worm, but a dude who has crossed over from being a nerdy dude to becoming one of the “cool guys”, Charlie is now part of the “in crowd”, complete with hot girlfriend and all. Evil Ed and Charlie are no longer best friends. In fact, Charlie is ditching Evil Ed because Evil is still a major geekazoid and Charlie doesn’t want to be associated with none of that. I’m not sure I liked that change, one thing I liked about the original was that Charlie was a geek, hell, I thought this would fit in with the current norm of making the geek the star of the film, but whatever, filmmakers wanted to make Charlie a cool kid with a hot girlfriend this time around. The other change? Peter Vincent isn’t a horror show host anymore, now he does a Vegas style magic show a la David Copperfield. He’s no longer the lovable old man/father figure, now he is young, rich (no longer struggling to pay the rent like in the original) a drunkard and a womanizer, great. He is a mix between Chris Angel and Russell Brand. Actually, they originally wanted Russell Brand to play Peter Vincent, but when he backed out David Tennant stepped in. So as you can see, they really twisted the characters around for this new film.

The new Peter Vincent, no longer the sweet old man

Anymore twists? Well yeah, for example Evil Ed is still pretty much a nerd, only he is more of a nerd. In the original, Evil Ed was a horror film buff, he looked like he heard heavy metal and watched a lot of horror films, but he didn’t look like a nerd. On this new one he looks like a major geek, largely due to the fact that they chose Christopher Mintz-Plasse (of McLovin’ fame) to play the character. Now this was a bad casting choice if you ask me. Such an important character in the original, with so many awesome sequences, and on the remake they give the role to McLovin’? What? That never made sense to me! On top of all this, they completely exorcised the sequence in which Evil Ed turns into a werewolf! That sequence was one of the showstoppers in the original! On the remake they replaced this sequence with a battle between Charlie and Evil Ed. Yeah the sequence gets gory on this remake, they even chop off a couple of limbs and a head, but still, I would not have left out the werewolf transformation which was such a cool scene in the original. But whatever, the sequence we get on the remake isn’t bad at all, I’m glad that at least the scene they replaced it with is actually a bit gruesome. Bottom line though: Mintz Plasse as Evil Ed was a bad choice. But here’s the deal my friends: McLovin’ playing Evil Ed was the only real bad choice on this film as far as I’m concerned, everything else clicked.

Christopher Mintz Plasse as Evil Ed, Big Mistake! 

They did tone down the demonic looking faces of the vampires for this remake; yet I’m glad to say that they still managed to squeeze in some cool vampire make up effects and transformations. I can’t imagine why they would leave all these cool looking vampires out of the previews for the film since to me these are some of the biggest selling points for this film. I mean that’s what people want to see, freaking vampires! Show the people a glimpse of the vamps and their demonic visages and this will surely guarantee more seats in the movie theater. But no, apparently gruesomeness isn’t allowed in movie trailers these days. And the studio paid the price for it too, the bland looking trailer equaled low ticket sales. I remember the original exploited its gory aspects to the max in its marketing, including a music video that showcased lots of demonic looking vampires. Here's another funny thing about the original: back in 1985 it only cost a mere 9 million dollars to make! Man they really made the best out of their 'meager' budget! Now compare that with the remake. As it is, the remake underperformed in theaters . It had a 30 million budget yet it only made 18 million in  U.S. theaters, and a worldwide gross of 36.8 million, just barely making it's budget back. Sad part is that this remake's not a bad film at all. I blame the studios marketing, I mean, all promotional material for this film screams “blah” when in fact the movie was all kinds of fun. Did they purposely want this film to fail? Again, me thinks horror films are under attack by the powers that be.

This is not the poster for a vampire film, sorry!

Another big selling point for this film was Colin Farrell playing Jerry Dandridge, and here’s one thing that this remake got very, very right. Farrell was great as Dandridge, playing it cool and ominous. One awesome sequence has him interacting with Chris Sarandon, the original actor who played Jerry Dandridge, not gonna spoil it for you guys but that cameo was all sorts of fun. Speaking of Chris Sarandon, he went all the way with his portrayal of Jerry Dandridge, he wore extensive amounts of make up for his role and if you ask me it was all worth it, the result is one evil looking vampire!.He was charismatic as hell but also very evil when he had to be. Same goes for Colin Farrell’s portrayal of the character, though I wish they would have had the character looking more demonic for longer periods of time. Most of the time all we see is Colin Farrell looking like Colin Farrell except for a few seconds here and there where he completely vamps out. By the way, I loved seeing Jerry Dandridge’s demonic face up close and personal and in 3-D! That shot was freaking cool! At one moment in the film, they do this extreme close up of Jerry Dandridge’s fully vamped out face that was all kinds of awesome. But that was the only really stand out 3-D sequence. The 3-D element worked fairly well in a couple of instances, but it’s nothing to write home about.

