Fright Night (1985): Sacrilege, but I Support a Remake Here

I’ve held the view most of my life that remakes are generally a bad, bad, shameful idea. Recently, I’ve revised this opinion. I’m not anti-remake, I’m anti-remake for excellent, classic movies. Psycho (1960)? Really, Gus Van Sant, you think you can improve? No, you don’t, so now your plan is to shoot the entire movie, shot for shot, in colour and with an inferior cast? Stellar plan. I can’t see why that movie would suck at all.

I understand the rationale: cash in on the name and fame of the original. Typically, this means the studio is happy to coast along on pre-established hype, and hand the creative reins to the screenwriter who wrote one episode of CSI: Miami and the director of Keisha’s latest pop hit music video. Hence the almost always sucking. Besides, this leaves the remake open to comparison with the original, which is nearly universally a classic and long beloved film (hey, Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) was incredibly influential to some of us).

But just think of the slew of crappy movies out there – films with potential, films with interesting concepts and clever ideas but just shitty execution. It’s a freaking goldmine people! Give these ideas the treatment they deserve. Besides, there’s nowhere to go but up! OK, that’s not true. If studios keep hiring talentless hacks to churn out the next hit quickly, I have no doubt that Hollywood could find a way to make a bad thing worse. But the potential to make a better film than the original is exponentially improved.

It feels a bit blasphemous as a horror fan to admit that I’ve never loved the original Fright Night (1985), directed by Tom Holland. I saw it once as a youth after hearing rave reviews, and was left with the feeling of… *shrug*. I didn’t hate it, but it wasn’t making its way into my regular rotation. Then again, I didn’t always have the best taste as a kid. I watched Full House and thought The Shining (1980), apart from the terrifying girls, was boring (give your head a shake, little K!). Was my initial reaction to Fright Night unfair? Was it better than I remembered? In anticipation for the remake, the hostage and I decided to revisit the original.

Synopsis: A man moves in next to a teenage boy and his single mother. The boy suspects their new neighbour of being a vampire, and enlists the help of his friends and a local TV vampire hunter to prove him right and take down the monster.

There are some moments of potential brilliance in this movie. The boy, named Charley, has good reason to suspect what he does. After all, his new neighbour Jerry likes to bite with the curtains open. An exhibitionist, or just confident in the fact that people would likely not even believe their own eyes when it comes to the supernatural? Probably a little of both. Obviously, there is a strong tie between vampire stories and repressed sexuality; the beast unleashes within us the desires which are otherwise deemed so unsavoury by society. In Fright Night, the sexual frustrations of this deprived teen (putting in his time with his sweet, yet sexually timid, high school girlfriend) are in stark contrast to what he sees through his neighbour’s window: a man in complete control of his sexuality and never without a bevy of beautiful (and then strangely missing) women anxious to please him. Charley’s conclusion: he must have some sort of power over them!

Fright Night does not shy away from these contentious themes of sexual power and control, as many teen movies do (particularly teen vampire tales – Twilight, I’m looking at you). There seems a discomfort in Hollywood with portraying teenagers as sexual people, as though to acknowledge it aloud will immediately result in a dramatic increase in teenage pregnancy. It’s ok to portray them as wanting sex, but only the boys really. The girls should all be disinterested, or maybe a little afraid. Or slutty, and then hacked into pieces by a slasher (there are rules to these things, ya know). Thankfully, Fright Night embraces wholeheartedly the sexual overtones of vampiric lore, most evident in the sexual awakening of Amy, Charley’s gal. Shy, almost frightened in her amorous encounters with Charley (who is, let’s face it, about as threatening as a kitten armed with a marshmallow), she becomes a confident, sexually expressive woman when faced with Jerry, who poses a genuine threat. Of course, in the film she is under his thrall, we are meant to imagine, yet this does not distract from the remarkable transformation she undergoes as a sexual being.

