Monday, January 6, 2014

The Remake Comparison Project - You're So Cool, Brewster!

Viewings of the Fright Nights cause Cody and Priscilla to disagree, first with public opinion and then with each other.


I chose Fright Night and its remake for this edition of The Remake Comparison Project because Priscilla and I each had access to both versions, the original is considered a genre classic, and two and a half years after its release I still hadn't seen the remake, so now that we're doing this article series it seemed like the perfect time to check it out. It wasn't until we had committed to the Fright Nights as our January pick that we found out neither of us have the enthusiasm for Fright Night that its reputation among horror fans might lead others to expect to see from us...

Although he had started his career in the film business as an actor in the mid-'60s, toward the end of the 1970s Tom Holland began to make a name for himself as a screenwriter, primarily of horror movies and thrillers. Among the stories and scripts he wrote were the 1978 TV movie The Initiation of Sarah, the creature feature The Beast Within, and the "twenty-three years later" sequel Psycho II.

In 1984, Holland got the chance to expand his career into directing as well, and made his debut in that field by writing and directing Fright Night. As his most notable previous credit was for providing the screenplay for a sequel to an Alfred Hitchcock classic, it seems fitting that the set-up for his first feature as a director is also reminiscent of a Hitchcock tale, in this case 1954's Rear Window.

While Rear Window starred James Stewart as a photographer who, while stuck in his apartment nursing a broken leg, begins to suspect his neighbor across the way may be a killer, here we have William Ragsdale as a teenager named Charley Brewster, who begins to suspect there's something very strange about the man who has moved in next door.

Charley seems to have it pretty good. He lives in a nice house in a nice neighborhood with his pleasant and oblivious single mother, he has a steady girlfriend (Married with Children's Amanda Bearse as Amy), a cool car... or at least his 1966 Ford Mustang would be cool if it wasn't covered in primer, and even though he's a big horror fan, he has escaped the bullying that his antagonistic friend Ed - do not call him by the nickname "Evil"! - has endured as a horror-loving outsider. In fact, the only problem Charley seems to have is that he and Amy have been dating for a nearly a year and she's still reluctant to give up her virginity to him. He may be frustrated about it, but as far as problems go, it's not so bad.

As the film begins, it even appears that problem is about to be resolved for Charley. He and Amy are having such a hot and heavy make-out session that he's even ignoring his favorite television program, Fright Night, a locally filmed horror host show which has horror icon/famed cinematic vampire killer Peter Vincent (Holland named the character after genre stars Peter Cushing and Vincent Price) presenting old school vampire movies. After Charley complains about Amy holding on to her chastity, she seems to come to the decision to give up her virginity. While he has his back turned, she gets in his bed, prepares herself... but by the time she announces that she's ready, Charley's attention has been captured by something else. Something outside his bedroom window...

Two men carrying a coffin into the house next door. That's much more interesting than anything Amy could offer him, right? Well, Charley seems to think so, as he continues to focus his attention on the new neighbor until Amy leaves with her feelings hurt.

According to his mother, who has heard it through the grapevine, their new neighbor is a man who fixes up old houses for a living, and the man who has moved in along with him is his "live-in carpenter". While his mom is intrigued by the handsome man living next to them, the more strange things that Charley sees and overhears, the more he believes that the neighbor may be the killer who's been leaving decapitated corpses around their town. Women go into the house next door and are never seen again, blood-curdling screams emanate from the house, the neighbor's carpenter companion disposes of female belongings in the night... Not only might his neighbor be a killer, he may not even be human. The man appears out of nowhere after the sound of flapping bat wings, and Charley gets a glimpse of him baring fangs, looking like he's about to sink them into a young woman's neck... Charley suspects that his neighbor is a vampire.

The scene that shows Dandridge about to bite the poor woman's neck while Charley watches brings up something intriguing. A lot of times in movies, especially '80s movies, people seem to undress and do all kinds of things that are meant to be private right in front of windows. Was that an '80s thing or just stuff that we see in movies? Hrm.

