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Original vs Remake: Fright Night

Fright Night (1985) isn’t just my favourite vampire movie, it’s also one of my favourite movies in general. Needless to say when I read about a remake that was in development a few years ago I was not impressed. I was even less impressed when I learned that David Tennant was attached to the project, but we’ll get to that later...

This week’s Original vs Remake debate is of course about:

Fright Night (2011)

If you somehow haven’t seen the original it stars William Ragsdale (Herman’s Head), Chris Sarandon (The Princess Bride) and Roddy McDowall (Planet of the Apes) among others.

This is what it’s about:

While spying on his new reclusive neighbour (Sarandon) one night, teenage horror movie fan Charley Brewster (Ragsdale) discovers to his horror that he’s a vampire. When none of his friends believe him, he seeks the help of Peter Vincent (McDowall), the washed up host of a dated tv show called Fright Night, to help put an end to his nocturnal neighbour’s bloody killing spree.

I’ve seen the original Fright Night more times than I could tell you. People are often surprised when I tell them it’s my favourite vampire movie because The Lost Boys often gets the top spot on most people’s lists. Don’t get me wrong, The Lost Boys comes in a very close second, but there’s just something about Fright Night that makes it stand out from all other vampire movies for me.

I remember seeing the poster for the film outside my local cinema when I was a kid and it scared the hell out of me. Back then posters were so visual and artistic that you created a version of the movie in your head based on what you were seeing before you even watched the actual film. The poster for Fright Night was quite possibly my first experience of this. It wasn’t until years later (when I was older, but not quite old enough) that I actually watched the film. I loved it immediately!

It's such a great movie and a classic tale of good vs evil. It tells a beautifully simple but hugely entertaining story, has some genuinely scary moments, and yet still manages to blend a little humour into the proceedings without impacting the horror. It’s also brimming with charm and has a real classic horror movie feel to it which is one of its best qualities. At the same time though, it’s so quintessentially 80s that it worked not just back then but also today, 35 years later.

It has great casting, particularly in the case of Chris Sarandon as the film’s antagonist - the charming yet sinister vampire-living-next-door, Jerry Dandrige, and also in the brilliant Roddy McDowall as the gentle and slightly bumbling Peter Vincent - the washed-up star of the dated horror-themed TV show, Fright Night.

William Ragsdale who I’ve only seen in two other things (Fright Night Part 2 and Frankenstein: The College Years) is of course brilliant too and totally relatable as Charley Brewster - your normal 80s teenager who’s caught up in his worst nightmare. And the supporting cast including Amanda Bearse as Charley’s girlfriend Amy, and Stephen Geoffreys as the annoying best friend “Evil” Ed are all perfect in their roles. Hell, even Dorothy Fielding as Charley’s mum and Jonathan Stark who plays Jerry Dandrige’s “familiar”, Billy Cole are excellent!

The make-up and practical effects are great, the set design (of Jerry’s house in particular) is brilliant, and both the score by Brad Fiedel (The Terminator) and the soundtrack featuring songs like Good Man In a Bad Time by Ian Hunter and Give It Up by Evelyn “Champagne” King are up there with the best from any movie of the era.

Basically there’s absolutely nothing I don’t like about the movie.

The Remake:

Amazingly I was surprised to find that I really enjoyed the remake. I HATED the idea of one of my favourite movies being remade but as always couldn’t resist the temptation to watch it when it came out (although admittedly I waited for it to come out on dvd rather than rushing out to the cinema to see it).

If you haven’t seen it, it stars Anton Yelchin (Star Trek), Toni Collette (The Sixth Sense), David Tennant (Doctor Who) Imogen Poots (28 Weeks Later), Christopher Mintz-Plasse (Superbad) and Colin Farrell (In Bruges) as the vampire neighbour, Jerry Dandrige.

