Halloween night! : DDDDDDD
I dressed up a little, ate candy, drank half a beer, and did a double feature with my roommate: Fright Night, the original and the remake, back to back. Neither of us had seen either film before, and this was long overdue.
I don't know how to talk about either of these movies without talking about the other one. I can't help but compare and contrast them, since we did a double feature tonight. I'll start with some basic impressions of each film and then talk about them compared to each other:
Fright Night (1985)
For the original, I was super impressed with the visuals, genuinely frightened, in love with the music, and pleasantly surprised by the queercoding and queer text. I was a little annoyed with some of the characters at times, and found the handling of Amy and her sexuality a little troubling. I know it's the 80s, but still. Peter Vincent was my favorite of the lot, and I was genuinely moved by his arc.
Fright Night (2011)
I consider this a pretty good remake, especially as horror remakes go. I was pleased with the casting, loved the setting change, enjoyed how Amy and Charlie's attitudes towards sex were flipped, and was very moved by the friendship falling out between Charlie and Ed. However I found the story's pacing to somewhat fall apart around the halfway mark, wasn't scared during the second half at all, and was disappointed with some of the effects. While there were some very strong individual scenes in this film (the opening in particular is very chilling, as is the scene where Charlie gets beer for Jerry, and the sequence where Charlie and Doris try to escape Jerry's house) the overall film didn't feel as strong.
Film vs. Film
My roommate and I talked this out a lot after the movies. We ended up sorta comparing individual bits and pieces to each other.
I gotta say, for a movie that's only 5 years old, most of the effects in the Fright Night remake don't hold up. I do appreciate that they tried to mimic the look of the vampire mouths from the original, but considering the original is 31 years old and the effects STILL had me and my roommate yelping and covering our eyes or cheering and looking closer in awe, that says a lot.
I'm very torn on how each film handled women and women's sexuality. The original was ... odd. The biting scene between Jerry and Amy plays with sexy saxophone music and seems framed as a sexy scene, but Amy is being mind-controlled (or is she?) and it's a horrifying thing that seems like it's supposed to be a rape. Later she seems to think because of what happened in that room, Charlie won't "want her" anymore, implying some nasty victim-blaming attitudes. While I like how in the 2011 remake Amy is the sexually experienced one who is pushing for sex, the biting scene is clearly unwanted and plays very creepily, and then the next time we see Amy she's writhing around on top of Charlie enthusiastic about her vampirehood and she seems to exist in the script to drape herself over Jerry and metaphorically blow him in front of Charlie to upset Charlie. Imogen Poots is a great actress but she was not given great moments to work with in the latter half of this script.
The cast was exquisite in the remake. David Tennant saves the Peter Vincent role in the remake, in another actor's hands it would have been pretty bad, his sudden and random backstory was too sudden and not needed. Jerry was super hot and super scary, but I think original jerry was scarier because he managed to be terrifying even in a dorky sweater and I don't think Colin Farrell could have managed that. I liked how the mother was more of a character in the remake. And I really loved the plotline with Charlie's friend Ed in the remake ... though only at the start of the film. I didn't like how Ed then wasn't used for most of the rest of the film, and popped up for a brief moment that lacked the emotional poignancy of the original. Peter Vincent fighting and then killing Evil Ed in the original was a tearful and tragic moment, where you saw the moral conflict within Peter Vincent about murdering a mostly-human-being. That poignancy was wanted in the remake but didn't quite happen.
What the remake did really well was the setting update. They made great use of the "suburb outside of Las Vegas" location, with the abandoned houses, transient people, proximity of Vegas' glitz, and the abundance of people who worked nights.
I'm a bit split on the queer content in both films. Obviously the original is chock full of that, in subtle and not so subtle ways. I'm unclear on how much was snuck in, how much was meant to telegraph "danger/bad people" to the audiences, and how much was meant as cutting social commentary. I could list things off - the villain literally emerges from a closet and then hurls the male protagonist into the closet early on, not to mention hugs his Renfield from behind at one point - but I'm sure plenty of people have gone in-depth into this before. It'd be easy to say the film is about an evil bisexual swooping in to disrupt the quiet heteronormative neighborhood before being defeated by a hetero couple and their older male mentor, but I could write an entire scene about Jerry and Evil Ed in that alleyway alone so I don't think the analysis is unwarranted. Not to mention the implications in 1985 of showing someone some distinctive marks on your body and saying "he got me." While I'd say it's a lot more subtle and nuanced in the original, the remake is ... not. The few indications of queer content are offhand comments or joke-moments, mostly to do with Peter Vincent. What we have are: a bunch of ladies writhing around on each other, Peter Vincent telling puppy-eyed Charlie "I'm gonna pop your cherry," Evil Ed straddling Charlie and asking "is this getting weird for you? Because I'm feeling a little homo right now!", and Peter kissing Charlie in relief after the climactic battle. I was looking forward to Colin Farrell macking on Anton Yelchin, and I didn't get any of that. It's like they took all the queerness from Jerry and gave it to Peter Vincent in the remake, but only as joke-moments. I'm kinda disappointed? IDK, I have to think about this more.
Like if I make a chart of bits comparing them, it breaks down like this:
Amy (first half): Remake
Amy (second half): Original
Evil Ed (first half): Remake
Evil Ed (second half): Original
Charlie's Mom: Remake
Opening scene: Remake
I think that overall the remake did a good job of doing their own thing while homaging and honoring the old. They succeeded for the most part, but not as much as they could have. It's ok. It's not great, it's not better, but it's ok.
While there are elements and moments I liked more in the remake than in the original, I think overall the original is a more consistently good movie. I'm glad we have both. I liked doing this double feature and I highly recommend it. I just think in the future I'll be rewatching the original more than I will the remake.