What is a boy who believes his town is being terrorized by a bloodsucking monster to do? He tries telling his mom, she just makes him hot cocoa and thinks he had a nightmare. He goes to the police, but that doesn't go over well when he brings up his vampire suspicions. He visits "Evil" Ed to find out how to ward off a vampire... which is information he should already have, since he watches Fright Night religiously.

The man accused is Jerry Dandridge, played by Chris Sarandon with a seductive swagger. Charley's suspicions catch Dandridge's attention, Charley isn't very subtle about the whole thing, and Dandridge confirms the suspicions when he pays Charley a nearly deadly late night visit in an attempt to warn him away.

Now Charley knows his neighbor is a vampire. His life is in danger. But no one believes him. His mom has even invited Dandridge into their house, unknowingly giving the murderous monster full access to her son, since vampires have to be invited before they can enter a home. In desperation, Charley seeks out Peter Vincent - he made his career killing vampires in movies, he could surely handle the situation in reality. Vincent brushes him off as a lunatic. Charley is like the Boy Who Cried Wolf (that legend was another of Holland's inspirations), except he's been telling the truth the whole time.

There is a character who I feel gets overlooked while most of the other lead characters and actors tend to get all the attention - Ragsdale/Charley and Sarandon/Dandridge, Stephen Geoffreys as the incredibly oddball and perpetually amused "Evil" Ed, Roddy McDowall as Peter Vincent, even Jonathan Stark as Dandridge's not-a-vampire-but-not-human companion Billy Cole, they're all rightfully popular. But I don't think Amy gets enough attention as a character.

A good, nice girl, Amy is the best person in the movie. She's there by her boyfriend's side to help him with this situation, no matter what. At one point, Charley asks her, "Amy, you don't believe me, do you?" To which she replies, "I love you, Charley." It's a very sweet moment. She may not believe that Dandridge is really a vampire, but because of her love for Charley she's all in to see this through. When the teenage trio come to the conclusion that Peter Vincent is the only one who can help them, she pays him with $500 of her own money, cashing in a savings bond. That's all the money she has, for all we know.

Despite believing Charley to be insane, Peter Vincent agrees to help him for that price because he has fallen on hard times. He's fired from the Fright Night hosting gig because the station doesn't think people want to watch vampire movies anymore, "all they want are demented madmen running around in ski masks, hacking up young virgins" -

To which I say, "Yes, please!"

- and soon after receives a notice that he's being evicted from his apartment. He might as well take $500 to prove to a crazy young boy that vampires don't exist.

Dandridge agrees to allow Vincent and the teens into his house to perform a "vampire test". Nobody but Charley takes this visit seriously, the "test" is even conducted with tap water masquerading as holy water, but they all put on a show for him. Dandridge downs the "holy water", is fine, and this is supposed to be the end of it. Instead, this scene serves as a catalyst for more horror to come, for two reasons. One, Peter Vincent pulls out a cigarette case with a mirror in the lid - a prop from a film he was in called Orgy of the Damned - and notices that Dandridge doesn't cast a reflection. He realizes that Charley is right about him. The other trouble is that, in a classic vampire story turn of events, Dandridge immediately becomes infatuated with Amy because she is identical to his long lost love.

The second half of the movie is comprised first of Dandridge attempting to wipe out the troubling presence of Charley and those around him - turning "Evil" Ed evil for real, supernaturally seducing Amy at a nightclub, where he also has a confrontation with a bouncer played by Nick Savage from Friday the 13th Part III, sending Ed to kill Vincent... And then of Vincent accepting the mantle of vampire killer that his career has earned him and joining Charley for a late night assault on Dandridge's house, armed with crosses, stakes, and a pistol.

I find Fright Night to be a very well-crafted vampire tale, a great film that's one of the most highly regarded horror offerings of the '80s. It has a brilliant set-up and story, a great cast, characters that are fun to watch, and some excellent special effects.

