Fright Night Double Bill; or An Apple A Day Keeps the Vampire at Bay?

Hello and Hallo-welcome to Twofer Tuesday, a double bill of deliciously devilish delicacies that we dissect with our decidedly dry wit! Join your bloggers, Andy and Lilly, who think you’re so cool, Brewster.

Today’s Film Offerings: Fright Night

The Colin Farrell cloud is somehow more creepy, and he's smiling.
The Colin Farrell cloud is somehow more creepy, and he’s smiling.

Lilly: Both! Because one film was not enough for how frightful that night was, apparently.

Picture it: the 1980s. Wait, you don’t need to, because Tom Holland’s Fright Night from 1985 paints that picture brilliantly. A tale of a horror-film loving nerd (wait…) who finds himself suddenly living the terrors he is used to enjoying on screen, Fright Night is a classic tale of the boy who cried ‘vampire’. Charlie Brewster, a nerdy teen with a sweetheart named Amy, is menaced by his new neighbour, Jerry Dandridge, who may or may not be a vampire–he super is, which we find out pretty early on in the film. The rest of the film is Charlie’s attempts at getting other people to believe this, which fail at varying levels. Eventually, however, enough people die to make it apparent that Jerry isn’t just the charmer next door.

Andy: Picture it: the early 2010s. A tale of an ex-nerd who is menaced by his new neighbour called Jerry Dandridge, who may or may not be a…yeah, you get the idea. We’re in remake land!

Lilly: Not just remake land, but the even more exciting territory of good remake land!

Andy: A little detour:

Now obviously we’re not a massive fan of generalisations here, and there are all sorts of people who hate remakes on general principle. The arguments seem to be as follows: 1) Hollywood is out of ideas, 2) Remakes are cheap cash-ins trading on the name of the original and 3) All of them are bad anyway.

I can’t speak for Lilly, but I find the idea that Hollywood is ‘out of ideas’ particularly now is frankly a little bit silly. Remakes are nothing new at all – the first film we reviewed this Hallowfest was House of Wax, which was a remake of an earlier film called Mystery of the Wax Museum from 1933. In fact a lot of ‘classic’ horrors are remakes – one of the most famous is John Carpenter’s The Thing, a remake of another movie from 1951 called The Thing from another World directed by Howard Hawks.

Lilly: Not to mention Frankenstein, which we are reviewing later on in the month, was originally a film made by Thomas Edison (surprise!) which was then remade by James Whale which was then remade by everyone ever. And with each remake, you get new things piled onto old ideas, so the notion that Hollywood is ‘out of ideas’ is ridiculous–at the very least, they had one idea, which was to remake a film, after all. Pfft.

Andy: As for the second point, sometimes, yes. There is no doubt in my mind that the slew of slasher remakes from about 5 – 10 years ago was driven mostly by the fact that cashing in on 80s nostalgia was big at that moment in time. However, all movies set off with the intention of making money, and at the end of the day, the people greenlighting these things are just trying to minimise their risk.

Lilly: Lots of things trade on names, by the by. Think about trailers which say ‘and starring Whoever, star of This Other Film You Loved So Maybe You’ll Love This One’.

Andy: Look on the bright side – remakes almost always spark a renewal of interest in the original, and next time you feel a remake is stepping onto sacred ground, take comfort in the fact that a special edition DVD or Blu-ray set is almost certainly coming for the old classic. And if the remakes are really bad, they tend to drop off the radar very, very quickly. Who remembers Gus Van Sant’s Psycho, for goodness’ sake?

Lilly: I do and I thought it was aggressively alright. So there.

Andy: As for them all being bad, well, that is a matter of opinion. In this particular case, we may disagree. End of detour.

Lilly: Thanks for joining us!

Andy: The other thing is that while zombies tend to be my thing, Lilly’s much more about the vampires. I don’t hold anything against the toothy bloodsuckers, but I just don’t love them in the same way. However, there are one or two vampire movies that I like a lot – Christopher Lee is awesome whatever he’s doing – and I’ll generally get behind any story as long as it’s entertaining. It’s just that she’s a tad more ‘qualified’ than me.

Lilly: I’m a big vampire freak, in other words. True thing. So, let’s get down to business. Again, much like with the Hostel films, we have a lot of ground to cover, so let’s get to it!

