Fright Night: Mixing Fun and Fear

Fright Night hit theaters last weekend.  “Ah, another vampire movie,” you probably thought.  You may have also heard it’s a remake.  What you might not know is that it’s a great example of a good remake, one that takes the fun ideas from the first and makes them better.  Without totally spoiling the new version, here’s a bit about the campy 80′s cult classic, and why it made a viable remake in the first place.

Rear Window with Bite

The premise is simple: Charlie Brewster, a typical teen, lives with his divorcee mother and lusts after his cute girlfriend.  His life is turned upside down when he realizes his next-door neighbor, Jerry, is a Bad Dude – the kind with fangs.  He’s seemingly irresistible to most, including Brewster’s mother.  And worst of all: he knows Charlie’s on to him.

The “my neighbor is a killer!” premise has been done before.  Thankfully, Fright Night doesn’t spend the entire movie with is-he-or-isn’t-he intrigue.  Fairly early on, you know for a fact Jerry’s a vampire, and that he knows he’s been seen; the only question is whether Charlie will survive.  The remake takes this premise and runs with it in ways I won’t give away here, but it takes a horror movie and turns it into an edge-of-your-seat thriller.  It’s a good combo.

A Good Expert is Hard to Find

Charlie knows he’s dealing with a real, bona-fide vampire, but how can he separate fact from fiction?  Charlie turns to the only source he can think of: Peter Vincent, vampire hunter.  In the 1985 original, Vincent is an aging actor, the host and star of creature feature Fright Night, a low-key, cable-access sort of TV show.  As far as real-world experience, well, he has none; still, he knows more about vampire lore than the average bear – and his knowledge just might get him killed.

Nowadays, cable access might as well not exist, so the remake wisely alters Peter Vincent’s character.  Now he’s a hilarious Criss Angel-esque magician in leather pants, with an extensive library of “spooky” artifacts – though he’s reluctant to get involved in anything real.  (Did I mention it’s David Tennant?  Shirtless and hilarious?)

Horror and Comedy: Not Mutually Exclusive

Fright Night is a horror movie; the vampires show their true colors in this film, and they aren’t sparkly, that’s for sure.  But while there are genuine “yikes!” moments, the movie is intended to be fun, and there are more laughs than screams.   And unlike most horror movies (both in the 80s and today), there’s not a giant gratuitous body count.

Granted, if you watch the original today, there’s also a fair amount of laughter at the 80s campiness.  The remake amps up the genuine humor, but make no mistake, they’re trying to make you gasp, too.

Worth a Watch?

So, should you give Fright Night a shot?  Well, if you’re talking about the remake, absolutely.  It keeps the spirit of the original and takes it to the next level.  It’s a fun and funny movie that’s not too scary for most (but maybe scary enough to make sure you know your date well before bringing them).  It also reminds us what vampires usually are in fiction: powerful, intelligent creatures who want to eat your face.  In other words, scary.

Now, how about the original?  Well… if you’re a completist, or you want to giggle at some 80s-tastic acting, sure.  But make no mistake; it hasn’t aged well.  This film was a favorite of mine growing up – it was the first “real” scary movie I was allowed to watch.  When I saw the new one, I was filled with nostalgia for the original and had to refresh my memory.  It was strange; my memories almost matched the new version more than the original – meaning, they were bigger, and better, and the reality was rather small and dingy in comparison.  It was fun, and funny, but not quite like I remembered.

What about you?  Are you willing to give this remake a try?  What films do you think deserve a second shot – and which are best left in the past? 


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