I think that as far as vampire movies go, this one has aspects that are a little confusing. Not confusing as in hard to follow, but confusing as in there are things that haven't exactly been approached in other vampire movies. Things that don't make sense - considering that it is a horror movie about vampires, of course. For one, "Evil" Ed... how can he be a vampire and a werewolf at the same time?

It's not done in movies very often, but there is an aspect of vampire lore that says they can also take the form of wolves, just like they're able to turn into bats. It's not very fair, werewolves can't turn into bats. If you're a vampire, you get the best of both worlds.

That is very weird to me.

And Billy Cole... he can only be killed like a vampire, but isn't one and we have no idea what the heck he is. Amy... when she's turned into a vampire her hair changes color and length. Also, vampires can only get inside your house if they're invited, so Charley didn't have to nail the windows shut when he does, which is before his mom invites Dandridge in.

You're right, there is strangeness to all of that. It never sank in for me before that Charley didn't need to nail his window shut at that point in the movie.

Even though I like the cast alright, I do not feel the same way about the characters. Charley is extremely loud and obnoxious, always screaming and way too intense about any and every thing that happens. He seems spoiled and starts treating Amy poorly when his focus shifts, but still finds time to look at women on the street and certain types of magazines. His mom is as bland as it gets. Evil Ed doesn't seem to be that great of a friend and could probably be left out entirely without being missed. Peter Vincent is a coward and accepts that much money from a teenager, and for nothing. Dandridge and Cole seem to be lovers at times, but we never really get the confirmation, and it just kind of hangs. Amy is definitely the best character, though a little annoying sometimes, but that usually goes along with being a teen.

In my opinion, the best thing in the movie hands down are the make-up and special effects. Very cool and believable. Even something simple like the blood running down Amy's back after Dandridge bites her works perfectly. It's beautifully creepy.

A million dollars of the film's budget was dedicated to the effects created by Richard Edlund and his team, and they are lovingly displayed on the screen. Actually, there's at least one sequence in the film that I feel goes on too long just to show off the special effects. It's when a staked Ed slowly, painfully transforms back from the form of a wolf into a dying teenage boy while Vincent looks on in horror and pity. It's amazing to look at, but it takes a long time.

While I enjoy Fright Night a great deal overall, I do feel that it has pacing problems. Ed's transformation isn't the only scene that seems to go on too long. Most of the action beats are clunky and could have been sped up, characters feel like they're moving and reacting in slow motion. There is air in this film that could have been cut out, both on set and in the editing room. As nice as it is to watch people dance around in a nightclub to '80s music, did Dandridge's dance floor seduction of Amy really need to take up 6 minutes of the running time?

Also on the subject of reactions... Jerry Dandridge may be an all-powerful vampire with superhuman strength, but his reactions to pain or to the sight of crosses can be quite laughable.

I agree about pacing and Dandridge's reactions. Actually, I don't think Sarandon was a very good vampire. Other actors have done way better in much "smaller" movies.

The most awesome aspect of the Dandridge is the theme that was provided for him by composer Brad Fiedel (The Terminator, Just Before Dawn), a badass mixture of synthesizer and guitar, a standout track in what is a terrific score all around. The music of Fright Night is topped off with a wonderfully '80s end credits song by The J. Geils Band.

I'm not crazy about this movie. I'll watch it, but it's just not one of my favorites at all.

It's really the pacing issue that keeps me from regarding the film as highly as many others do. It's enjoyable, it's an '80s highlight, but it's not one of my favorites to watch. However, one of my earliest horror memories involves this movie, as I caught moments of it on television while my older brother was watching it one day. What I most clearly remember seeing at that time are the scenes around the club sequence, and what really stuck with me was the hideous sight of the vampire Evil Ed with a cross burned into his forehead. For years, I wondered what film contained this horrible image. Thank you, Tom Holland and Stephen Geoffreys, for scarring my mind.