Looking at the 1985 version of Fright Night, you actually get a cool insight into the attitude of the time towards horror fans. Nerds who spend Saturday night at home, watching old schlocky films with far too many descriptors in the title (think The Dark Night of Terror on Black Mountain of Blood and Doom with Monsters) are the protagonists of this film and who the audience is supposed to be able to relate to. ‘Sure,’ you should be saying, as you, I don’t know, admire the feathering in Amy’s hair-do, ‘I can so relate to that nerd because I, too, am a nerd’. Horror wasn’t seen as cool or shocking to mainstream genre film go-ers and you can feel that this film is playing with that. Only dorks like horror, and this dork is the dorkiest–but is he? Because he, spoiler alert, manages to get himself together enough to try and be the hero, not just the nerd who watches tv at home. His knowledge of horror helps him out, and it’s just…fun. That’s the best word for it.

Andy: Equally interesting, the character in the 2011 version seems to be trying to move away from the stereotypical ‘nerd’. He has his girlfriend, his Mum and his useless motorbike, but in the not too distant past he seems to have embraced the really nerdy end of the spectrum – the kind where you basically record yourself LARPing. Not that there’s anything wrong with that of course, but it’s very telling that Evil Ed uses this footage as leverage when Brewster’s loyalty as a friend is called into question. Also, he’s the one that needs convincing rather than the One Sane Man. A skeptical character who’s nevertheless obsessed with image? This seems a bit more ‘modern’ to me.

Lilly: Also fun is Peter Vincent, who, in the original, is a great shout out to Larry Vincent, or “Seymour Sinister”, a horror host who hosted Fright Night on a local LA station for five years in the early seventies–the man whose death lead to the invention of Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, to fill the position. And did she ever fill it! But I digress. Vincent is a great way for those who aren’t relating to Brewster to get into the film–he’s just trying to keep his job even though horror hosts are going out of style, and now vampires are real? Poor guy!

When it comes to vampires, Fright Night has a weird mythology in itself which does have some regular staples–stakes, blood from the vampire turning his victims, flying, turning into bats and animals, etc.–and some lesser used ones, such as the vampire form being massive and bat-like. A lot of fun for the special effects and make up team, no doubt. Vampires needing to be invited in is an important plot point in both versions (and how 2011’s Jerry gets around it is super sinister). It also features familiars, which we see with the live-in carpenter friend who is…whatever he is. Watch the film and let me know because I still have no idea (which might be why his character is absent from the remake).

Andy: One of the most interesting elements (Lilly will tell me if this is an original idea) is that crucifixes require faith to work – this makes them much more tricky and less of an instant protection.

Lilly: Well, that’s a weird one–I mean, remember The Fearless Vampire Killers where the girl holds up a cross and the vampire responds with ‘Oy vey, have you got the wrong vampire!’ implying the object has to be holy to the vampire themselves…but then in Forever Knight (have I made you watch that yet?), any holy item can affect them, including ancient Egyptian relics. I love that trope, though–why wouldn’t they need faith to back them up?

Anyway. Moving on. Amy, the sweet girlfriend, is a lot less…experienced in this film than in the remake, and that’s super interesting, just like how Brewster is the doubting one and not Ed in the 2011 feature. I am a firm believer in not comparing a remake to the original in the sense of one being better than the other–just like you don’t say ‘the book was better’ when watching a film because that’s silly–but I am always curious as to why certain elements are changed. Who thought 2011’s audience would better relate to a doubting protagonist who was a reformed nerd? Who thought Amy had to be more sexualized, and more aggressive with her doubts about Brewster’s vampire troubles? And who thought Charlie’s mom had to have more of a role?

Andy: To be fair, she was so inconsequential in the original I had to think hard about anything she, y’know, did or said. And you can’t sideline Toni Colette.

Lilly: And Ed! Evil Ed was so much more sympathetic in the 2011 version, a bullied, lost nerd who no one listens to, not even his best friend, compared to the Evil Ed of 1985 who was just. So. Awful. With his weird laughter at literally everything. Don’t get me wrong, I have dealt with teenagers like him in my former occupation but still. I wanted him dead ASAP just so I wouldn’t have to hear him anymore. Did someone comment on that, so he was changed? Or did it fit the new story better? Or what? What!

Andy: They’re both odd time capsules of when they were made, so unpacking them raises all sorts of interesting questions.

