Tom Holland‘s Fright Night has cemented itself as a crucial pillar in ’80s vampire canon. There’s an embrace of bloodsucker mythologies in addition to cheeky commentaries about how vamps are perceived in the media (using the character of Peter Vincent). It’s a tale as old as Dracula between eternal lust and pointed fangs that sometimes gets lost in its ’80s haze of synthwave needle drops and “cheesier” dramatics that define an era of horror cinema. A period I vocally endorse, no question — but if it sounds like I’m prepping what could be a controversial opinion, your radar’s adequately calibrated.
Craig Gillespie‘s 2011 Fright Night remake utilizes the darker, more “serious” tones favored by 2000s horror to embrace all the gothic ferociousness of vampiric lore. It’s never unnecessarily gritty without purpose on the backs of the “torture porn” craze, where horror culture began rounding the corner away from immeasurable grotesqueries for the sake of sensationalism. Gillespie’s film is magnificently cast, moodily entrancing, and sharpened like a sushi chef’s knife before another dinner rush. Both Holland and Gillespie helped define vampire cinema in their respective genre movements. Still, I’ll forever honor Gillespie’s on the list of remakes that outshine their masters even by a whisker.
Vampires, right? They’re sexy, they’re sucky, and they hate the sunlight. The Fright Night movies honor cornerstones of vampire cinema but differ in their executions. I’ll forever cherish titles that dare choose practical artistry regarding sharky grins, bleeding wounds, and creature transformations. That’s where 1985’s original trumps the 2000s revamp that fell victim to popularized 3D methods now bygone. Why depend on motherboards when countless horror creations pre-2011 exemplify why special effects should at least have a first layer of practicality under computer graphics?
In 2011’s Las Vegas real estate thriller, Charley Brewster (Anton Yelchin) quickly clues into Jerry’s (Colin Farrell) vampirism. Charley’s mother, Jane (Toni Collette), is trying to fill another deserted suburban housing development when Charley starts accusing their neighbor of being a horror movie villain. Charley’s girlfriend Amy (Imogen Poots) finds herself a bloodsucker’s muse way quicker, along with a more belittled and empowered Evil Ed (Christopher Mintz-Plasse). Gillespie and screenwriter Marti Noxon speed into their vampire horrors without any gaudily veiled vampire lectures — even considering a drunk-on-Midori Vegas iteration of Peter Vincent (David Tennant).
Where 1985’s Fright Night exhibits playfulness, 2011’s Fright Night remake goes for the jugular. There’s so much of the usual as Holland torments his Charley with obvious narrative roadblocks (and chili burgers) that yield expected reveals — 2011’s Fright Night wastes no questions. It treats Jerry like a shark who immediately sniffs the scent of blood and enjoys property damage. Jerry never hesitates to obliterate Charley’s family in the remake, where 1985’s plays nicer because vampires didn’t want to upset the status quo back then. Fright Night (2011) is meaner, fiercer, and worth more impact when Jerry’s cabal crawls out of subterranean honeycomb barracks.
Does It Work?
Horror in the ’80s — like Fright Night — relies less on bulletproof narratives, whereas 2011’s Fright Night depends more on evolutions in storytelling like Jerry’s veer into predator territory. I prefer Noxon’s reinterpretation of Holland’s original script because it skips past overlong sequences of Charley being considered insane for exposing Jerry’s habits. Holland finds humor in Charley’s slower investigation of Jerry’s meal selections, where Noxon thrusts Charley, Jane, and Amy into immediate danger because Jerry is always an absurdly malicious threat. No time wasted on carpenters who turn out to be unearthly demons beyond familiar capabilities (Jonathan Stark as Billy Cole).
To specifically hone on Charley’s arc in 1985’s horror comedy, he’s more of a distractible twit. Come 2011’s Fright Night remake, Charley’s conflicted and growing apart from Evil Ed, but also more relatable as a torn-at-the-seams teenager. Evil Ed himself undergoes a drastic change given how Charley becomes the early skeptic, which flips vampire speculations where they belong onto the genre-appreciating loner. That’s not to say horror fans deserve what’s coming should they encounter monsters, but more how Gillespie doesn’t string-along audiences who already understand vampires are the criminals of Fright Night — no sympathetic speculations between innocence and guilt means more time for menacing vampire attacks overnight.