Fright Night is a movie I'd hear about all the time back in the day, but for some reason, never got to watch it. It wasn't until a few years ago that I watched it for the first time, so that might have to do with my opinion on it. While I don't hate it, I definitely don't love it and don't get the hype. The movie is pretty "meh" to me and it'll rarely be the one I pick when in the mood for some bloodsucking viewing.


As Dreamworks was developing its Fright Night remake, there were many different approaches and pitches considered. There were rumors that it might go meta - the 1985 movie would be a movie within the universe of the remake, and the lead would seek out Chris Sarandon to help with his vampire problem. Todd Farmer and Patrick Lussier, the writing/directing team behind such films as the My Bloody Valentine remake and Drive Angry, came up with a treatment that would find the lead seeking aid from actors that starred in remakes of Peter Vincent films, Jamie Lee Curtis and Tom Atkins.

In the end, with Craig Gillespie (a veteran commercial director who started working in features and television in 2007) taking the director's chair and with a screenplay by Marti Noxon, who's best known for writing many episodes of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer TV show, the remake is a much more straightforward adaptation of the '85 film, although attempts are made to mix it up a little.

Played by Anton Yelchin, the '11 Charley Brewster is a reformed dweeb who has left his old pals Adam Johnson and "Evil" Ed Lee behind so he could hang out with the cool kids of their high school. He's in a complicated, unconsummated relationship with Amy (Imogen Poots), a girl who would seem to be out of his league. Unlike the original Brewster, he doesn't have a cool car, he's got a dirt bike that doesn't run.

The setting for this film is a housing development oasis in the desert outskirts of Las Vegas, where Charley lives with his real estate agent mother Jane (Toni Collette, working with Gillespie again after he had directed her in episodes of The United States of Tara). Living next door to Charley and Jane, in a house with blacked out windows, is a man named Jerry Dandridge, a pickup truck driving, beer drinking, charming-but-sleazy fellow who is said to work night construction on the Vegas Strip.

At first, the only thing that seems odd about Dandridge is the dumpster he has on his front lawn that he keeps filling with concrete. Where is all of this concrete coming from? He says he's been fixing foundation problems in his house. Charley isn't even the one questioning this, it's his mom.

It makes sense that Charley would be unaware, not even caring about his neighbor. He has a lot going on and that's how kids his age behave.

With Collette in the mother role and a female screenwriter writing for her, Charley's mother is a much stronger character this time and is given more to do that just talk silliness and nonsense while wearing a pink bathrobe, she's even involved in some of the action. Dandridge may be nice and handsome, but Jane doesn't give in to his charms - a divorced woman, she's determined that she's "not getting suckered again".

The Rear Window/mystery aspect is greatly downplayed in this version of the story. There is no build up to the horror aspects being introduced, the movie opens as most horror movies seem to do these days, whether it's necessary or not, with a scare and murder sequence, in which Charley's former friend Adam Johnson is murdered, along with the rest of his family, by a monstrous vampire.

When Adam doesn't show up at school the next day, "Evil" Ed pressures Charley into going on an afterschool search at the Johnson house... in fact, Ed blackmails Charley into helping him by threatening to release dorky videos the trio made together back in the day. It's during their walk through the dark Johnson house - where they see no evidence of the slaughter that occurred there the night before - that Ed reveals he's been investigating vampiric mysteries since before the movie even began. Strange things have been happening in the Vegas suburbs - reports of attackers trying to bite people, entire families disappearing - and Ed and Adam deduced that a vampire was to blame. Not only that, they know who the vampire is: Charley's next door neighbor. Their discovery of the vampire's identity is why Adam has joined the ranks of the missing.

All this information is put out there up front for Charley to believe or not. Of course, he doesn't at first... but when Ed disappears, too, he begins to look into the situation, and pay more attention to his neighbor. So much attention that it affects his relationship with Amy, and does indeed distract him away from her when she's ready to have sex with him for the first time.

