How It’s Done: Why the Remake of Fright Night Works
Confession time: I absolutely loved Tom Holland’s 1985 version of Fright Night. It spoke to my campy horror roots: the dweeby kids, the midnight movies, the hot vampire. I mean, Chris Sarandon in the 80s: rawr. I digress. Point is, I was not happy when I heard that it was getting remade. I didn’t want to go see it. I got dragged to the remake of this film when it was playing in the theatres in 2011. By David Tennant fan girls, when I am most decidedly NOT one myself. I loaded up on movie theatre hot dogs in the hope that my ass would be exhausted from the sheer amount of chemicals contained within said food and I’d be passed out in a blissful food coma for the duration of the film.
So imagine my abject shock – SHOCK, I tell you! – when I actually found myself enjoying the damn thing. At first, I felt a little dirty, like I had cheated on Holland’s cult classic. Then I realized that I have no shame, so I dropped that routine and focused on something else: where this one succeeded where so many remakes fall flat.
|I wanted to hate you with every inch of my body.|
Here’s the thing about remakes: oftentimes, studios will take something that was awesome and redo it, only to try to make is far too hip or skimp on areas that should not have been skimped on (such as actors that can act or writers that can write). I wish that studios would take a different approach: grab a handful of films every year that should have been excellent (but sucked more than a cheap hooker on a Friday night) and remake those so that the mediocre film can reach its full potential. That’s what makes the 2011 version of Fright Night such a rarity for me: it took something that was actually good and used that as the basis for a good horror film that can both stand alone and hold up to its predecessor.
So, what worked? For starters, it knew how to translate the theme of awkward adolescence into modern times. Effectively, this made the piece more universal for kids struggling to be accepted by their peer groups, which is a cross-generational issue. Instead of being a fan of midnight movies, Anton Yelchin’s Charley was a geek that suddenly found himself dating a popular girl. Suddenly, Charley was part of the cool crowd, and he bumbled through it in a way that was believable. We got tension in the form of his great social struggle: he still cared about his friends, but wanted broader social acceptance and therefore performed the crappy teenage action of shunning those that had always been there for him. It’s a depth that we don’t often get with films about teenagers, and it approached it in a realistic way, from Yelchin looking uncomfortable to Christopher Mintz-Plasse’s pained expressions and clenched jaw. They looked like kids struggling with their changed social status, and that quality made it more accessible to the audience: we’ve all seen friends grow apart, and this was a painful breakup to witness. Come to think of it, the development of quite a few supporting characters succeeded in elevating this story, from Tennant’s bawdy Peter Vincent to Toni Collette’s tired-but-not-quite-ready-to-be-put-out-to-pasture mother Jane. Writer Marti Noxon made sure that everyone was developed within the confines of the original story: kid finds out his neighbor is a vampire.
|This actually worked, and worked very well.|
This leads me to the real trick of the film: it takes the core story and updates the setting and backstory in order to make it fit into modern times without feeling that it has to do something fresh. Thus, we get a working mother who wouldn’t mind dating, a house full of secret, sound-proofed rooms, and a kid who Googles how to pick locks. As late-night horror shows are a thing of the past (sadly), Vincent had to get updated as a showy magician, complete with a passive-aggressive assistant. (Sidenote: the barbs traded between Vincent and Ginger are everything.) We even got some winks to the previous film, from the genius cameo of Chris Sarandon to the club scene. Updates that suit the times, but don’t feel like they’re trying to be too hip or modern. Everything is appropriate without trying too hard. This script was thought out, and it shows.
|Yeah, even though I don’t find you attractive, David, you were an asset in this.|
Rarely do I say that I liked a remake, let alone one that I was literally dragged to, kicking and screaming. The 2011 Fright Night managed to get it right by putting more thought into the characters of the modern age than how to recapture the magic of something that already had a captive audience. In doing so, it managed to crack how to update a film without making it a joke. The Hugo song at the credits didn’t hurt, either.