The location switch to Las Vegas answers how Jerry could prey upon community members in some off-strip housing development cluster. Night owls are commonplace in the City of Sin, easing Jerry’s hardships when luring dealers or sex workers to his feasting quarters. Stretches of desert highway are where dreams typically go to die, and Gillespie smartly accentuates the isolation of Charley’s surroundings. It’s an innocuous detail that some might presume was used to turn Peter Vincent into a Criss Angel wannabe, but there’s cleverness behind intentions. Jerry no longer needs an aid; he’s an apex hunter in his habitat.
What the Fright Night remake leaves behind makes for a more intensely primal bat-and-mouse game that unleashes Colin Farrell’s inner beast (perhaps with Twilight influences minus glitter). Anton Yelchin is more capable, cautious, and skittish in his performance as a superior Charley Brewster, marking such a tragic lost talent far too young. Imogen Poots is given more substance as a girlfriend who fights alongside and then against Charley once she’s canonically turned by Jerry. Toni Collette isn’t working the night shift at opportune times. I’ll admit the 80s original benefits from its campiness in terms of queer readings and sultry romance between Amanda Bearse‘s Amy and Chris Sarandon‘s Jerry, but 2011’s shows more cohesion as a vicious vampire tale with a craving for blood (and Budweiser).
There’s no doubt that Roddy McDowall‘s late-night television host Peter Vincent is a genre staple. Still, I’d argue David Tennant’s traumatized casino magician with gnarly stage tricks is equally compelling (plus Tennant in leather). The difference in approaches highlights mentor characters with very different issues to overcome and drives home a quote pondered by the little girl in the Old El Paso taco shell commercial: “Why not both?” McDowall and Tennant aren’t trading blows for dominance as warring Peter Vincents, much like how Farrell and Sarandon aren’t mimicking each other’s mannerisms despite their fondness for ripe fruits. Gillespie and Noxon’s strive to embrace contemporary horror methods ensures a completely different Fright Night with more battered bullies, harsher realities, and far better pacing that launches into Jerry’s clutches.
Although, no argument rationalizes 2011’s usage of digital effects that erase all the schlocky goodness from 1985’s Fright Night. Werewolf transformations, batty puppets, and humanoids turning to green goop like in Troll 2 are a victory that Gillespie’s Fright Night cannot boast. It’s disappointing that even Jerry’s jagged toothy grin when his vampiric smile beams is an animated render, given how none of the other practical models Holland uses are replicated. Fright Night (1985) embarrasses Fright Night (2011) in special effects comparisons like Evander Holyfield might demolish your 10-year-old niece in the boxing ring. I won’t try to spin any slander or lies otherwise. Performances, structure, and just about everywhere else, Fright Night (2011) surpasses Fright Night (1985) — but no shot regarding the monsters, injuries, and juices that Holland’s effects designers create.
Never for a nanosecond is Craig Gillespie trying to replace Tom Holland’s Fright Night. A harmonious coexistence between horror tales encapsulates their places in horror history. Fright Night (1985) takes more significant swings with kitchen-sink weirdness and romantic deviations, whereas Fright Night (2011) chums the waters to surface something that’s dying to feed without respite. Holland’s embracing ’80s horror comedy attitudes where Gillespie flips some character tropes and aims his crossbow to kill. One does not negate the other nor erase legacies chiseled in nostalgia.
So what did we learn?
- The vampire evolution throughout cinema sure has altered how we see bloodsuckers from the ’80s to ’00s.
- Let’s hear it again: remakes are best when they represent the periods of horror culture in which they’re made.
- Peter Vincent has been an everlasting caricature throughout the decades.
- You can tell when a remake has good enough intentions to treat its original with respect versus the futile experience of replication.
Perhaps I’m more taken by the Fright Night remake because it was the first Fright Night I watched? The late 2000s saw my upbringing as a baby blogger honing his voice, and Fright Night was one of the earlier releases in my horror journalist journey. Maybe that’s my nostalgia kicking in and taking the wheel? I’m a fan of ’80s campiness, but equal is my defense of ’00s horror remakes that’ve been lumped into “torture porn” and post-9/11 stretches when mainstream critics hated horror. Although depending on the day and the mood, there’s a Fright Night for everyone.
Like a wise oracle once said, “Why not both?”
In Revenge of the Remakes, columnist Matt Donato takes us on a journey through the world of horror remakes. We all complain about Hollywood’s lack of originality whenever studios announce new remakes, reboots, and reimaginings, but the reality? Far more positive examples of refurbished classics and updated legacies exist than you’re willing to remember (or admit). The good, the bad, the unnecessary – Matt’s recounting them all.