Fright Night (1985) vs. Fright Night (2011): Why the update's far more old-fashioned than the classic

Image Credit: Disney/Dreamworks

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.

Read more:
Grow a pair (of fangs): Thank goodness for horrible, disgusting, merciless vampiresa
EW’s review of ‘Fright Night’

Comments (48 total) Add your comment
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  • Thom

    Excellent post.

    You hit the nail right on the head: the original movie was actually about something.

    And it gets to the issues I had with the remake: it’s not really about anything. It seemed as though it might be, but that through-line is lost after the first thirty minutes.

    While a fun and diverting matinee in its own right, I knew the remake was off on the wrong foot when it wasn’t Charlie to suspect his neighbor of being a vampire but Evil Ed instead.

    There’s no real metaphor or central conflict for Charlie in the remake. He’s just a pawn in the monster movie/chase movie plot.

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  • Loch Ness

    I just knew they’d mess this up. The cast deserved better.

  • elizabeth

    So Fright Night (based on the two posts Ive read) was just a chance for a couple writers to kick Edward Cullen in the shin?

    Guess there’s something wrong with me that I don’t have to compare everything to everything else to assign its merits.

    • AK

      You know what else is wrong with you? That you do have to passive aggressively assert your superiority.

      • JMB in FL

        ^This.

  • elena

    I really liked this movie. I thought it was far more tragic and grounded that Charley ditched his friends and they ended up dying. He felt guilt on two counts: that he was somehow involved in their deaths and that he didn’t reconcile with them before they died. There are so many movies about high school dudes wanting to get laid, it was nice to see one about a normal guy who just wanted to protect people, who found some bravery inside himself when before in his high school career he was a total coward.

    • Krystal

      amen! I loved the movie. It was more about being a hero and not a coward than getting as s.

  • Dave

    As far as horror remakes go, this is a pretty darn good one in my opinion. It was a lot better than I expected it to be and I really enjoyed it.

  • Marten

    I think this reviewer missed the point of this movie. Charley IS a freak. He is an outsider. He tries to be cool, and tries to ditch his friends and cover up his past, but he can’t. The scene where he’s talking to Amy in the hospital and she tells him she always knew he was a freak and that’s why she liked him, seems completely missed by this reviewer. He’s an outsider poser, and he comes to realize that. When he kills Evil Ed, and watches Amy get turned, he finally steps up and becomes the man he was meant to be. This is a movie about a regular guy becoming the ladies man, not a ladies man getting c— blocked. But in fact he IS c— blocked! Amy is in to Jerry when she first meets him, and when he turns her, she’s TOTALLY in to him. And I’m sorry, but aren’t ravenous gay jokes out of style these days? If this film was nothing but jokes about how Amy might think Charley was a homo, I’m sure Lisa would be writing the same article she did about Kick-Ass. At the end of the movie Charley finally gets to sleep with Amy because he’s now the man, he’s saved his girlfriend, he’s destroyed Jerry the c—blocker, and he’s in a bitchin’ pent house. Honestly, I don’t think Melissa watched this movie.

  • jon a than

    i really want to read this but hafta see the new fright night first but im also very forgetful and might miss it. ahhhhhh.

  • Sean

    True, the new FN is getting good reviews. It’s a well made, well acted thriller. Made for the masses. However, being a devoted fan of the original, I find it hard to believe anyone who has a fondness for the ’85 version will support the new one. In the end this is just another remake.

