This is going to be a new style for me with my reviews, but some movies beg for it others deserve it. With Carrie coming up later this week there will be an old vs new for that one focusing on the original Spacek movie and the current Moretz remake, that will not cover the fifteen bajillion remakes of Carrier since the original.
Today I am going to be reviewing Fright Night 1985 vs 2011. Both are clear entries into the campy horror film and both are highly entertaining. As usual I will go into what history I know and some information about directors, writers, cast and effects. By default this will be a kinda massive review since it’s two movies in one, but the TL;DR will be there at the end. For the sake of understanding I will address the movie by year rather than Original or Remake.
Let’s talk story for those unfamiliar with it; as between the films it lies largely unchanged. Charley Brewster is a normal sixteen year old kid with a hot girlfriend, a nerdy best friend, a single mom and a big problem when a vampire named Jerry moves in next door. Charley alone seems to be aware of the problem and when no one believes him and he doesn’t know what else to do he enlists the aid of TV star Peter Vincent “Vampire Slayer”. Vincent is as much a coward as he is a fraud, but together they find their courage and go to war with the undead.
1985 has writer and director Tom Holland who also gave us the original Childs Play, Thinner and the Langoliers. Hmm two out of four isn’t all that bad. While 2011 brought Holland along for inspiration and blessing, which he gave, it is directed by newly minted director Craig Gillespie who has brought nothing prior that anyone I know has seen. Marti Noxon as the writer brought the modernization and changes to the story using the expertise she learned with her years on Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel. The world of vampires, irony and humor are not lost on her nor were they on the execution of the film. It probably helps she was also a producer on Buffy/Angel as well so knew some other tricks of the trade to make sure she delivered the right work for the director.
While the overall arc and plot remain unchanged there are some significant changes in the actual story and characters. 1985 seems to be set in some sleepy California suburb where Jerry feels he can feed in peace, until a nosy neighbor interferes with his plans. He really does just want to be left alone. 2011 moves us to the outskirts of Las Vegas as the housing boom collapses like a flan in a cupboard. Jerry here is a clear predator and while he tries to blend in to cover, he also makes no bones about hunting and killing anything in his way. Other changes go more into the characters, so without further aduei lets talk about…
Our hero, sixteen, awkward, identifiable and generally speaking a blank slate for our audience to put themselves in. 1985 has William Ragsdale (largely because I *think* Zach Galligan of Gremlins was looking too old). He is frustrated with his girlfriend Amy not wanting to put out and is obsessed with the late night horror movies that we once had in the 80s. He is both awkward and obsessive once he comes to believe his neighbor is a vampire. The character has a Bedroom Window type vibe to him for the first half while he tries to convince everyone of what he saw and the dangers grow. He believes absolutely in what Jerry is and by the time others do it’s too late. He is the hero the entire time – unrequited or no.
2011 gives us Anton Yelchin (Star Trek) who while 22 at the time of release still looks 15. Yelchin gives us a completely different spin on Brewster and perhaps a more realistic one. His high school life has changed as he finds himself dating Amy the hottest girl in school and has chosen to abandon his nerdy past and his friends for her. Interestingly he is the one who is more nervous about sex than she is but she surprisingly respects him for it. When things begin to advance in the plot he like a normal kid doesn’t believe it until faced with the complete and utter horror of it all and the loss of people he cares for. Yelchin’s performance here is actually what I believe gives him one up on Ragsdale as he shows the shock so well and his approach to Vincent has a different kind of desperation to it. He isn’t the hero the entire time but by the end of the movie has earned his stripes and then some, but he needs the help of…
Peter Vincent – Vampire Slayer
If Charleys differences between movies are different by a mile, Vincent is different by a hemisphere. 1985 has such an amazing star as the role, with Roddy McDowall lending his broad depth of talent and experience to the film. His portrayal is that of a Hammer films style actor and late night TV host of horror movies. The character is an actor that when finally convinced to meet Jerry finds his entire world crumble and his life threatened. He is a coward but in the end finds his faith and faces the Vampire. His performance is honest, true and you feel for him and the transition from vampire hunter actor to vampire hunter for real is as painful as it should be. It also lends some of the true heart and humor in the movie that the other actors fail at miserably.
