Charley Brewster is convinced that his new neighbour, Jerry Dandrige, is a vampire, but when even his friends won’t believe him, he is forced to turn to Peter Vincent, a has-been horror star, for help.
Rewind – Fright Night (1985)
Stars: William Ragsdale, Chris Sarandon, Roddy McDowall
Although it was never anywhere near as successful as some of the other horror films released at around the same time (such as A Nightmare on Elm Street or Child’s Play, the latter of which was also written by Fright Night writer/director Tom Holland), there has always been a soft spot in the hearts of many horror fans for Fright Night. Starting life as a modern up-date of The Boy Who Cried Wolf, with vampires and elements of Rear Window thrown in for good measure, this horror-comedy has established itself as a modern horror classic in the 28 years since its release, and has given rise to a sequel, numerous rip-offs ranging from Never Cry Werewolf to Disturbia, and of course, the inevitable remake.
Even though I love the original Fright Night, I have to admit that the whole film is based on an unbelievable premise. I’m not talking about the idea that vampires exist – I can suspend disbelief for long enough to accept that – I’m talking about the idea that a 17 year old boy would, firstly, leap so quickly to the conclusion that his neighbour is a vampire, and secondly, actually believe that an actor is a genuine vampire hunter just because he says so on TV. It would work if Charley were younger, say 12, or uneducated, like the villagers in Three Amigos, but a seemingly normal 17 year old? No way! I also have to admit that, by modern standards, Fright Night now feels a bit slow moving and Charley’s girlfriend Amy comes across as more than a little pathetic. The film could have benefitted from losing around 15 minutes from its running time – preferably the clichéd subplot about Dandrige falling in love with Amy because she looks exactly like his long lost love. Yet, if you can get past these drawbacks and improbabilities, Fright Night has a lot going for it, mostly in the form of its cast and characters.
The best thing about Fright Night is, without a doubt, Roddy McDowall. As Peter Vincent (a character presumably inspired by horror greats Peter Cushing and Vincent Price) McDowall steals the show. He’s as arrogant and over the top as ever, and his transformation from unemployed loser to genuine hero is what makes this film worth watching. At the same time, though, Stephen Geoffreys does an excellent job as Charley’s best friend, the seemingly insane or stoned Evil Ed (a surprisingly complex character who I would have loved to have seen more of) and Chris Sarandon portrays Dandrige using the right mix of seductiveness and menace, just as you’d expect a modern-day Dracula to be. The special effects aren’t bad, given their age, and the overall innocent feel of the film (mostly due to William Ragsdale’s boy-next-door portrayal of Charley) provides a nice break from the cynical teen films of today.
Remake – Fright Night (2011)
Stars: Anton Yelchin, Colin Farrell, David Tennant, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Toni Collette
In this version, it is Charley’s former best friend, comic book geek Evil Ed, who first becomes convinced that Jerry Dandrige is a vampire and that Peter Vincent can help stop him, and Charley only comes to believe after Evil goes missing; Peter Vincent has a smaller role in the story than in the original, which in a way, is disappointing, but at the same time focusses the action more closely on Charley; and the ridiculous sub-plot about Dandrige and Amy (who is far more in control than her 1985 counterpart) is, thankfully, nowhere to be seen. As I mentioned previously, though, plot was never greatest strength of the original.
The strength of the original lay in its casting, and that’s where Fright Night 1985 really outshines its remake. Don’t get me wrong, all of the actors in the remake do justice to their roles and David Tennant (whom I never liked as Dr Who) won me over with his over-the-top, warts and all portrayal of Vincent… but he’s not Roddy McDowall and Colin Farrell lacks the magnetism of Chris Sarandon. Even William Ragsdale did a better job as Charley Brewster, giving him an air of boy-next-door wholesomeness that Yelchin lacks. Surprisingly, the original also surpasses the remake in terms of special effects. Sure, the exploding vampires in the remake are awesome (especially the first time you see one), but the vampires themselves looked more realistic in the 1985 version, where make-up effects were used, than in the CGI-laden 2011 version. Nevertheless, without the original to compare the Fright Night remake against, I would have no problems with the actors or the effects in this film, so I don’t consider these factors to be a deal breaker.
I hate to say it, but overall, the improved script of the Fright Night remake makes it superior to its predecessor. However, both films are essential viewing and worthy additions to any horror fan’s collection.