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Fright Night: the very disappointing remake

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The 1985 Fright Night has been one of my favorite vampire movies since college. I knew it was dangerous to see a remake of a movie I love-love-love, but after seeing pictures of David Tennant’s hilariously cheesy (and shirtless!) take on Peter Vincent, finding out that Marti “Buffy” Noxon wrote the script, and seeing nothing but moderately good reviews, I thought, what the hey? I figured I’d be getting a halfway decent vampire movie, if I just forgot this other thing called Fright Night existed.

This is the best thing about the remake, so I’m posting it here. 

I was, sadly, wrong. So very, very wrong.

Spoilers ahead, but suffice to say, my advice to you as a movie fan is, rent a DVD of the original. And my advice to you, Hollywood producers, is stop making all these damned pointless remakes. You could have just asked Marti Noxon to write a vampire comedy featuring high school students, you know? I’m pretty sure it would have been better.
Where to begin with the flaws in this movie? Okay, the title. In the original, “Fright Night” is the name for one of those hosted late-night horror programs on television (you know, the kind local TV stations used to have, and people like Elvira and Vampira hosted). Peter Vincent, who starred as a vampire slayer in innumerable cheap Hammer-esque vampire movies, is the host.
The horror program is integral to the story. Protagonist Charlie Brewster and his girlfriend Amy love watching Fright Night, and when the movie begins — with some hilariously awful vampire movie dialog that proves to be part of the movie on the television — they are making out with Fright Night on in the background. First, Amy gets nervous and tries to cool things down by pointing out to Charlie that Peter Vincent is on the television. Then Amy decides to go for it — all the way — and Charlie is the one who gets distracted, by the sight of new neighbors moving what looks like an elaborately sculpted coffin into the house next door. Amy storms out in a rage.
This is, structurally, a fantastic opening scene. We get introduced to the major characters, conflicts, and themes very economically. It tells you exactly what the movie is going to be about. Also, it’s funny and there’s a lot of tension.

The log line for the movie could be something like, “Life imitates art when a teenage horror fan becomes convinced that his next door neighbor is a vampire.”

The fact that Charlie, and later Peter Vincent, become stars in the real-life version of the kind of movie they obsess over is, you know, the *point*.

Now, those hosted horror programs were already dying in the 80s — in fact, that is also part of the point. Peter Vincent is a has-been, a sad and tired and lonely man way past his prime. In fact, at first, he is willing to get involved with these crazy kids only *because he needs the money*.

In the new movie, Peter Vincent is a cheesy Vegas magician who does a horror-themed show called “Fright Night.” Tennant is fine in the role, and whenever his character is on screen the movie livens up considerably. But it doesn’t thematically tie into anything else. Charlie doesn’t start out as a would-be magician obsessed with Vincent’s show, for example. The idea of life imitating art — which in this case could have been tied to illusions rather than movies — is completely missing. Also missing is the buildup of tension and suspense as Charlie becomes convinced his neighbor is a vampire, while he is unable to convince anyone else.
The log line is more like, “A teenage boy fears for his life when a vampire moves next door.”

I hope it’s obvious why that’s not as interesting.

Also, maybe it’s just me, but I think Peter Vincent as a has-been struggling to maintain what’s left of his dignity is a million times more interesting than Peter Vincent as a wealthy asshole at the top of his game. The movie shows him as an intemperate drinker, but plays it only for laughs, and pretty mild laughs at that. (Among its many sins is the fact that this movie just isn’t very funny.)

In the original, one of the interesting things going on is the way Charlie has had a one-way hero worship relationship with Vincent for many years. And Vincent is clearly torn between being flattered and irritated by that every time he interacts with Charlie. In this movie, Charlie and Vincent don’t have a relationship at all. Charlie simply finds out that Vincent is an occult enthusiast and tries to enlist his help. Which, naturally, he doesn’t give. Then later he does.

BECAUSE A VAMPIRE KILLED HIS PARENTS.

(My name is Peter Vincent, you killed my parents, prepare to die!)

Okay, what? Seriously, the sprinkling of Buffy-style occultism and supernatural melodrama does not work at all in this movie. It’s jarring and weird and feels tacked-on. Fright Night is supposed to be a classic straight-ahead vampire movie. Like Dracula.
Oh, yeah, and another thing. The original Fright Night kind of follows the general story and character templates of Dracula. This movie doesn’t. But it doesn’t follow anything else either. It’s missing that elusive, but fundamental, spark that makes something a story instead of a bunch of stuff that happened.
And the sexual tension is gone. Just — gone. There’s one scene where Charlie (now a bland ex-nerd trying to escape his nerdly past) and Amy (now a bland and improbably hot popular girl) are making out and they have a discussion about the fact that they haven’t had sex yet. But it just comes across as a point of trivia. Oh, they haven’t slept together. Whatever. They don’t recreate the pattern of rising heat, then fear, then the vampire coming between them, which drove the first movie. They don’t have arguments and then make up. In fact, there is no discernible emotional relationship between them at all.
I repeat again. There is NO SEXUAL TENSION in this movie.

Charlie doesn’t have a voyueristic fascination with the vampire’s activities. The vampire doesn’t feed on classy and attractive hookers. The vampire doesn’t seduce Amy. He doesn’t seduce Charlie’s friend Ed (now the nerdy childhood buddy Charlie is embarrassed by). Amy doesn’t come into her own as a sexual being only after her encounter with the vampire. The vampire doesn’t have a casually homoerotic relationship with a ghoulish (but funny) live-in minion.

Okay, let’s talk about the vampire. In the original, Chris Sarandon absolutely nails the vampire as elegant predator with human intelligence. Many of the scenes are driven by a cat and mouse between him and Charlie, where the vampire owns the situation and Charlie is obviously in way over his head. The original has a fantastic nightmarish scene where the vampire is chasing them, and they run and run and run and he just kind of saunters along casually, and yet he is always right behind them.
This movie has only one scene that feels like that, where Charlie is testing whether the whole “not being invited” thing will really keep the vampire out of his home, while the vampire is still trying to pretend to be human, and they have this creepy awkward tense conversation while Charlie gets beers out of the refrigerator and the vampire stands just outside the kitchen door. It’s pretty much the only scary scene in the whole movie.

So that’s the remake. Bland protagonist, bland monster, bland girlfriend, no driving story, no thematic consistency, no emotional impact, no sex, no scares, and almost no humor.

Why have I read so many moderately positive reviews of this movie? It’s just baffling.

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