The Late Shift: Fright Night



Would it be considered sacrilege if I said that the remake to Fright Night is better the original? Because, fair warning, that is exactly what I'm going to say.

I'm getting ahead of myself, though. Let's back up.

This past weekend, The Belcourt played host to a pristine 35mm print of Fright Night, the 1985 vampire thriller about a teenager named Charlie who becomes obsessed with his neighbor — a handsome creep named Jerry who Charlie believes is a vampire. Spoiler alert: that dude is totally a vampire. Armed with this knowledge — and a love for a cable-access horror anthology called (you guessed it) Fright Night — Charlie tries to take down his neighbor before he kills again. Also along for the ride is the sorta pathetic host of Fright Night, played by Roddy McDowall; Charlie's unbelievably irritating buddy Evil Ed; and his sorta dorky girlfriend Amy.

I caught the Friday night screening with my regular cinematic partner in crime, who spent the ride over to the theater chastising me for having never seen this movie. Listen, I was negative-2 years old when this thing came out and then spent the ensuing 20 years being the biggest horror movie baby on the planet. Not that Fright Night is particularly scary, but director Tom Holland's follow-up, Child's Play, scarred me, so shove it.

Apparently, I wasn't alone in my ignorance — about half of the 50 or so people in the theater were in my same boat. Armed with a Sprite Night — a “Choose Your Own Adventure” booze concoction with any well drink, Sprite and a garnish (I chose gin and bitters) — I felt pretty well prepared for the cheeseball camp that awaited me.

And honestly? It didn't do a whole lot for me. Or more precisely, it didn't do a whole lot for me as a midnight movie.

I've talked a little in previous posts about why movies are adopted into the midnight movie canon. Generally speaking, you can break them down into a few different categories: so-bad-they're-good schlock (Birdemic, Troll 2), exploitation grindhouse fare (Hobo with a Shotgun, House at the Cemetery), esoteric high-art oddities (Eraserhead, El Topo), bizarre and practically unprogrammable comic miscellanea (Lady Terminator, Tim & Eric). How a movie actually ascends — or descends, depending on your point of view — to that level is a discussion that I'm sure I'll get into in another column.

Fright Night, however, fits into an area of midnight movie defined more by its nostalgia value than its content. That's not to say content doesn't play a role — there's a reason why they're screening Fright Night and not Steel Magnolias — but it certainly plays a lesser role than the Gen X Factor. As gnarly as Evil Ed's crucifix-shaped head wound is, something feels like it's missing when you're watching Fright Night divorced from its context. Though I did appreciate the fact that Fright Night portrays Jerry the Vampire as a dangerous menace who comes off as a fanged rapist, not a sparkly super-predator that everybody loves. Not to name any names.

Granted, this is all coming from someone who has no particular affinity for '80s cult cinema. But still, as much as I enjoyed Fright Night for what it was — a flawed but enjoyably campy horror goof — I don't think it succeeds as a midnight movie. In a parallel universe where a multiplex would screen a silly horror movie from 1985, you'd get the same experience seeing it at 8 p.m. as you would at midnight. Maybe that was just because it wasn't exactly a packed house, I can't say for sure.

What I can say is that, a couple days after the Belcourt screening, I watched the remake starring Colin Farrell and Anton Yelchin and totally loved it. Possibly because I'm a wretched nerd who loves Doctor Who, so David Tennant's appearance in anything is a welcome plus. But also because it streamlined a lot of the stuff that didn't make sense — namely Jerry's weirdo buddy (who was also a vampire?) and the Amy/painting subplot. It also turned Evil Ed from '80s cartoon sidekick into a believable aggro dork, which in turn clarified his relationship with Charlie.

Here's my hypothetical for you, though: in 20 years, will the new Fright Night become a cult movie on its own? Will the abject silliness of stuff flying at the camera and occasionally bogus CGI choices become “campy” when technology reaches a new touchstone? Or does the remake entirely miss the spirit of '80s cult camp, destined to be forgotten by everybody except the nine or so Who fans holding on for dear life? I have no idea, but if you haven't seen Fright Night 2011, I'd highly recommend it, even if you're a purist when it comes to remakes and 3D movies.

See you all in two weeks for what may very well be my favorite midnight movie of all time: Tommy Wiseau's The Room. You're tearing me apart, Country Life!

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