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Why the Criminally Underrated ‘Fright Night’ is a Near-Perfect Horror Remake

Why the Criminally Underrated ‘Fright Night’ is a Near-Perfect Horror Remake

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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COMMENTS

58 Comments
  • disqus_k39rnaVe8B

    No, its not. It sucks.

  • Saturn

    In fairness it’s one of the better remakes of a classic – although I’d still rather a new sequel to the original than a sequel to the remake.
    And yes, I know the remake has a “sequel” – but it was really just yet another remake.
    I have a friend who lives in the US, a place called Santa Carla, who once told me that the one thing that he couldn’t stomach was all the damn remakes…

    • david

      Nice Lost Boys reference. 🙂 There was a sequel to Fright Night. Fright Night Part 2 came out in 1988. Part 2 was nowhere near as successful as Fright Night, but the sequel has become a cult film.

      • Saturn

        I actually like Fright Night Pt 2 quite a lot, it’s not on the same level as the original, but for what was a pretty quickly rushed out sequel it was fine. I had fun with it.
        Tom Holland hopes to have a new sequel out in the (near?) future which will bring back the old characters. Fingers crossed it happens and it is a worthy sequel…..

    • Cassandra Atticum

      I am pretty sure the “sequel” to the remake had nothing to do with the remake.

  • sweetooth0

    uuuhhh, no. Let’s take every bit of personality out of the original and make a bland as fuck teen vampire movie out of it with a horrid CG. HARD PASS.

  • Bloodspatta

    It’s a fucking terrible movie and the original wipes its ass with it.

  • jasonlives1986

    This movie is amazing.

    Fuck the haters.

    • Josh Blitzenbrox Myers

      The movie is awful.

      Fuck the lovers

      • jasonlives1986

        Um. K

        • Grimphantom

          You kinda started it lol

  • Rohan

    I don’t quite get the hate for this remake. The original Fright Night was great for its time and the remake is great for its time. The remake also has one of the best vampire deaths I’ve seen in a while.

  • Would have hit higher marks w actual make-up and special effects instead of dodgy CGI (even in 2011 it looked terrible).

    But everything else was solid – score, acting, story and atmosphere.

    • Dave Galloway

      This

  • Iosh Evens

    Didn’t like the original all that much so I never bothered with the sequel or remake.

  • lonestarr357

    Awesome movie. Good write-up.

  • Brett Lovejoy

    I actually realllllllllllly enjoyed this one and I can get pretty harsh with my opinions. Had a blast with it.

  • scream4ever

    Supposedly Heath Ledger was in talks to play Jerry before he died. It’s a shame because I always thought he would’ve made an amazing vampire 🙁

    • Papa_spoosh

      Wow, he would’ve been way better cast

    • HalesTales

      Wow! That would have been one charming and creepy vampire.

  • Christopher Nickerson

    The Fright Night remake was awful. I rushed out opening night to see it in theaters and it was an utter piece of s***. The only good things in that movie were David Tennant and Colin Farrell. Anton Yelchin was horrible in the movie despite being a great actor and Imogen Poots was just playing awful ( she is also the worst part of green room). Evil Ed was perfectly cast and utterly wasted

  • James

    I just can’t agree. The original is amazing but the remake was extremely generic and dull. Which is too bad because it certainly had a lot of talent behind it.

  • Grimphantom

    Sorry but i don’t agree with ya on the remake.

    Won’t deny the original does have flaws that could’ve improved like Charlie calling the police and telling everyone saying his neighbor is a vampire, if he’s a horror fan he should knows that people won’t believe him.

    Still, the remake didn’t do any improvements except for the mom having a more prominent role than the original but that’s about it. Charlie from the remake wasn’t awkward, he was an A-hole who treats his best friend as garbage and doesn’t want to affiliate with him at all, the original Charlie is no saint himself but i find him more likable. Say what you want on Evil Ed, we know he’s an A-hole but brought out a lot of charisma into his character and watching him as a vampire it’s fun where the remake they just dumb down his character, doesn’t have the same charisma, not really having memorable moments, it was such a waste.

    Collin Ferrell? Please, i still go with Sarandon’s version of Jerry since he had that classic vampire personality but in the modern age(80’s) and still see that been done today if Jerry was in this era, Ferrell is….welp, Collin Ferrell and nothing more.

    As much as i like David Tennant, his version of Peter Vincent is awful, he was playing the Dr. if he was cokehead. I didn’t bought him as a vampire hunter but more as a Criss Angel reject that many will just make fun because it’s so outdated nowadays.

    What didn’t sold me on this movie is that they lose on what made the original good and it’s the whole monster themes it had like Peter Vincent’s horror show, Jerry’s henchman who turned out to be a Ghoul and they cut him out from the remake and it’s stupid, both Evil Ed and Amy having their own vampire powers and how different both turn out where Ed turns into a werewolf and Amy turns into this creepy demonic creature that you feel the remake of IT took that design for inspiration when he turns into his more monster appearance.