However, this Charley doesn't start ignoring Amy just because he has something else to focus on, he actually does it to protect her and I think that shows more character, even for someone that young.

Charley witnesses a woman go into Dandridge's home and never come back out, hears a blood-curdling scream emanate from the house next door. He calls the police, but it doesn't do any good - Dandridge just charms them away. Unlike in the original film, the woman isn't a random prostitute that Dandridge called to his house, this is Doris, a woman Charley knows and likes, a neighbor who gets his hormones going with her go-go dancer body and pants with writing across the butt. Concerned for her, Charley is clearly going to have to take matters into his own hands.

Breaking into Dandridge's home, Charley sees with his own eyes that Dandridge is indeed a vampire, and discovers where all that concrete really was coming from - not only has Dandridge torn out the walls of his basement and dug into the surrounding dirt for some reason, he's also built little prison cells in the underground, in which he keeps some of his victims to continue feeding on them over time. Making a disastrous attempt to rescue Doris from Dandridge's home, Charley realizes he's in over his head and seeks help. From a man named Peter Vincent.

The Peter Vincent character is much different in the 2011 film than he was in the 1985 film. With horror host shows less prevalent than they were in the past, and many under the misconception that they don't even exist anymore, the decision was made to change Vincent's job as a performer from a horror host to a Vegas showman in the dark and gothic style of Criss Angel. Peter Vincent bills himself as a master of dark forces and his magic show at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino promises to be "a mind-blowing experience of the occult and supernatural". Vincent also studies vampire methodology, and everything Ed knew about vampires he gleaned from Vincent's official website.

Early on, Zach Galifianakis was the choice to play Peter Vincent, but the role ultimately went to the tenth Doctor Who, David Tennant. This variation is primarily presented as a douchey, boozing coward (at least he doesn't look as ridiculous during his private time as he does on stage), but he does make an attempt to redeem himself in the end, after realizing that there really is a vampire problem in Las Vegas and he has to help Charley do something about it...

Vincent overcomes his cowardice and decides to become a vampire killer because, typical of modern movies (see the Black Christmas remake for the most egregious example), he has an added backstory. Vincent's story makes his interest in vampires very personal - his parents were murdered by vampires, possibly even by Jerry Dandridge himself. This is possible because Dandridge has been around for 400 years, and Vincent determines that he was part of a vampire tribe that originated in the Mediterranean, a tribe of vampires that would nest in the earth and keep their victims to snack on for days at a time (as Dandridge does in his basement).

Having a Criss Angel style Peter Vincent was a great idea for the remake, along with Vegas, of course. I think that's exactly who he'd be like these days instead of a horror show host. That would've felt outdated and out of place. And his backstory is a fine bonus.

Suited up and more heavily armed than their predecessors, Charley and Vincent team up to make an assault on Dandridge's house, to rescue Amy (who was again taken away by Dandridge in a nightclub, but in a much shorter sequence) and destroy the master vampire.

The action is bigger, quicker and there are more vampires for Charley and Vincent to deal with, but somehow the climactic sequence is much less interesting to me this time around. It seems to end just as it's beginning and suffers from the same issues that I have with all of the action and vampire moments throughout the film - they're full of excessive CGI and are very bland to look at.

I like the action and ending better in the remake. The CGI was definitely a problem though. All of the points in that category go to the special effects showed in the first one. Just can't beat that.

Craig Gillespie had some bad luck on his first feature (the comedy Mr. Woodcock) but really impressed me with the quirky drama Lars and the Real Girl. I've only seen Lars once, back in 2008, but at the time I was very enamored with it, so much so that it didn't just represent to me the type of movie that I would like to make someday, it made me wish that I had made that exact movie. So I was totally behind Gillespie getting the Fright Night gig, but I was kind of disappointed with the result...

I absolutely love Lars and the Real Girl, and I wasn't disappointed with the Fright Night remake at all. I think that if you're bringing the events that happened in the movie set in 1985 to 2011, that is exactly what you'd get. The characters, the behaviors... they feel so accurate and very well portrayed. It's a well done movie and it works for me.

