I don’t envy any filmmaker remaking a beloved horror movie. Trying to strike a balance between introducing a new generation of film-goers to what was so great about the original while also appeasing an established fan base sounds like an impossible feat.
However, every once in a while that tight-rope act is conquered, and the movie-going masses are graced with films like Martin Scorsese’s Cape Fear (1991), Gore Verbinski’s The Ring (2002) and Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead (2004). While I believe the aforementioned movies are all fantastic, there is one lesser-appreciated remake that is right up there with them when it comes to breathing new life into a property. That film is Craig Gillespie’s 2011 recreation of the 1985 cult classic, Fright Night.
And before someone sets the comments section ablaze, yes, Scorsese’s Cape Fear is objectively a better film than Fright Night (2011), but just roll with me, okay?
What makes this silly little ‘80s movie so special?
In the summer of 1985, Writer/Director/Not-Spider-Man Tom Holland (Child’s Play, Thinner, Psycho II) bequeathed audiences a horror/comedy/teenage/vampire film the likes of which had never been seen. Holland propped Fright Night up on a very simple premise: what if your next door neighbor was a vampire?
That simple notion generated a fun mix of Hitchcockian paranoia, Hardy Boy Mystery, and the works of Ray Bradbury while never taking itself too seriously. And despite its carefree attitude, the film was still able to be a sharp critique on society’s treatment of homosexual men in the wake of the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s (boy, this paragraph took a turn). Fright Night is a smart film. Probably smarter than it has any right to be. It’s also surprisingly funny. Most of the film’s humor is anchored by the fantastic cast, especially Chris Sarandon as Jerry the Vampire.
Yes, our villainous blood-sucker is named Jerry…
While the original Fright Night holds up pretty well, there are some facets that time has not been kind to (Jerry’s wardrobe, for example). Luckily, the remake updates the film like a fixer-upper home. The foundation for greatness is already there. The rest is just window dressing.
Craig Gillespie’s film certainly takes flight from the same launch pad. But what really makes his version shine is the manner in which we are reintroduced to the same gallery of characters with more contemporary edges. To me, this is what makes it such a compelling remake.
Our hero, Charley Brewster, is still an awkward teenager trying hard to be part of a clique, but instead of grappling with self-denied homosexual tendencies, the 2011 version of Charley (played by the late, great Anton Yelchin) is trying to escape from under the weight of his own uber-nerdom and grappling with isolating himself from people who truly love him.
While it may not be as morally pressing, the themes of isolation (self-imposed or not) and growing out of childish predilections must speak volumes to teenagers across the board despite their sexual orientation (given, this is coming from a straight, white dude who listened to metal and read comics during his teen years…and still does, so take that observation with a huge grain of salt).
Now, I don’t think this change is necessarily better, but it makes sense. Attitudes toward accepting people’s sexuality has thankfully come a long way since 1985, and retreading those themes in the context of the same film may seem blasé despite their importance (unless the filmmakers were going to double-down on these issues, which would be extremely interesting since LGBTQ horror is pretty rare in the industry).
As for good ol’ Jerry…
I have nothing against Chris Sarandon. He’s a handsome, talented, charming actor who is awesome in everything I’ve ever seen him in (Princess Bride, anyone?); but Colin Farrell is…well, he’s goddamn Colin Farrell. He’s dark, brooding (as vampires are want to be), and could realistically lure you, your mom, and your significant other into his home with that mischievous grin and/or seductive vampire powers.
The entire cast is fantastic and everyone seems on board with the craziness of having a vampire move in next door. Toni Collette (The Sixth Sense, Krampus) as Charley’s mother brings a strong female presence that was mostly devoid in the original film. Christopher Mintz-Plasse (Superbad, Kick-Ass) somehow makes the character of Evil Ed simultaneously more likeable, menacing, and annoying than his predecessor, Stephen Geoffreys (976-EVIL).
But the biggest standout is David Tennant (Doctor Who, Broadstreet) as self-proclaimed vampire hunter turned entertainer, Peter Vincent.
Full disclosure: I love David Tennant so much, you guys…
In Holland’s original film, Peter Vincent, played by the legendary Roddy McDowall (Planet of the Apes), is portrayed as a washed-up television horror film host who had slipped into his once famous vampire killer persona. Think Elvira, but if Cassandra Peterson wasn’t in on the joke.
While McDowall’s sage vampire hunter is a great callback to the Hammer Film-era Val Helsing, David Tennant’s version lovingly pokes fun at vampire tropes that would become popular after the original Fright Night. These tropes include, but are not limited to: vague fetish sexiness, heavy eye shadow, leather pants, runic tattoos, and industrial rock music, all of which were pretty laughable by 2011. But beyond aesthetic, the key difference between the iterations is that Tennant’s Vincent has a personal connection with our villain, which is a plot element that adds a certain depth that McDowall’s character lacked.
From the character tweaks to the shift in themes and location, all the small changes in Fright Night 2011 culminate to create a fresh take on a timeless story.
And if you miss the original while watching it, a really fun cameo from Chris Sarandon himself should be all you need to win you over.
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