2011 has a Criss Angel like, Vegas showman with a hit occult performance and pure over the top modern goth look to him. Pulling it off in style is David Tennant (If you don’t know who he is. You Fail at geek life). Everything about the showman is ridiculous and perfect. Some people compared his character to Jack Sparrow and to that I say “he’s a brit, playing a drunk brit. At least he was an actual brit to begin with.” Unlike 1985 this Vincent is a collector of all things arcane and vampiric to the point scholars go to him, though if they get something coherent from him I am surprised. This one dismisses Charley not because he thinks the boy is insane, but because he KNOWS he isn’t and is afraid to face his own demons. When his own life is threatened he wants to run but mans up and joins Charley, at some cost, in the 11th hour against…
Chris (Humperdink) Sarandon vs. Colin Farrell. Hmm, here it gets interesting as we have two different takes on the same predator. 1985 has the Yuppie, scarf and sweater wearing, apple munching monster who wants to be left alone and would have gotten away with it had it not been for those nosy kids. While in 2011 we have a more blue collar contractor who blends with his environment only to the point where you pay attention. 1985 hides the vampire beneath the veneer of civility and politeness and has a hidden menace with each line and smile. Everything he says comes across like a gentleman who as Charley or a Viewer know is a veiled threat. 2011 is more direct. He acts like a predator and anyone paying the least bit attention can see it, including the other characters. He wastes no time playing cat and mouse with Charley and taking what he wants knowing he is the superior species.
On that point. There’s two different takes on Vampires between the two. While the original just says Vampire, the new one feels the inexplicable need to explain them as something. A decision I don’t agree with but somewhat explains the odd look to my favorite fanged beasts in both films. On the actors though, while Farrell is a predator, Sarandon is a monster and wins just for the line “Welcome to Fright Night. For Real.”
The girlfriend, I won’t spend much time on as she performance in 1985 by Amanda Bearse (Married with Children) is outshined and far less annoying in the 2011 played by Imogen Poots (yes thats a real name). 2011 is a far stronger and just far more likeable character.
The mom. 85 is a nearly non-existent, stereotypical 80’s mother. 2011 is a stronger, more supportive and modern woman and carries the events better.
The best friend. “Evil” Ed. I am torn here as Evil was a nickname I had through middle and high school because of this film and character. 1985 is played by Stephen Geoffreys with his manic presence and high pitched voice. The movie fails to give him much to do but it’s clear he has a back story I find far more interesting than Charleys then. The pain on his face when Jerry meets him in the cold, dark alley is just one of the reasons to love him; if you can get beyond the voice. 2011 however has Christopher Mintz-Plasse (most known for Superbad or Kick Ass) playing a slightly different Ed. Only slightly. Both really are the same character and have the same depth but 2011 gives the actor more to run with and you ache for him when he meets Jerry VERY early in the film.
1985. Hands down. While the sets, dressings, costuming and general make up are superior in the 2011 it relies to heavily on CGI to keep you invested. There are a handful of practical make up effects but they look to be touched up by a clumsy hand on the post production. 1985 has all practical all the time, save for some rather bad post production flames. While the effects don’t necessarily hold up perfectly nearly thirty years later, they are still superior when you realize they are all make up and prosthetic work and keep you invested when they are used. Sometimes ridiculous looking, the fangs/face morphs in both are weird, but 1985’s just work better.
Where does that leave us?
TL;DR of course, thought we’d never get here eh?
Too close to call
Story – Both are perfect for when they came out and will be frozen in the time they did.
At the end of the night, the two movies are both very enjoyable and completely watchable on different levels. I think the 2011 version is just slightly better overall in execution and can, despite the bad effects, deliver a more long lasting entertainment value.
I recommend watching both and letting me know what you think in the comments below.
Hint for tomorrows review wants to know if these knives are real silver
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