By C. Michael Forsyth
I’ve never looked forward to hating a film more than I did the “Fright Night” remake. I loathe gratuitous remakes and the 1985 original happens to be a personal favorite of mine. Bad enough that Hollywood vultures have to recycle blockbusters like “Planet of the Apes.” Must they mess with little cult classics too?
Chris Sarandon’s chilling performance as the vampire next-door-neighbor Jerry Dandridge earned him a berth in the pantheon of greatest big-screen bloodsuckers — surpassing, in my book, both Bela Lugosi and Christopher Lee. He’s such a magnetic actor and makes such interesting choices. And what range the guy has! From Al Pacino’s transssexual lover in “Dog Day Afternoon” to a Jesus who is actually INTERESTING in “The Day Christ Died.”
William Ragsdale was charming as the mild-mannered hero high-schooler Charlie Brewster. And of course, Roddy McDowell created one of his most memorable film characters: Peter Vincent — an amalgam of Peter Cushing and Vincent Price — a cowardly ham actor who played vampire slayers in old movies and is reluctantly drawn into the real-life vampire hunt.
When I got to see a sneak preview of the new flick at the Flashback Weekend horror convention in Chicago, I relished the opportunity to bash the re-do like a garbage bag full of rabid weasels. It turned out, however, that the movie is really good! In some ways, I grudgingly admit, it’s superior to the original.
The best move the filmmakers made was not try to recreate the original with a new cast, but instead to “re-imagine” it. That’s a cliche among Hollywood recyclers, of course, but this time they really did it, I promise.
Sarandon’s Jerry Dandridge was a sexy, suave sophisticate who tries to charm his way into the home of Charlie‘s mom and into the pants of the teen’s girlfriend Amy. Colin Farrell’s Jerry is a sexy blue-collar bad-boy who takes a much more “hands-on” approach. At one point, Charlie’s friend Ed warns that Jerry is “like the shark in ‘Jaws’ ” and that’s how Farrell plays him. As an animal: an air-sniffing, impulsive, instinct-driven beast.
Some of the changes plug plot holes in the original film. In the ’85 version, it took a real leap of faith to believe that intelligent Charlie — or anyone else older than six — would think that because Peter Vincent played a vampire killer in movies, he would be of any use combatting a real vampire. The new Peter Vincent is a flashy Las Vegas magician who has written extensively on vampires and has amassed a vast collection of tools for fighting them. David Tennant plays him brilliantly, as a boozing, flamboyant, Russell Brand-like jerk.
In the original, Charlie’s sidekick “Evil” Ed was a fun-loving wiseass played by charismatic young Stephen Geoffreys. I always thought it odd that when Jerry corners Ed and attempts to seduce him into vampirism, he tells Ed how he’d never have to worry about not fitting in anymore. To me, Ed seemed like a cool, funny dude I’d love to hang out with in high school.
By contrast, the new Ed (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) is a classic sexless nerd, with big glasses and a penchant for Dungeons and Dragons-type imaginative games. Charlie’s wussiness actually becomes a central element of the plot. Here he’s a recovering nerd with a hot new girlfriend who is trying desparately to ditch his old “geek” buddies like Ed. When Ed warns Charlie that he suspects Jerry is a vampire, Charlie (Anton Yelchin) ignores him, saying he’s too old for geeky make-believe games. Ed has his run-in with Jerry and vanishes — a turn of events now moved to the beginning of the film. Charlie feels responsible and must make things right. Thus the “stakes” are raised.
In the original, it was highly suspect that Charlie’s girlfriend Amy could be restored to normal after having been transformed into a bloodsucking vampiress with gianormous fangs. In the update, there’s an explanation given for the potential cure.
It was a bit peculiar in the ’80s version that Charlie’s mom remains oblivious to the danger and mayhem, literallty sleeping through much of the action. In the remake, she gets involved, big time.
The new movie does introduce a few plot holes of its own. Charlie inexplicably ventures into Jerry’s house, unarmed, in the middle of the night, knowing full well the vampire could return any moment. The fact that kids are vanishing from the school doesn’t raise any public alarm. (Ed’s own parents don’t seem to notice his absence). In the original, Charlie makes repeated and considerable efforts to get help from the police before taking matters into his own hands. This go-around, Charlie gives up on getting help from the authorities even after Jerry… well, let’s just say he breaks a few local ordinances.
In the original, crosses are useless against Jerry when wielded by someone lacking faith. Here there’s no explanation given as to why they’re ineffective.
So, overall, four stakes up for “Fright Night,” the remake. Hey, maybe I should keep an open mind about Farrell’s next visit to the recycling bin: filling Arnold’s shoes in another of my favorites, “Total Recall.”
ON THE HOUR OF THE BEAST FRONT…
My werewolf novel is selling like gangbusters! You can order an eBook for just $5 at http://freedomshammer.com. If that would bust your budget, BEG your local librarian to order a copy. Tell her it’s the perfect book for Halloween.
In two weeks, I’ll be heading to Horrorfind, a big horror convention in Gettysburg, PA. I’m busy gathering interesting werewolf-oriented props to take — so if you have any ideas, leave a comment. The last festival, Flashback Weekend, was a hoot. Here, as promised, is footage from Flashback Weekend’s Zombie Pin Up Pageant, hosted by John La Flamboy, star of the upcoming horror flick, “The Mole Men of Belmont Avenue.” If images of hot girls in full zombie makeup prancing around in skimpy clothing, flashing their undies and gratutiously bending over offends you, do NOT view this video. Vote on your favorite below:
And the winners are…