It was only a matter of time before the most famous and marketable creature of the night would rear its frightening head. Yes, I’m talking about vampires, a creature that has appeared in everything ranging from watered-down romance novels for tweens, modern CW soap operas for teens, as well as several video games and motion pictures—and that’s just the beginning.
It is from this love and fascination with vampires that we get this week’s combatants. Representing the old, we have Tom Holland’s 1985 classic, “Fright Night.” Representing the new, we have Craig Gillespie’s 2011 re-imagining bearing the same name.
Round 1: Story
The premise of both films is the same in its Hitchcockian setup. A new neighbor named Jerry Dandridge moves next-door to Charlie Brewster, who in turn notices strange activities and suspects he’s a vampire. He calls upon the assistance of an “expert vampire killer” named Peter Vincent, endangering his friends in the process. Many of the differences between the two films lie specifically in how the characters of both films are interpreted.
In the 1985 version, Charlie is your typical teenager. He’s got a decent looking girlfriend and mildly obnoxious friend, and enjoys the nightly horror movie program “Fright Night.” He’s not an outright caricature, but he’s still a bit of a dork—a typical everyman who’s easily distracted much to the chagrin of his girlfriend, Amy.
While the film does play up the fact that he’s pretty much alone in his knowledge of Dandridge’s true intentions, the attempt to follow an omniscient storyline squandered some potential the film had in really capturing the feeling of isolation and disbelief in the world around him.
In the case of the 2011 remake, we see almost a downright role-reversal between two of the characters, Charlie and Ed. While Ed was the skeptic in the original with Charlie being the dork, here we have Charlie being the skeptic and Ed being the dork. This is mostly to establish a strained friendship the two had, as well as provide a stronger motivation for Ed’s turn into a vampire, something the 1985 version didn’t do too well.
When it comes to the villain of the film, we also see some stark differences. While the 1985 version was more retaliatory and mysterious, the 2011 version is lot more direct and aggressive. It’s almost too aggressive for my tastes, as much of his actions couldn’t be as easily written off by the police as could the actions of the 1985 counterpart.
Another key difference is the methodology used to obtain victims. In the 1985 version, Dandridge mostly targeted women who were easily seduced and led into his home, but quickly disposing of them once he had his fill, as one would when they were done eating.
The 2011 version, on the other hand, kept his victims for a while as he fed on them and slowly turned them into vampires like himself. Other than that, he mostly treated the feedings akin to how one would have a snack: content to feed a little, have a beer and watch the Kardashians.
Finally, there’s Peter Vincent, the great vampire hunter. Here’s where we have the biggest difference between the two films, as the changes were made to match the location where each respective film is set. The 1985 version set in an unnamed suburb while the 2011 version is specifically set in a Nevada suburb adjacent to the Vegas strip.
With the 1985 version, the character is a loose amalgamation of Peter Cushing and Vincent Price, thus the name Peter Vincent, and is a send up to the horror films produced by Hammer Films, the spiritual successor to Universal’s horror legacy.
It’s clear that he’s an old man past his prime, once a notable actor now relegated to hosting a local programming block. This is also the classic case of an actor suddenly being asked to live up to their image.
In the case of the remake, we’re given equal parts to Criss Angel and Marilyn Manson, as the character is changed to a Las Vegas magician who has the vampire slayer element as a part of his act. He’s more of a brash drunkard celebrity in this version who also plays up an act and panics when he’s expected to live up to it.
However, one of the issues I had with the remake was how they tried to give Peter Vincent a tragic back story, such as his parents being killed by a vampire when he was a child. I felt that it kind of negated the whole fiction-becomes-fact element of the story. On top of that, having Dandridge be the same vampire from his childhood was just too coincidental to the point of stupidity. It’s the same reason why The Joker killing Batman’s parents in the Tim Burton movie didn’t work; it’s too much of a coincidence and negates a huge part of the story.
So which story is better? While I did enjoy both films, the major deciding factor was what complaints I had about both films. Since the complaints I had about the remake actually stem from something within the remake, then it makes the choice pretty clear. This round goes to the old.
Winner: 1985 Version
Round 2: Atmosphere
Both films come from a very contemporary aesthetic when considering the release dates of both films. As such, they both borrow conventions used in horror films of the time.
The original screams 80’s cinema throughout most of the film’s runtime when it comes to the set design and choice of costume for both characters. However, this is juxtaposed with the gothic imagery of the interior of Dandridge’s house.
Everything surrounding the house and character is new and modern, while the set design both inside and outside the house communicate a feeling of days past. It’s as if the character himself is seeking to recapture a bygone age, a feeling of sentimentalism if you will.
This works almost in parallel with the set dressing of Peter Vincent’s apartment, as it’s also dedicated to capturing the past that the character wishes to return to. It’s a very subtle design choice, but it makes for an interesting parallel between the two characters.