There are also scenes in Fright Night with the makings of great comedy and/or horror. For instance, about mid-way through, Charley has made his fears regarding Jerry known to several close friends and has requested the help of Peter Vincent, a long-standing television vampire hunter. Neither Vincent nor Charley’s friends believe him, but want to ease his mind, so they call Jerry and arrange with him an anti-vamp test to clear him in front of Charley. There is so much that could be done here! So many clever tricks and double-entendre based dialogue opportunities lost! The scene comes across as half-baked; there isn’t anything overly original or interesting there at all. Despite the clever premise, the potentially great scenes, and the frank sexual exploration, Fright Night is a failure of execution.

Let’s start with Jerry, the incredibly terrifying/hunkalicious vampire. For starters, I may be a bit biased. Jerry is played by Chris Sarandon, who was a big star at the time. Yet alas, I grew up obsessively watching The Princess Bride (1987), and cannot see him as anyone but Prince Humperdink. There. The name alone assures that he can never be taken seriously in any role. If there were a chance Sarandon could have scared (or seduced) me, it was gone after I saw The Princess Bride because Humperdink (apart from the name) was such a weasely pansy who was left completely defanged at the end of the film. Perhaps a better actor could have overcome those pre-existing barriers; Sarandon is no great actor. Also, while I’m 82% sure this was considered a badass outfit at the time, there is nothing intimidating about a vamp who needs to bolster his frame with shoulder pads:

Finally… why the hell doesn’t Jerry just kill Charley? There’s a lot of warning going on, when there could be some killing already! If we’re really to be frightened of Jerry, there should be some explanation as to why he can’t just get rid of the annoying brat next door who keeps interfering with his plans.

Overall, the acting is… OK. William Ragsdale, who plays Charley, is perfectly acceptable and likeable as the kid no one believes. Amanda Bearse (of Married with Children fame) is good as the naïve girlfriend. Roddy McDowall is barely passable, yet manages to get his lines out without tripping over props, so kudos to him. But Stephen Geoffreys plays the side-kick/best friend to Charley as so annoyingly over the top, I couldn’t wait for him to eat it. The problem with vampire flicks is that once the overly annoying character is killed, he returns from the grave to yadda yadda yadda… and then you have to deal with him acting even more over the top, because now he’s “evil”. Ugh. I’m not sure whether this is the fault of Geoffreys or Holland, but the overacting of Ed was a serious detriment to my enjoyment of the movie.

Narratively, the film could use a little help as well. The overarching story is a good one, but there are moments within that make you shake your head in frustration. Like when Charley first becomes concerned that something is up: he saw Jerry with a woman who is later reported missing, a woman he saw Jerry nearly bite before closing the curtains. So in reporting his concerns to the police, he tells them that his next neighbour is a vampire. OK, hold on there tiger… with minimal evidence (a couple of elongated incisors), not only is Charley completely convinced of the presence of vampires, but he is also delusional enough to believe that the police will buy his supernatural story based on nothing more than his word? He is then frustrated that people don’t take him seriously. Hate to break it to you Charlie, but if I was called in to assess you at that point, my diagnosis would read: “fucking nuts.”

In my opinion, Fright Night’s fault lies not in concept, but in execution. Fright Night is a ballsy movie with a great premise and superb pieces, a clever idea and the nerve to explore unsavoury themes. It just falls apart when all the pieces are put together. Problems of directing, writing, acting… these can all be altered with a remake. Which is why I am cautiously optimistic that a remake of this film is a good idea. There is a strong foundation here with a lot of room for improvement. I’m not a huge fan of Farrell, but I certainly think he can pull of brooding and seductive. David Tennant is a fantastic get for Vincent, and I have faith that Christopher Mintz-Plasse will make a far more tolerable Ed than Geoffreys (Mintz-Plasse has a history of making characters who should be annoying relatable and likeable). Marti Noxin brings her Buffy past to the writer’s chair… my only real concern lies with the director, Craig Gillespie. His street cred mostly consists of commercials, which tells us almost nothing of his ability to craft a 90 minute movie.

Still, I will keep my fingers crossed that this horror classic gets the much-needed face-lift it deserves, because I believe there’s a superb vampire story in there waiting to be told.

Until the next,


~ by K. Harker on August 9, 2011.

One Response to “Fright Night (1985): Sacrilege, but I Support a Remake Here”

  1. Preach it my brother.

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