A product of its time, Fright Night '11 is very grounded in reality. While the original film had a nice '80s gothic style to it, this one really doesn't have much of a style at all. It looks just as bland and generic as the housing development it's set in.

The original film had practical special effects that were wonderful to look at, this one has CG effects that I'd rather not look at.

It's hard to match anything style-wise when it comes to older horror movies. Those made in the '80s had a very specific look and feel to them that is hard to repeat and/or recreate. We live in a bland, generic time. Sad, but true.

I really like the housing development setting in the middle of the desert, I think it was a good choice. I also love the score by Ramin Djawadi, which doesn't happen too often with "new horror".

Something else I love is how Ed is turned. The scene in the pool just looks very intense and almost alluring. It is right up there with the blood running down from Amy's back in the original for me. Another scene I find interesting is the one when Jerry borrows beer from Charley, it's pretty tense with the right amount of suspense.

The actors are all good in their roles. Anton Yelchin is a fine Charley Brewster. David Tennant is enjoyable but under-used as this take on Peter Vincent. Christopher Mintz-Plasse does what he was hired to do, which was to play "Evil" Ed just like most of the other characters he's played. Toni Collette is good as always as Jane Brewster, although the film still manages to find a way to get mom out of the movie. The version of Amy that Imogen Poots was given to play was at first a letdown to me, she was not living up to the character that I called the best person in the original, but she did show some more depth later on. Colin Farrell's Jerry Dandridge has less character than the Dandridge of '85, but he does well when he's meant to be subtly threatening and he has a certain magnetism.

Original Jerry Dandridge Chris Sarandon does make a quick cameo as a victim of Farrell's Dandridge.

I like pretty much all of the characters better in the remake. For starters, I can actually buy Charley, Amy and Ed as teenagers in the remake, while in the original I can't get over how old the three of them look to be playing high school kids, especially Amanda Bearse. I really like Charley's mom in the remake, she's not there just to be there like it is in the original. And she favors her son over a complete stranger, which is nice.

She even refuses to let Dandridge into their house, causing him to have to find a way around that vampire rule.

Ed has more heart in the remake, you can actually see that he's hurt from Charley not being his friend anymore and that he cares about others in general. Peter Vincent's Criss Angel style really worked for the remake and even though he is sleazy and somewhat a coward, he still beats the original character, who seemed to care more about money than anything else. I've never been a Colin Farrell fan at all, but I think he was perfect for the role and way more menacing and charming than Chris Sarandon was. Like when Dandridge is trying to seduce Amy in the original, it works for a minute, then it doesn't. He makes vampire powers seem kind of lame, really. Vampires are supposed to be extremely powerful and seductive creatures, and remake Jerry really had those qualities. Once he has Amy in the club, by kissing her and seducing her with blood, she's his for the taking, it's a done deal. The only character I like a little better in the original is Amy, but even then, it's a slight preference. And I'm glad there's no Billy Cole this time around. He wasn't missed.

I have problems with it, but I don't think Fright Night 2011 is a bad movie at all. It's perfectly alright. It's just a type of film that holds much less appeal for me than one with the style of Fright Night 1985 does. If I'm going to watch a Fright Night movie, the choice for me is obvious - go with the retro awesomeness of '85 over the modern blandness of '11.

My biggest problem with the remake, and the only one that really gets to me, is the CGI. In the very end, it almost feels like the movie turns into a video game and I'm not crazy about that one aspect. I could definitely do without it. But unlike Cody, if I'm going to watch a Fright Night - even though I love '80s movies and am usually a way bigger fan of originals than remakes - I am going to pick the '11 movie. It might not be perfect, it might not be a cult classic, but I simply find it way more entertaining. I have a better time watching it than the original.

1 comment:

  1. I love you guys for reviewing the original and remake to one of my favorite films! <33 And you do make a good point, the '11 version is pretty bland.