This is also very reflective of the decade’s fascination with the past and the legacy of monster films. Many people who saw those films growing up were now working in the film industry, leading to new takes on the genre as a whole, making for a nice homage.
In the case of the 2011 version, much of that subtlety is exchanged for an aesthetic present in modern horror films. Dandrige’s house is pretty much bare save for the necessities the house came with as he’s more focused on building his makeshift prison and underground lair.
On the whole, much of the film looks sleek and modern, with not a lot of attention to the set dressing, save for Peter Vincent’s apartment, which takes on the museum-like quality in the sense that it’s like a trophy room. There’s no real sentimentality to it all, nor does it really communicate anything insightful about the character, save for the fact that the whole thing’s an act.
This round is a much easier round to decide based on what I’ve discussed. The older version was able to communicate information about the characters in its set design, a lot more clearly than the remake. While it can be argued that you could glean information from the Charlie’s room in the remake, all I saw was a typical teenager’s room and not much else. For those reasons, I give this round to the old.
Winner: 1985 Version
Round 3: Best Climax
There was no major character or element of the film that could really be singled out for this final round, so this round will instead be decided by the climaxes of both films. Which film features the best showdown between Charlie Brewster, Peter Vincent, and Jerry Dandridge?
In the case of the original, it has a fairly slow build-up as we see Charlie prepared to go in alone when he suddenly finds that Peter Vincent has decided to tag along. They enter the house, where they are greeted straightaway by Dandridge, who delivers a cocky speech, leading to the moment where Peter Vincent’s crucifix is found to be powerless.
Charlie is smacked of the stairs and Vincent runs away to the Brewster house, leading to his confrontation with Vampire Ed. This gives him the confidence to go back into the house to save Charlie, who’s been locked in a room with the newly-turned vampire, Amy.
After breaking down the door, the two deal with Dandridge’s goon and then go after Dandridge himself, who is put at a disadvantage as the sun starts to rise. He flees to his coffin in the basement, prompting the two to follow suit, leading to the special effects laden battle where they contend not just with Dandridge but also Amy.
The vampire is ultimately defeated after all of the blacked-out windows have been smashed, allowing sunlight to enter the basement. Vincent closes the coffin before Dandridge can get inside, leaving him trapped and eventually reduced to ash.
If there’s one thing I have to say about this sequence, it’s that it goes on for a lot longer than it needed to and feels a tad drawn out. I understand that you can’t have the sun rising too soon, but having the story take a detour to deal with Ed is not the best way to pad for time.
With the remake, the climax has a much faster pace, as a fully-armed Charlie storms the house, smashing all of the windows as he searches for Dandridge. Upon reuniting with Vincent, who also had a change of heart in this version, the two find a secret trapdoor in Dandridge’s prison cells, leading to the underground cavern he had been digging.
Like the original, Charlie is locked in a room with Vampire Amy, but this time Vincent is directly confronted by Dandridge, which is where we get the stupid plot-twist about him being the vampire that killed Vincent’s parents.
Dandridge then throws a pebble at Vincent, the blood from the wound waking up his vampire servants who then proceed to swarm him. At the same time, Charlie deals with Amy by staking her in the stomach, forcing her away and returning to the main chamber where Vincent is being fed on by the other vampires.
Charlie quickly breaks the floorboards to let more sunlight into the room, allowing the two a brief respite as Dandridge gives a cocky speech. This leads to what is probably the most awesome vampire takedown I’ve ever seen on film: the fire tackle.
Charlie literally lights himself on fire and tackles Dandridge, clipping onto his belt so that he can’t shake him. This buys him enough time to run a stake through the vampire’s heart, freeing the people under his power and destroying him once and for all.
This climax is a lot more action-packed and has a much faster pace than the original. While the remake had a few problems, this scene, especially the fire tackle, was definitely one of the film’s better moments. On top of that, since the film dealt with the “you have to have faith” lines earlier in the film, it didn’t need to revisit that and allowed things to flow along more smoothly. As such, I give this round to the 2011 remake.
Winner: 2011 Version
Both films are definitely decent horror films and also manage to exemplify what vampire stories once were, tales that were meant to inspire fear with lust being an undertone, unlike many vampire books, television shows and movies that now crowd the market.
However, this isn’t one of those stories that really demands a perfect version, as the story itself isn’t really a landmark in the history of horror cinema. Both are products of their time and do a good job reflecting the era’s in which they were made. There’s no real need to revisit them for quite some time.
On a final note, I will not be doing an episode comparing the sequels of both films as they are quite literally two different movies. For now, this battle draws to a close in favor of the 1985 version of “Fright Night.”
Winner: 1985 Version
Join me in seven days, when the East shall meet the West as we take on a tale from the land of the rising sun.