For some reason, in the five year span between 1985 and 1990, someone decided that humorous vampire movies were the new hotness. Well, not all of them were funny, but there were a lot of them. My Best Friend is a Vampire , Vampire’s Kiss, The Lost Boys, Fright Night, Vamp, Once Bitten, The Monster Squad. There were a few others not played for laughs but I barely remember most of those. I know I watched a hell of a lot of them then, and fewer and fewer of them since.
The original Fright Night was released in 1985, which seemed to be some sort of tipping point. I have no idea how successful it was but it seemed to have released some kind of valve because several vampire movies were released that year, and the next several years, all with the themes of vampires coping with the modern age and nosy neighbors.
The basic plot is the same for both movies. Charlie discovers that his next door neighbor is a vampire and is probably after his girlfriend.This sort of plot, the marriage of “knowing” teens with “monster only they can see” is pretty standard, actually. It just hadn’t been done with regular monsters like vampires and werewolves, and after the success of this movie, the vampire next door became a staple of vampire movies and television shows, showing up in everything from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, to the X-Files.
The original starred a mix of known and unknown actors. Chris Sarandon, And Roddy McDowell being the two most notable, with Amanda Bearse, Stephen Geoffreys and Wm. Ragsdale, as the teenagers no one will listen to. The 2011 version stars some well established actors like, Colin Farrell, David Tennant and Toni Collette, along with up and comers, Christopher Mintze-Plasse and Anton Yelchin. Chris Sarandon also shows up in the newer version, as the detective who refuses to believe Charlie’s story, a role originally played by the funnier, stockier, Art Evans in the 1985 film.
Although the basic plot is the same, the mood, and the details of the remake, are markedly different from the original. This is an attempt at a true remake and not just an excuse to do the exact same movie again.
For example, the 2011 version isn’t played for laughs. Its a lot less comedic than the original which might be somewhat jarring if you expected the movie to have humor. Its not without its funny moments, mostly provided by David Tennant’s character, as Peter Vincent, who seems as if he’s channeling a different film then Colin Farrell, although David and Christopher Mintz-Plasse, as Evil Ed Thompson, act as if they are both in the same, but separate, film.
Everyone else plays the movie completely straight, just as in the original. Jerry Dandridge, in both movies, has a snarky, rather sardonic sense of humor, but he’s the heavy and not meant to be funny. Peter VIncent’s meant to be the comedy relief but since David Tennant’s humor is wholly different from Roddy McDowell’s approach to the same character, you end up with a very different feel. This newer version of Vincent is darker and grimmer, and somehow, feels just a little more hopeless. There are bigger action scenes, including the obligatory car chase, and more vampires. Although there are scenes that are full of tension, the remake still manages to be less scary.
Jerry Dandridge is given almost too many strengths, seeming almost undefeatable for someone like Charlie, who once again requests the help of Peter Vincent,who is reluctant to get involved in Charlie’s issues. Unlike the original Peter Vincent, he doesn’t want to get involved because he has fought the supernatural before, whereas in the original, Peter simply thought Charlie was insane, and wasn’t convinced until, through a combination of cunning and deception, he saw it for himself. This newer Peter is a bold, crass, dark magician/entertainer who has a show in Las Vegas, involving lots of eye makeup and fire, modeled after the magician, Criss Angel. Since Saturday afternoon horror shows don’t really exist any more, his job had to be updated. He is hyper-masculinity-squared, sexy, loud and rude. You can tell he’s a much different character because he swears a lot. The original Peter was a timid, but prideful, has-been actor, hosting a Saturday Horror TV theme show, who only got involved because Amy and Ed paid him.
The two Jerry’s are not greatly different from each other. Farrell’s version is less sophisticated, more cat-like, with a sharper, darker, sense of humor, and a little more smug cunning than the first. Sarandon’s version seemed more like the old-school Dracula. A member of the nobility whose time had passed, but is still a creature used to intimidating people and being obeyed. The differences are subtle but present. You can sort of tell, that Farrell is channeling just a little of Sarandon, in his approach. The sexiness level between them remains about equal, most especially in the disturbing seduction scenes between him and Evil-Ed Thompson, and him and Amy, particularly when you keep in mind, that although these are high school students, they are all still minors. Maybe not in Jerry’s Old-World, where there were no such things as teenagers, but they certainly are in ours.