    Doesn’t help with the awful CGI, it was terrible! Look at the remake version of Amy
    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/adb429fc1859074d24f5b699bfa03d63a6f54af71f529f6c9ef8e797caccf7a5.jpg
    Looks boring, clean and very generic, i mean where’s the creativity on making a creepy vampire?

    Here’s the original
    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/3285c8f2796b6c933529990f8f7de1cb241ef3db6bc9d5245a2b459e3dd0c829.jpg
    Look at this one! If i see this on the streets i run the hell out of there! Seriously look at that design that just gives ya chills, from the eyes, the teeth and the drool, just showing how old effects are still superior to CGI

    It’s good that you like it but you won’t convince me that it’s good, the remake is just bad.

  • tbaio

    That’s a lot of love for this film. Although I didn’t find it awful, it pales in comparison to the original. David Tennant, who was stated as the “standout” is no Roddy McDowall. I liked the character’s humor but little else. When its time to get serious, he just did not come close to how McDowall made the character when it was time to fight his fears as well as the vampire. The FX were ok in the remake but they were awesome in the original…..great 3-D though; I’ll give it that. Again, this is not the worst ever made, but it’s not very memorable either.

    • Batcat

      The original was a love letter to horror fans. The remake was not. It certainly wasn’t bad by the standards of today’s remakes, but mostly unmemorable.
      The original film was a big homage to the previous generation’s vampire films, particularly those made by Hammer films with a dose of Count Yorga thrown in for good measure.
      The effects were impressive and fun to behold and Sarandon and McDowall gave two of the most memorable genre performances of the decade.

      • tbaio

        Can’t agree more.

  • john

    Found it bland and unsurprising–

    The exact opposite of everything I love in the original.

    Talented cast, boring script, bland direction.

  • Jessica Martin

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for this editorial. I have been singing the praises of the Fright Night remake for years now and it seems that it always gets hate for reasons I will never understand.

    • Cassandra Atticum

      Same reason any remake gets knee-jerk hatred. Nostalgia… I loved the original. Had a crush on Roddy McDowall. I don’t think the remake was near-perfect, but it was a solid update. David Tennant was criminally under-used. They downplayed Peter Vincent’s role so much, he didn’t even feature in the trailer.

  • Batcat

    This site has an unhealthy obsession with mediocrity. There’s a world (and century) of horror to explore and yet this site largely focuses on what’s been produced in the last two decades? Why? There’s a strange degree of pandering here. If you want to challenge the readers, explore deeper into the foreign market and delve into classics from way past. There are so many forgotten horrors that need reappraisal.

    • IWC-3PO

      So you’re saying Jason Goes To Hell and Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation aren’t cinematic classics…

  • Papa_spoosh

    Maybe the shoes weren’t possible to fill but this movie didn’t have anything special IMO. The original is so much fun and they play up Jerrys charm in much more than just a physical way, unlike the remake. I also think Peter Vincent shouldn’t have been updated at all, and especially not the way they did it.

  • Bryan Haldeman

    Stephen Geoffreys and Roddy McDowell made the original.

  • pablitonizer

    For me it’ just a correct remake, I liked it more than I had expected but just to watch it once, it’s not a film that makes me wanna rewatch many times unlike the original. It adds nothing interesting, perhaps more role from the mother and way too much CGI. If you ask me one perfect remake I’d say The hills have eyes, still disturbing to my mind

  • DarklingMagick

    Oh, Hell no! You mean the homophobic behind the scenes statements that Evil Ed isn’t an outcast because he’s gay because “That sort of homophobia doesn’t exist anymore?’ The fact that the director didn’t see the original “Since he was a kid” (he was an adult when it came out…) the loss of Jerry’s shapeshifting powers, the removal of his motivation. Charley being turned into a social climbing tool. I can’t put into words how much I HATE this movie. Whoever wrote this should NOT be allowed to write for ANY horror news site or any site for that matter. This is the stupidest opinion I’ve seen outside of Fox News.

    Have you ever ACTUALLY watched the original? The fact that you make a big deal about him being called Jerry indicates you haven’t. Also do you have any idea WHY the character Peter Vincent is called Peter Vincent? Named for Peter Cushing and Vincent Price he was supposed to be a horror host. But they act as if horror hosts don’t exist anymore so they picked a career that’s even more dated, meanwhile, ironically online film commentators and Mystery science Theatre have made a huge comeback. And the character growth for Peter Vincent simply doesn’t exist here. There’s a reason David Tennant fought to NOT do a sequel.

    • Cappy Tally

      Heheh. Somehow I knew you’d be in the comments for this.

    • The Night King

      The Crime: Writer is charged with liking a film that DarklingMagick does not like. Hurting DarklingMackick’s feelings. Not being one thousand percent in tune with the homosexual experience there by making him a gay hating monster. Not knowing why Peter Vincent was named Peter Vincent. A few other things that really stick in DarklingMagick’s craw.

      The Punishment: We, the pathologically self centered, batshit, crazy jury not living in reality sentence Mike Fugere to never, ever, never ever, be permitted to write anything that could be read by human eyes again. His thoughts and opinions are just too dangerous.

      Jesus Christ, this site has some serious mental cases running about.

