Fright Night (1985) vs. Fright Night (2011): Why the update's far more old-fashioned than the classic
Real men do not read Twilight.
That’s what high school kid Charley Brewster (Anton Yelchin) tells his nerdy, vampire-obsessed friend Evil Ed (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) in the 2011 update of the campy horror classic Fright Night. What he’s really saying is clear: this is not going to be one of those romantic vampire movies where some pale, skinny guy messes around with a pretty young promise-ring type but refrains from sticking it in her (his tooth, that is).
And Charley’s right. The vampire in this movie (a bloodlicker named Jerry, played by real-life nighthawk Colin Farrell) is not a moral guy. Living on the outskirts of Las Vegas, he’s a stripper-torturing, teenage-girl-perverting, Real Housewives of New Jersey-watching fang-banger who preys on single moms and brags to the cops that he’s making the local women scream every night. (Read EW’s excellent defense of Jerry’s horrible, disgusting mercilessness here.)
So what’s that bad boy doing in such a conservative movie? After the jump, we’ll discuss why this sexier, bloodier update is actually far more old-fashioned than the 1985 original. WARNING: There are tons of major spoilers below. Plus, “Edward Cullen” and “chastity belt” are used very close together. Read at your own risk.
In the original 1985 Fright Night, the drama isn’t about killing the vampire. All the action focuses on getting Charley (William Ragsdale) laid — the vampire’s just the biggest obstacle to that goal. The opening scene begins with Charley and his girlfriend Amy (Amanda Bearse) making out while a vampire movie plays in the background. Amy keeps stopping Charley from going too far, because she’s scared of the same things as the victims in the movie: OMG, will it hurt? Will loving him just end up killing me? If I do this tonight, will he still be around once the sun comes up tomorrow morning? It takes Charley approximately five seconds to argue her out of that moral quandary. Soon, she’s unbuttoning her shirt, telling Charley that she’s ready to lose her virginity. But Charley’s distracted by what’s going on next door: His neighbor Jerry (Chris Sarandon) and another man are moving coffins into their house.
It’s fitting that Charley’s vampire neighbor puts a stop to his romantic night, because Jerry is a symbol of everything that’s keeping Charley from sleeping with Amy. Jerry’s the reason that Charley’s mom keeps pounding on his locked bedroom door, demanding to know what’s going on in there. (No, mom, honest! There’s a rabid bat flying around the room, and I was just trying to shield Amy with my body!) Plus, Jerry’s a real threat to Charley’s sexuality. After he turns Charley’s best friend “Evil Ed” (Stephen Geoffreys) into a vampire, the little guy offers to give Charley a hickey, right in front of Amy. If Amy suspects that Charley might be gay, that relationship more dead than Jerry is.
Besides, Amy’s got other options. Jerry’s that handsome older man (approximately 5.25 million years older, by our count) who’s also stronger and more mysterious and just far more compelling to high school girls than Charley is. When Amy meets him, she’s into him right away, especially after Jerry sneaks her into a club and does some weird ballet recital routine with her on the dance floor before dragging her back to his mansion. Older guys: They have way more sophisticated dance moves than your high school boyfriend.
Of course, if Jerry is to blame for Charley never getting Amy into bed, he’s also the perfect solution to that problem. Jerry’s the one who first ravishes Amy, transforming her from a virginal girl-next-door to a total vixen. When we first see her after she’s been “turned,” she’s walking around Jerry’s place in a see-through dress, her hair mussed with that just-rolled-out-of-the-bat’s-nest intensity, her teeth ready to bite. Once Charley’s killed Jerry, he can safely take Amy back to bed, and she won’t be scared anymore. Indeed, the movie ends with Charley and Amy making out in his room, while Evil Ed cheers him on from the demon lair next door. “Ooh, you’re so cool Brewster!” he says. Sure, Charley’s the hero who’s slayed Jerry — but the real happy ending is that he’ll never be hard up again.
By contrast, the new Fright Night is way more traditional in its values. This time, it focuses on Charley’s changing friendship with Evil Ed, his best friend from childhood, and his attempts to save his single mom (Toni Collette) from making bad choices with the bad boy next door. Amy (Imogen Poots) is still around, but Charley’s the one who’s the virgin. And the more time he spends hunting down Jerry, the less interested he is in sex, always pulling away from Amy in order to watch Jerry from his bedroom window. When Amy accuses him of not wanting to touch her, he breaks up with her, explaining, “I don’t want you to get hurt.”
Didn’t Edward Cullen say that once — or five billion times? It’s funny that Amy spends one scene reading Wuthering Heights, the same book that Bella reads in Twilight, because there’s enough chastity-belt repression in both movies to make Emily Brontë blush. Even when Jerry turns Amy, he doesn’t bite her at first. He just gives her a kiss.
If teen sex is verboten in this movie, drugs are way worse, especially out there in Sin City, where everyone’s a vampire, staying up all night and keeping their shades drawn during the day. Apparently, the only thing that can turn you into a vampire quicker than getting bitten is getting high. When Evil Ed first tells Charley that he’s been out vampire-hunting, he admits that he’s been doing drugs. Next time you see him, he’s draining Vegas showgirls’ veins. When two popular kids from Charley’s school are sharing a joint in their car, Jerry immediately sniffs them down and turns them into walking corpses. Marijuana: It really is a gateway drug!
And man, are those stoners paranoid, believing that everyone’s out to get them (until someone actually does). Kids, it’s true what your parents say: That stuff you’re smoking is gonna kill you.
Still, the most conservative thing about the new Fright Night is its suggestion that being different makes you a monster. For high school kids, that’s a bloody hard message to suck on. Poor Evil Ed isn’t evil, he’s just unpopular — but that’s enough for Jerry to think he’s destined to play for Team Dark Side. Pointing out that Ed isn’t exactly a normal kid, Jerry tells him, “You were born for this, and you know it.” Whatever’s preventing Ed from fitting in isn’t totally clear. It’s possible that he’s gay — in one scene, he gets close enough to sucking Charley’s neck that he quips, “I’m feeling a little homo right now” — but it’s equally possible that he’s just nerdy.
When Ed utters his famous line, “Ooh, you’re so cool, Brewster!” it’s way sadder than it was the first time around, because now, coolness is the only thing worth saving. By the end of the movie, Ed’s dead — and, worse, forgotten — but Charley’s popular friends survive, transformed back into their old nerd-taunting selves the second that Jerry, who’s Patient Zero, gets slain.
You hear that swishing noise? It’s the sound of 10,000 goth kids shaking their heads sadly as they iron their capes. True, with its splattered gore, sharp wit, and spectacularly wicked use of 3-D technology (you can almost touch human flesh when it explodes all around you), Fright Night couldn’t be a better future cult favorite. But horror movies are supposed to belong to the freaks, the geeks, and the underdogs, those kids who relate to the film’s heroes because they know what it’s like to have the blood beaten out of them, or feel afraid to simply walk down the halls of their high school. So when Charley ends up winning at everything — dating (Amy comes back to him), family values (he saves his mom from Jerry), being “normal” (he’s one of few teenagers who never “turns”) — it’s a bit of a betrayal to watch his loser friend actually lose in the end. At least Edward Cullen made being an outcast seem kind of sexy. Brewster was never that cool.