New Amy vs. Old Amy, take your pick

The director behind the remake is one Craig Gillespie, the director behind films like Lars and the Real Girl (2007) and Mr. Woodcock (2007). Gillespie is not exactly the kind of director one would associate with a vampire film, especially not when we look at his filmography. There’s a couple of up and coming horror directors out there who would have made great choices for this one, but no, they went with Gillespie. To be honest, I don’t think he did a bad job at directing this one, the performances are decent and the film looks polished as hell. But I personally would’ve preferred a director with a horror background. So what if Ty West (House of the Devil), Eli Roth (Hostel I and II), David Slade (30 Days of Night) or Jim Mickle (Stake Land) could have directed this, no, give the film to the guy who did Lars and the Real Girl? What? That choice makes as much since as Tim Story (Barber Shop, Taxi) directing the Fantastic Four films. But whatever, Gillespie didn’t do a bad job, in fact, there’s this awesome standout sequence that takes place inside of a car as a vamped out Jerry Dandridge chases Charlie and family on his motorcycle, loved that sequence. It was all done in one continuous shot, a la Children of Men (2006). I’m just saying, someone with a horror background could have given the film that extra edge. I guess Hollywood was just playing it safe, same as they always do.

So my final verdict for this remake? Not bad, not bad at all. Like some of the best remakes, this one changed a couple of things around, brought some new things to the table while at the same time paying its respects to the original. Of course, there are some marked differences, most notable of all is how this remake managed to loose the spooky vibe that the original had, especially towards its ending. I remember on the original, when Peter and Charlie walk up to Jerry Dandridge’s house, the house looks like something straight out of the freaking Exorcist! Not so on this one. Final thoughts on the remake is that it’s good (I was expecting a disaster and got a fun vampire flick), but when it comes right down to it, the remake is NOT better than the original. The first one, though silly at times, still has more bite than the remake. Blame it on Hollywood’s ever increasing desire to water down horror films.

Rating for Fright Night (2011): 3 ½
Rating for Fright Night (1985): 5


James Gracey said...

Great write up! I still haven't seen the remake of Fright Night - but I think it looks pretty decent and in keeing with the spirit of the original - which I love.

Cinema Du Meep said...

I enjoyed the new one as well. It's not a classic like the original, but it's better than it has any right to be. Nice job here.

BRENT said...

The re-make isn't far off playing here in NZ. But I also saw the original on the big screen way back in 1985!! I have always liked it because it was so much fun without be ultra scary. The special effects were cool in their day. I watched it again recently and was surprised by how well it has stood the test of time even though the effects are noticably dated. A real classic none the less!

Franco Macabro said...

@James: I was expecting a real piece of crap, instead, I got a respectable update.

@CinemaDuMeep: Thanks cinema!

@Brent: There is one moment where the effects dont agree with me in the original: When Jerry Dandridge is burning up, that puppet up there looks really fake, but other than that, I love everything else about it. Especially the make up effects on Dandridge, Evil Ed and Amy when they are fully vamped out. Those are still awesome looking in my book.

Also, the ghoul melting away, that was awesome, sad to see that scene go in the remake as well. In fact, they totally ignored the whole ghoul element, on the remake Jerry lives alone.

Thanks for commenting everyone!

Direct to Video Connoisseur said...

I haven't seen the new one yet, but I had to admit that it didn't look that bad, so I'm happy to see that you and @Cinema Du Meep are saying it wasn't bad too. I can't wait to check it out when it comes out on video.

Franco Macabro said...

@Direct to Video Connoisseur: I went in ready to rip the remake a new asshole! But I came out pretty damn happy!

I only had to major dissapointments with it: they eliminated the Evil Ed transforming into a werewolf sequence which I loved, and damn it, it was just so damn spooky. And they also eliminated Dandridge's sexy hypnotic dance with Amy in the disco. Plus, the music in the nighclub sequence should have been way more memorable. That sequence is so essential in the original one, it's where Jerry seduces Amy with a dance and his hypnotic stare....sorry to see that sequence go.

Unknown said...

Thank you for an insightful well thought out review. I'm impressed and will now seek out the film I avoided for all the same reasons you had.


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