      • Jay Brezzy

        OK….the not being 1000% in tune with the homosexual experience line had me L.o F-ing L. To funny sir…. take this damn up-vote

    • Cassandra Atticum

      Where did you get the idea that DT fought not to do a sequel?

  • bastardjackyll

    It wasn’t bad, but they got Evil Ed all wrong.

  • Michael Josef Kappel

    Rip Anton 🙁

  • Mr. Dry

    For me the biggest problem with this one is the overuse of CGI, the story is simple but the cast is excellent, and overall is a pretty funny sunday horror movie.

  • Will Ft. The Roots

    Its watchable but there’s nothing perfect or near perfect about it

  • Didn’t care for this remake much at all. It was a one time watch for me and I’ll most likely never watch it again. It took the charm away from the original.

    Definitely much better remakes, not that I’m a fan of most.

  • IWC-3PO

    The only good thing I can think of to say about the Fright Night remake is it wasn’t nearly as bad as the Nightmare On Elm Street remake. The Elm Street remake is the drizzling shits.

  • Graham Dalrymple

    Can’t agree,the original, with its flaws,is an utter classic and Chris sarandon is one of my favourite movie vampires of all time,oozes power,charisma and menace.the remake made me feel something no self respecting horror film should-bored.

  • Dan Warren (Forgottenretroworl

    I watched about 10 minutes of these trash and switched off. Same with Lost Boys 2.

  • Simon Allen

    Right up there with Nightmare on Elm St as one of the crappiest remakes ever .
    They were both Soooooooo boring.

  • HalesTales

    I respect the pleasure you personally get out of this film and I wish I had derived some fraction of it. Fright Night is one of the best vampire movies out there and this remake lacked any charm; from Collin or the rest of the cast. The bad CGI is especially painful considering the original had some of the coolest practical effects. I like Christopher Mintz-Plasse, but his Evil Ed was no good and they killed him off way too early before we even cared about him.

    The only thing I did like is I thought making Peter Vincent a Criss Angel kinda guy was a neat wink and update – too bad that’s where the cool stuff about his character ended. I thought his connection to Jerry was cliche.

    Though Fright Night 2: The New Blood was surprisingly good!

  • Jer

    This was rather crappy, but I will say that Farrel’s version of Jerry was a highlight. But all the changes (a magician, really?) And lack of even the theme song from the original was a head scratcher. Also, I don’t think there’s much correlation between listening to metal as a teen and sexuality, but ok.

  • Necro

    This for me was your typical remake, meh…ok at best. You know some good points and some bad points and that’s really about it. Now the sequel to this was a f**king joke and really shouldn’t have been made. I do agree with you Mike in not envying directors who remake any film, especially Horror. But there in lies my point, in all you suggested about the pressures that come with doing these remake films why choose that? That’s like choosing a toothache or something! I do to a degree understand cuz there are PLENTY of films that are virtually unknown/unheard of, and also films where the original just flat out sucked. The story and stuff might have been good, but the execution was just terrible. Where I disagree (obviously) is where it’s the exact opposite and the original was straight up perfect, and there’s PLENTY of examples of those as well. I mean it’s there (pressure) whether it’s an original idea or a remake, reboot, or reimagining. The only big positive difference in remakes really is the outline is already laid out for you, all they have to do is fill in the blanks with the same material only changed up somewhat different. I’d personally rather fail at something original than as opposed to a remake. To to me when a director’s remake film fails, it fails double time cuz of that added pressure what with the structure/concept/story of the film already pre-existing for you as opposed to an original idea/concept where everything is done from scratch.

    • I don’t think that every director got to decide what to remake and when.
      These projects just sort of happen.
      You see Hollywood is not entirely made of “auteurs”, there are so many variables, and i’d say that only 1/5 of the directors of horror remakes choose to do them in first place.
      Many rookie directors jump on the remake train mostly because it’s a good way to start your career (with a know IP, generally good production values and the possibility to do plenty of money) and many times said directors are “forced” by the studio (“you do this and next time you’ll do what you want”) so i don’t think is that easy to say no for them.
      Sometimes you get Fede Alvarez and other you get Samuel Bayer.

      • Necro

        I agree with some of what you said cuz the industry is whacky like that.

  • I love the Fright Night remake. It never takes itself too seriously and it’s super fun.

  • John Connor

    I really loved this Fright Night remake.

    I remember the night club scene hitting me hard. It was unexpected, shocking, and emotional. I loved the characters as if I was there.

    When this remake was announced, I was disappointed that it wasn’t about a nerdy obsessed teen kidnapping Sarah Michelle Gellar to help him fight his vampire neighbor.

  • Though the remake is not as good as the original, it is still a good movie. Colin Ferrel, Anton Yelchin, and Christopher Mint Platz were all great, though Russell Brand would have been great as Mr. Vincent. I LOVED the part when Jerry blows up the house when they wont let him in! And Jerry’s victim rooms were fucking scary. This was a great remake that ALMOST was as good as the original…

  • fleshtwister

    Charlie Brewster was grappling with self-denied homosexual tendencies in the original? Wtf are you talking about?

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