One of the things jettisoned from the new version, that I kind of missed, was Jerry’s live-in manservant. There was some speculation by the audience, about their arrangement back in the film’s heyday, but no one was really serious about that.Today such a character would be given lots and lots of subtext, as its not explicitly stated that he and Jerry are lovers, only something that’s wondered about by Charlie’s mom. In the remake, the man-servant role is taken over by Ed, and there is none of the delicious subtext to be had from that arrangement.
The main differences in the two films can be found in the treatment of Charlie, his mother Jane, Evil Ed, and Amy. In the original film I found all of these characters to be quirky and likable. Amy was the iconic girl-next-door, and charmingly sassy, as played by Amanda Bearse, before she hit it big on the show married with Children. The new Amy is mostly characterless. She could be replaced by a sexy floor lamp, which is how much she means to the plot. She exists as someone for Jerry, Ed and Charlie to butt heads over. She gets moved around by the writers and characters and doesn’t affect the plot overmuch.
This is not the impression given by the original Amy because Amanda Bearse supplied that version with plenty of attitude. She also had a great deal of sexiness and chemistry with Sarandon. Bearse’s version looked like she was making choices, whereas the new Amy, doesn’t. She spends most of the latter half of the film looking as if she were drugged to the gills, barely aware of what’s happening to her. The creators try hard to reproduce the sexiness of the original dance scene in the club, but it falls flat, lacking the emotion that Amanda brought to the role, as a young woman who is both fascinated, and terrified of her fascination, with the monster. She is also genuinely frightening, once her sexuality has been unleashed, after Jerry turns her into a vampire.
Charlie’s mom has a little bit more to do in the newer version. Unlike the original mom, this one is young and single and not particularly interested in getting into Jerry’s pants. In the original film, Judy Brewster, played by Dorothy Fielding, was talkative, flirtatious, and kind of silly. She had a lot of character. Not so much Toni Collette’s version, named Jane, who is all seriousness, but I managed to find things to like about her nonetheless. In the original movie, Ms. Brewster’s oblivious silliness was very frustrating, and almost cost Charlie his life, as Jerry was able to gain entrance into their house because of her desperate need for attention.
That gets turned on its head in the newer version and its also one of my favorite moments. When Jane is given the opportunity to trust Charlie, or Jerry, she chooses her son. When Jerry visits his home, to try to square things with Charlie for spying on him, Charlie begs his mother not to allow Jerry entry. She does as he says because she trusts him, he seems genuinely terrified, and she cares about his feelings, whereas the original Ms. Brewster couldn’t seem to understand anything outside of her own. She constantly made assumptions about what Charlie needed based on what she believed, and not anything Charlie, or Amy, said to her. This new version is much more pragmatic, and when her son implores her to do the practical thing, she does it. She also joins in the fight against Jerry, helping her son flee their house after Jerry sets it on fire, and impaling Jerry with a yard sign. Toni Collette does the best she can with what she’s given and I liked her.
Christopher Mintz-Plasse’s version of Evil Ed is not my favorite . I prefer the zany, Stephen Geoffreys version because he had so much more personality, and genuine feelings are felt for him, when he dies by Peter Vincent’s hand. That heartbreaking scene is one of my favorites from the original, as Roddy McDowell really sells Peter Vincent’s genuine sorrow at killing Ed, who seems shocked by the entire ordeal, as this was not at all what he had planned when he tearfully accepted Jerry’s offer of immortality. I remember I cried the first time I saw that scene, and I wasn’t expecting to be crying, during a comedic horror movie.
This new version of Ed isn’t as funny or crazed as the original. He has much less personality but that seems to be in keeping with the drab/dark mood of the movie, which you would think would be a little more upbeat as this all takes place in sunny Arizona. (Why a vampire would move to one of the hotter sunshine states is never fully justified within the film. Supposedly, Jerry is a specific type of vampire that comes from a desert climate, and that’s all the explanation you’ll get about it.)
When the remake version of Ed dies, no one seems to actually care. Its just something that needs doing during the course of the film because his character is in the way. This new version lacks the pathos of the original, where you get the definite impression that Ed hated being an outsider in school, which made it much easier for Jerry to seduce him into becoming a vampire. Christopher’s version seems angry and bitter at his friend, and we’ll discuss that in a moment.