    • jackg2

      Fright Night, a surprisingly well crafted remake of the super fun 1985 original.  For once, shockingly enough, Hollywood has gotten a remake right as the new FN stays fairly faithful to the original and smartly keeps that film’s deft mix of scares and laughs.  Once again, no one will believe Charlie Brewster (Anton Yelchin) when he tells them a malevolent, blood-sucking vampire named Jerry (Colin Farrell) has moved in next door to him, even though he’s sucking dry a number of comely ladies and teenage boys (he’s a bisexual vamp, I suppose).  After chomping on Charlie’s former BF, Ed (Christopher Mintz-Plasse, very funny), Jerry sets his sights on Charlie’s mom (Toni Collette) and his girlfriend (Imogen Poots), and Charlie tries to enlist the help of cheese ball magician/vampire slayer Peter Vincent (think Criss Angel channeling Russell Brand, and you’ll get a feel for David Tennant’s performance) to help him destroy Jerry.  Besides Tennant, Fright Night is blessed with a sterling cast, especially Farrell, who is all sleazy charm and scary menace as Jerry the vampire; he might be undead, but he’s sexy, and scary, as hell, and it’s the most entertaining performance Farrell has given in a long time.  This revamped Fright Night is remake done right;  it’s got just the right mix of bite and laughs.  

      • Girlie

        I loved it! And I’m probably one of the only ones, but I liked it better than the original. I thought the original was too sexed-up, and I never could get use to the idea Jerry going after Amy because of some long lost lovers thing (think Twilight without the sparkles). I do have to say though, Evil was better in the original. I thought David Tennant completely rocked at playing Peter Vincent in a non-campy sort of way. In fact, I really liked that they linked Jerry and Peter Vincent together! I liked that Charly’s mom actually believed him more so in the newer one than the other. But mostly, I liked that I didn’t have a pair of fake breasts shoved into my face every twenty minutes or so like it was during the first. Oh and Chris Sarandon (the original Jerry) is in it.

  • jackg2

    Welcome to (let’s over-analyze) Fright Night! Melissa, are you seriously expecting us to believe that Twilight is cooler than Fright Night? That’s just wrong!

    • Hannah

      It’s also not what she said.

      • jackg2

        Um, read the last line of the story, darlin’!

      • Hannah

        A)- Kindly keep your “darlin'”s to yourself. and B)- Again, not what she said. Comparing a single aspect of a single character from each movie is not a statement on the whole of either.

  • Roland

    The original “Fright Night” had one of the creepiest moments ever – the last scene when Charley looks out his window to Jerry’s now-empty and deserted house and sees for a split second a pair of glowing red eyes. Even though it turns out to be Evil Ed (who says the classic line “Oh, Brewster, you’re so cool!”) that scene still gives me chills.

  • After the..

    Ive always wondered, just what does “After the Jump” mean anyway? Nearly every article has this. Is it some relic from websites past? I dont see any “jump” between the paragraphs? What does it mean?!?!?!

    • Stay tuned

      How do I explain? “After the Jump” is a variation of “to be continued”. It’s also used in newspapers to guide a reader through a story that begins on one page and finishes on another. Basically, if you want to keep on reading an article on line, click the link or keep scrolling. If you want to keep reading a newspaper or magazine, you’re going to “jump” pages.

    • Squishmar

      I’ve always wondered that too. But it’s really lame. Just saying that spoilers are coming up is fine. “After the Jump” is pointless when in fact it’s just the next paragraph. But thanks for the explanation.

  • McFly

    Your magazine just gave this movie a really good review and now this writer is knocking it. Make up your minds. As usual you guys are stirring a pot that doesn’t need to be stirred.

    • DTO

      Two different people at the same workplace can have different opinions, you know.

    • Shelby Coman

      It’s because the review came out before the movie. Now that the movie is performing poorly, EW must assume no one likes it and therefore they need to show how cool they are because they don’t like it either.

      • Angela

        Eh, no, it’s because they’re two different writers. They can have different opinions.

  • Xander

    Saw it. IMHO, a shade above average.

  • svarteq

    A lengthy article, confused and un-funny, that tries to hard to sound light hearted but comes across heavy handed instead. Not sure why anyone would say it was a good post, it’s neither entertaining enough to be a film review, nor does it offer analysis meaningful enough to be a lecture.

  • Renee

    Go back and see the movie again and listen to what Ed says to Charlie right before he turns to dust…hopefully then you might get what was going on…(the because-you’re-my-best-friend-if-you-were-a-zombie-i-would-kill-you joke can be applied to being a vampire too, *hint, *hint)

    • Jeanne

      Exactly. That line was so quiet I’m not sure everyone got it.

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