The year was 1985. The Cola Wars were dying down as the Cold War was flaring up. Michael Jackson and Madonna ruled the airwaves and everyone was asking: “Where’s the beef?”
I was six years old, sitting down in front of the television to watch cartoons and draw monsters. And probably eating something made with peanut butter. But what was this? A videocassette was in the VCR. The sticker on it said “New Release.” Already a movie junkie at such a tender young age, I pressed play.
The film, of course, was DEBBIE DOES DALLAS.
Oh. Woops. That’s actually a different story.
No, the movie I popped in that day was Tom Holland’s horror comedy FRIGHT NIGHT.
FRIGHT NIGHT instantly became a favorite thanks to its unique blend of humor and horror. As I grew older and became a die-hard fan of the genre, I appreciated this movie even more thanks to its self-referential wit and its “wink wink nudge nudge” look at the tropes of vampire films. If you haven’t seen it, you’re doing yourself a disservice. This movie is worth watching for Chris Sarandon’s (Prince Humperdink from Princess Bride) performance alone.
As a quick recap, FRIGHT NIGHT is about horror movie buff and teenage horn-dog Charlie Brewster (William “Herman’s Head” Ragsdale), who begins to suspect that his new neighbor, the suave Jerry Dandridge (the aforementioned Sarandon), is a vampire. His girlfriend and his friend “Evil” Ed (better known as the “hey, did you hear he’s doing gay porn now?” guy) think that Charlie is a few cloves of garlic short of… whatever a bunch of garlic cloves would be. To bring Charlie back to sanity and get him to put away all of the crosses, they recruit Charlie’s favorite television host, an aging Peter Cushing-type named Peter Vincent (played brilliantly by Roddy McDowall). Vincent hosts a local cable show ala Joe Bob Briggs or Elvira called (you guessed it) “Fright Night.” Of course, Vincent thinks Charlie is insane and agrees to the ruse. Only he sees something at Dandridge’s that makes him question if vampires are real and, when “Evil” vanishes and Charlie’s girlfriend is taken by Dandridge, Peter Vincent has to actually become the vampire hunter he’s faked on film all these years and help Charlie in killing Dandrigde.
And yet, even with all of that going on, the film is most known for this catchphrase:
So that’s the original in a nutshell.
I’m not a huge fan of remakes. Especially in the age of DVD’s and NetFlix where any movie that’s ever been made is available. Now, there have been some good remakes (Carpenter’s THE THING springs to mind) and some remakes of films so obscure or poorly done that they probably deserved a remake (MAN ON FIRE, for instance, which also may be Tony Scott’s best movie). But most remakes are pointless at best and, to borrow a phrase, shitty at worst. When I heard they were remaking FRIGHT NIGHT, I was curious to be sure – but definitely less than enthused.
Then I heard the cast. Collin Farrell, Toni Collette, and David Tennant? And McLovin’s in it? Okay. This seemed interesting, perhaps even promising. But I’m sure re-animating the dead seemed promising to Dr. Frankenstein as well.
The original FRIGHT NIGHT had a certain kind of charm to it that the remake doesn’t even attempt to recreate. Where the original felt like your dad’s cool friend that would show up every now and then to throw a steak on the grill with a good joke and a smile, the remake feels like your weird Uncle Marvin stumbling in with a six pack of PBR and mumbling about how the hooker he picked up at Popeye’s chicken turned out to be a dude.
That’s not to say the remake doesn’t have its moments. It is fun at times, and definitely funny. McLovin’ is, as always, good for some laughs. At least until he becomes a vampire with a bad CGI face, flipping around on wires like an extra from CROUCHING TIGER. This entire sequence is so poorly conceived and even more poorly executed that I would have much rather watched someone play a FRIGHT NIGHT video game than endure it. Gone is the coolness of the original Evil transforming into a wolf and the pity the original manages to create when Roddy McDowall stakes him and watches, with teary eyes, while he dies gripping the stake. Instead we get bad kung-fu and the emotional equivalent of a pack of Sweet Tarts.
The real reason to watch the remake is for David “Dr. Who” Tennant, whose take on Peter Vincent is a complete 180 from McDowall’s but is absolutely hilarious. Tennant’s leather pants wearing Criss Angel douchebag is where most of the laughs in the film come from. I’m not going to give any of that away but, if you’ve ever seen Tennant act before you know what he’s capable of.
Colin Farrell’s Jerry Dandridge is also a different take from Sarandon’s. Where as Sarandon was a typical Dracula-like seducer, Farrell is more of the handsome white trash guy picking up Vegas strippers. He’s crude and crass and seems like the type of guy that would have tried to buy Spanish Fly from his frat brothers in college. While I prefer Sarandon’s Dandridge, Farrell’s version works in a completely different way. And as McLovin’ points out, these aren’t “Twilight vampires moaning about their existence. These vampires are like the shark from Jaws,” a pronouncement that plays itself out when Dandridge attacks a victim in a pool.
There was some thought put into elements of the script. Setting the film in Vegas, a city filled with transients where no one bats an eye if someone is up all night and sleeps all day. is one of the biggest differences between this and the original but makes perfect sense. There are also reversals upon reversals of the original concept, including Evil being the one who originally suspects a vampire has moved in and has to convince Charlie. There are nice nods to the first, including an unexpected cameo from a member of the original cast, and a vampire killing method at the end of the film that I have never seen before and was pretty badass. Oh, and Lisa Loeb. Seriously.
Again, the remake is fun at points and good for a few laughs, but it gets bogged down in its own trashiness at times. Lacking the charm its predecessor had, it’s difficult to care about any of the characters or really get involved in the film. The other thing that took me out of the film was all of the 3D. Now, I only saw the movie in 2D so perhaps watching it in 3D is a real treat. But watching this movie in 2D was disorienting at times as weird 3D shots dominate the action sequences (including a very long 360 degree camera spin of the inside of Toni Collette’s van during a chase scene).
The primary problem, though, was the CGI. I’m not a huge fan of CGI in the first place but I’ll admit that, when done well, it can blow you away. Unfortunately in this film, it was not done well. I know filmmakers always make the argument with remakes that it’s a different movie and you shouldn’t compare it to the original but, c’mon. How naive are they? That’s like saying that you never compare a bad steak to that delicious T-Bone you had on the fourth of July. The CGI in this film is so hokey and cartoonish that all it can accomplish is making me long for the makeup effects of the original.
There’s not much else I can say about this movie. It has its moments but you really have to treat it as a completely separate movie with a similar premise to the original. Which, as always, begs the question: why not just make an original film? I’m sure this will make some money opening weekend and continue to confirm Hollywood’s assumption that creativity is dead. But hopefully Tinseltown grows a pair one day and regains the respect we once had for movie making as the vanguard of this country’s creative minds – rather than how we think of it now: a group of slimy hustlers selling cheap knock-offs of designer purses from a rug on the sidewalk.
Brad C. Hodson is a writer living in Los Angeles. His stories have appeared in anthologies alongside Neil Gaiman, Chuck Palahniuk, George RR Martin, and many more of his literary heroes. For a listing of his literary and film work, please check out his Bibliography at http://brad-hodson.com/bibliography/