Lilly: The pace of 1985’s Fright Night is a lot slower and has a lot less scenery changes than the remake, but that was definitely the style of the time. It was just the story of a boy and his neighbour, not saving the world as we see in 2011’s narrative. It kicks off soon enough so that you aren’t left waiting–you know Jerry’s a vampire from twenty minutes into the film, and the rest of the time you are wondering how Brewster will make it out of this.

Andy: The pacing is so off in the original that you’d swear the remake was the much shorter film. They are in fact, exactly the same length.

Lilly: Before we spend more time on the 1985’s fun (I could talk about Evil Ed’s wolf scene for aaages), let’s talk about 2011’s Fright Night (in 3D!)

Charlie Brewster, as mentioned, is a former nerd and current cool guy who is trying to balance his new life and hot girlfriend with his old life and weird friend, Ed. His oh-so-real struggle is broken up when Jerry moves in next door, a handsome guy with dark eyes, a charming smile, and no reflection. Whoops, he’s a vampire, and only Ed seems to believe that.

Andy: Although with the addition of him not appearing on digital film either, which is a fun update. So how do the characters compare?

Lilly: First, let’s talk about Jerry. Now, Chris Sarandon was a fantastic Jerry, and so is Colin Farrell. One (Sarandon) is a suave sort, wearing turtlenecks and charming people with a smooth, calm demeanour. The other is, as Ed quips, ‘The shark from Jaws’. I loved both (and Sarandon even had a fun cameo as ‘Jay Dee’–get it? Jerry Dandridge, eh? Eh?–in the remake) but there was definitely a big difference in their approach. One was all charm and cocktails after dark and the other was all raw animal energy and smirks around sharp teeth. The physicality of the vampire didn’t change between films–there was still far too many teeth to be sensible in their mouths at times and sassy long nails-which was nice. Kept them in the same mythos, so to speak. Even with the added history in 2011’s film, a neat addition to the story of Jerry.

Andy: Chris Sarandon seems to be carrying baggage from the ‘classy’ era of vampires – he looks good, all the time. 2011 Jerry seems to be happy in a wifebeater, confident in his vague hickishness – he’s much better disguised.

Lilly: Peter Vincent. David Tennant can admittedly do no wrong in my books, but this character was perfect. While 1985’s was a throwback to Seymour Sinister, 2011 sees us facing a Criss Angel wannabe, and I loved it. I’d go to his magic show. Twice. And watching him disrobe and take apart his own character in front of Brewster is fantastic–it’s like watching Jerry change from charming neighbour who gets the ladies swooning to his more threatening self, all dead dark eyes and fangs, but in reverse. Vincent’s character gets a bit more development in this film (a common thing in this film, actually, everything seeming to go just a bit deeper than the older film) and it was well worth the time to explore him. He adds so much to the story, and is hilarious to boot.

Andy: There’s not much to say about how brilliantly realised this character is, other than the obvious – it’s David Tennant, in leather pants, swearing and being cowardly. Every moment he’s onscreen is a scream.

Amy, though, the eponymous girlfriend, is a swing and a miss. While it may be very 2010s to have a sexually liberated woman, she’s too aggressive. At one point, something’s clearly bothering Charlie, and she almost forces him to have sex. The scene is uncomfortable – imagine if the roles were reversed – and her character never recovers.

Lilly: It’s true. Even if you were looking at it as an inversion of Brewster’s pressuring of her in the original film, it’s resolved in a way that makes her come off pretty badly. 1985 Brewster ends the fooling around because he’s freaked out, and 2011 Amy ends the fooling around because she’s annoyed by him being freaked out. Does he often look out the window and try and avoid sex by claiming his new neighbour is going to hurt the go-go dancer neighbour? She certainly acts like he does.

The story itself is a great one, and these films are both ones I’d recommend, especially if you are a vampire fan such as myself. Especially with the 2011 remake, you get a lot of fun nods to vampire tropes that make the genre what it is. They are both a bit comedic, a bit camp, and still scary when they need to be, and I can really get behind that.

Andy: Same. Even as a non-vampire fan, these films have enough to offer that they’re worth a watch. I think this is one of those rare occasions where the remake edges out the original – it’s paced better, the cast is better, it’s funnier – but neither are bad films in the slightest.

As a side note, the remake has one of the best credits songs ever. If you’re into that sort of thing.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s