Based on the cast alone I should’ve had more faith (pun intended). I like Colin Farrell, and I liked most of the rest of the cast from things I’d seen them in before. I guess I just couldn’t get past my love for the original and was worried that a remake would take a giant sh#t on its legacy. There was also the problem of David Tennant as Peter Vincent…

For reasons I couldn’t tell you because they’re a mystery to even me, I’d taken a disliking to David Tennant. Other than knowing him from Doctor Who (not that I even watched it) I didn’t really know him from anything. Still, I was certain he was going to add to my hatred of a movie I’d already made my mind up that I was going to hate. I have to say though, he’s brilliant and easily one of the best things about the film.

I imagine a lot of haters of the remake were outraged by his completely different take on such a beloved character, and as much as I love Roddy McDowall’s Peter Vincent I have to admit I thought Tennant’s version was brave and refreshing, especially considering how different the movie is to the original in general.

Watching his performance it’s almost impossible not to pick up on hints of Russell Brand, David Brent (The Office) and even Dudley Moore’s Arthur. According to a 2011 interview with Ain’t It Cool News though, Tennant claimed to not being fully aware of exactly who he channeled into the role, rather that he’d "looked at" the film Withnail and I, and that “all sorts” made up the character. He also confessed to having never watched the original Fright Night before shooting the remake. I’m sorry, what…?!

In case you haven’t seen it, the 2011 version has essentially the same plot as the original but it relocates the setting from your typical American suburb to the one place you wouldn’t expect a vampire to settle, Sin City itself, Las Vegas. It’s actually pretty clever when you think about it and it’s even mentioned in the movie. It’s a place where people sleep during the day and work all night, so Jerry’s nocturnal activities would in theory draw little suspicion.

The movie has great performances from the entire cast, in particular Colin Farrell, Anton Yelchin and, as previously mentioned, David Tennant.

One big difference between the two versions is how different Farrell’s Jerry Dandrige is to Sarandon’s. He’s much more of a “monster” and shows no signs of being able to be reasoned with. Sarandon’s version of the character has empathy and even offers Charley a choice (something he doesn’t have); to look the other way in return for his life to be spared. You get the impression he doesn’t necessarily enjoy being a vampire, it’s just what he is, and he does what he does merely to survive. You could even say he sees his vampirism and immortality as a curse. Farrell’s Dandrige on the other hand is more of an animal who seemingly enjoys the power much like a serial killer. For this reason I prefer Sarandon’s take on the character. There’s much more depth, and although he’s the villain of the story you can sympathise with him on some level. Still, Farrell does a great job with his version.

When it comes to remakes I think one of the reasons we get so upset (aside from our emotional attachments to films that mean so much to us) is how they rarely better the originals. I don’t suppose the studios set out to improve on the originals, rather than to cash in on them and at the same time bring old stories to a new audience. Personally I think a remake should be faithful to the original movie, but that it should have its own identity and stand up on its own without relying too much on people’s love for the original. Remakes like Total Recall (2012) and Dawn of the Dead (2004) do this and so does (I think) this one.

It pays homage to the original in both subtle and not-so-subtle ways but it never feels like it’s trying too hard to win you over. It tells essentially the same story as the 1985 version but it takes quite a few risks in bringing it up to date, which personally I think makes it one of the better remakes. It’s also got a great cameo from Chris Sarandon and a score that not only subtly incorporates themes from Brad Fiedel’s from the original, but dare I say sounds a touch like Wojciech Kilar’s from Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

My main criticism of the film if I had to make one, is that the CGI effects on the vampires let it down. I’m a fan of practical effects where possible, especially when it comes to make up and prosthetics. The CGI used in this film isn’t the best and has that “The Mummy/Van Helsing” look about it. I’ve always thought the effects in those films, particularly the facial effects were a stretch too far. Give me The Lost Boys, Buffy the Vampire Slayer or even 30 Days of Night vampire effects any day of the week. Other than that though it’s a fun and imaginative retelling of a great story.

Final Verdict:

As far as remakes go this is definitely one of the better ones. Is it as good or even better than the original? Of course not, but that shouldn't stop you from giving it a watch, especially if you’re a fan of the original and have been putting off watching it for personal reasons. If you haven’t seen either version though, you should definitely watch the 1985 movie first.

What do you think? Let me know in the comments.

“ real.”


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