In the newer version, Charlie is deliberately mean to his old friend and Amy is not interested in being friends with Ed. You got the impression, in the first movie, that these were very old friends, who’d known each other and hung out since they were children. Amy and Charlie’s parents knew each other, and although Ed was an outsider, who often felt alone, there did seem to be a certain affection that Amy had for him. She was used to Ed. He was her friend too.
In the newer version you don’t get any of this backstory. It’s not even implied. Amy seems to have been known by both boys, but she hung out with the popular kids, and when she started dating Charlie, he got accepted into her group, and ditched his old friend. Not only do Amy and Ed not interact, they don’t actually meet until after Ed becomes a vampire and is trying to kill her. In the original movie, the back stories of all these characters is implied. Their friendship and Ed’s tragic upbringing, is done mostly through characterization.
In the original, when Jerry offers Ed immortality, his seduction game is on point. You understand Ed and why he’d choose such a thing. Not so much in the new one, where his turning seems to almost be an accident, or something that needs doing. Not that Colin Farrell doesn’t try to turn on the charm, its just the scene is much less effective when your partner in that scene is just not in your acting league. Ed doesn’t even get killed by Peter Vincent though, he gets killed by Charlie and I think we’re supposed to look at the whole thing as him saving Ed, or some sort of tragic misunderstanding. But that doesn’t work, and this is my biggest problem with the new movie:
I don’t like Charlie.
Charlie starts out as an okay guy. He’s got a hot girlfriend. He’s popular, blah, blah, blah. Although its tragically realistic, it turns out that having become such a popular guy has caused him to deliberately neglect his childhood friend, who is considered too weird to be one of the pretty, popular people. He won’t answer Ed’s phone calls and doesn’t visit him at home anymore. Since loyalty to one’s friends is one of my big issues, I just couldn’t forgive Charlie for this.
I understand what the creators were trying to do, but it had the unfortunate side effect of making Charlie unlikable, and so the rest of the emotional workings of the movie fall flat, as they are based on us feeling something positive for Charlie. Ed is understandably upset about being brushed off for bigger, better friends and when he brings this to Charlie’s attention, Charlie promises to come see him, later. It is Ed who discovers that Jerry is a vampire, after the disappearances of several of their classmates, that Charlie couldn’t be bothered to care about because, Hey!, he’s got it so good. He doesn’t need to worry about other people, including whatever Ed is getting up to.
When Ed tries to convince Charlie that this neighbor is a vampire, Charlie blows him off. They were supposed to meet so they could spy on Jerry but Charlie never shows and Ed gets ambushed by Jerry alone. When Ed doesn’t show up for school for the next couple of days, only then does Charlie begin to worry, at least some of which is informed by guilt. He needs a reason to go after Jerry, and Ed’s death is simply a means to an end, rather than like in the 1985 version, where its a decision that was made by Ed for his own personal reasons.
The new movie ends with some last minute saves , wherein Peter inexplicably changes his mind about helping Charlie kill Jerry, and just shows up a Jerry’s house in the nick of time. As in the original, there’s a lot of bombast, and fire, and sunlight, but without the emotional payoff one gets from seeing Jerry destroyed in the original. In the original, Jerry’s last words were Amy’s name, giving his death a level of tragedy, that’s lacking in the remake. In the new one, you’re just relieved he’s gone.
I prefer the soundtrack to the original film although the new one has a couple of really good songs, it’s mostly instrumentals by a composer. I’ve heard the songs from the original movie so many times, I know where I am in the plot just by what song is playing. The new movie doesn’t have an iconic sound, although I did enjoy “No One Believes Me” by Kid Cudi, which I don’t remember being featured in its end credits, and it should have.
Of the two, I prefer the original. The lack of depth in the remake gives it a more slapdash feeling. It’s not that the creators didn’t try to capture the mood of the original, but it’s just all surface stuff. There’s no intimation of deeper levels of character or even between the characters, although I liked the characterization of Charlie’s mom, and David Tennant’s Peter Vincent has its own allure. Colin Farrell gives it the old college try, and he’s certainly brooding and handsome, but he just doesn’t approach Sarandon’s level of sexypants. I can think of very few men who could.
To be fair, it would’ve been very hard to outdo the original, which was as perfect as could be made for that time period. I suspect we’ll be watching the 1985 version far into the future, while the 2011 version is forgotten, except for Kid Cudi:
Note: This video is far more frightening and emotional than the actual movie and I wish this had been made into a movie instead of what we got.