Fright Night: Then And Now

With the Fright Night remake hitting theaters nationwide August 19th, Austin’s Alamo Drafthouse Theater and the Austin Film Festival teamed up to screen the original Fright Night. Not only did it give fans the opportunity to see the cult ‘80s classic on the big screen, but the screening was hosted by Fright Night writer/director Tom Holland and Machete scribe Alvaro Rodriguez, with a Q&A afterwards.

Fans of the original Fright Night in all its campy glory, a simple story about a boy who finds out his neighbor is a vampire, will be happy to hear that Holland is more than content that it’s going to be remade. He wishes filmmakers the best, and thinks it’s a tremendous compliment to the original. He realizes the more remakes/sequels they do, the more people will look at the original. And with iconic horror pics Child’s Play and Psycho 2 under his belt, he’s no stranger to having his ideas/concepts remade, sequel-ized and rebooted.

The original Fright Night is so enduring because it’s a great story, with characters you can empathize with, and plenty of heart. Roddy McDowall plays an amazing late-night TV horror show host named Peter Vincent (a dying breed). Charlie Brewster was portrayed as a loveable geek by William Ragsdale, and girlfriend Amy was played with great believability by Married with Children regular Amanda Bearse.

The head vampire Jerry (and what kind of name is that for a vampire?) was brought to gloriously over-the-top life by Chris Sarandon. His vampire was a snazzy dresser, smooth-talker, and had a live-in henchman to fill the role as “Renfield”.

Watching the original on the big screen, I was reminded why it is such an enduring classic. It’s fun, it has a great story, and you can sympathize with all of the characters, even Jerry. He’s not your sparkling vampire, but he has a history and a sadness about him.

Holland said that he made Fright Night because he loved to watch those old TV horror specials on Friday nights, the kinds with eccentric hosts like Elvira or Vampirella, and showcasing wonderfully terrible B and C horror flicks from Hammer Studios and the like. He had been working on a vampire film for some time, but said in the early ‘80s, vampire movies were on the way out. It was hard to get one made, and after he saw vampire spoof Love at First Bite he knew that the classic vampire horror pic was a dying genre.

But after the success of his Psycho 2 screenplay, he could finally get his vampire horror made. Though Columbia Pictures put it low on the list of priorities and gave it a small budget, the filmmakers got all they could out of the story and did wonders with some awesome practical effects.

AFF had invited Rodriguez to host a screening of the film of his choice, and he chose Fright Night because he said he loved it, and it sparked his imagination as a teenager. Rodriguez mentioned that when he was just 14-years-old going to an all-boys catholic school in San Antonio, he would walk four miles to go see Fright Night at the movie theater.

Holland had only good things to say after the screening, even about the remake. He said he wishes the filmmakers of the Fright Night remake the best. He said he’s lucky to be doing what he’s doing, and making films that can be appreciated 25 years later. So no hard feelings to the re-makers, and he takes it as a compliment.

After Halloween and a slew of other slasher films came out in the late 70s and early ‘80s, Holland said he made Fright Night as a reaction to a plethora of slasher films that had gotten more and more incoherent.

Even though I know we all have an affection for them..all the Friday the 13ths…it had gotten insane out there! Nobody was doing this (old school monster horror), everyone was doing something derivative of Halloween. And I wanted to bring back the old monsters.

At the time, vampires were considered the kiss of death. Before that, you had Dracula, a big production based on a Broadway play with Frank Langella that failed. And usually farce is the last gasp of a genre and then you had Love at First Bite, which we all have a lot of affection for, but it was a comedy. So vampires prior to Fright Night for about three years was a dead genre, a dead monster.

And I just love vampires…and Vincent Price and Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. I just thought the concept of a gonzo horror fan teenager becoming convinced that his next door neighbor is a vampire was hysterically funny. I mean that’s the ultimate updating of the ‘Boy Who Cried Wolf’ story and putting it in a modern context. I giggled whenever I thought about it.

But I didn’t write it until I came up with the Roddy McDowall character. And then the minute I realized that if I used a horror movie host, this is prior to horror conventions and such, being a fright night host was the last refuge of the ham actor who had failed everywhere. What it did was allow me to mix humanity and vulnerability and empathy with a genre that has so little human feeling in it.

And you have to remember at that point, as now, the ‘kills’ had come to predominate and there was no caring. There wasn’t that affection that had made them so fabulous when I was watching them. And I just wanted to bring back a lot of what I had felt drowned out a sea of gratuitous blood.

Now for the DreamWorks remake. I’m hoping it will stay true to the spirit of Holland’s, and by the sound of it so far it looks good. The characters have the same names, and it’s basically the same set up. Writer Marti Noxon wrote the script, based on Holland’s story, about a teenager who finds out his next door neighbor is a vampire and has trouble convincing anyone his story is true.

There’s a great self-referential humor in the first one, no doubt because it was an over-done genre at the time (kind of like this day-and-age), and I think they can do just as much with that now as ever. No doubt there will also be one or two Twilight comments, and some winks and nods to other work in this genre.

It looks like most of the characters have received a modernization, particularly Peter Vincent’s character. Instead of an aging, late-night TV horror host, Peter Vincent in the remake will be a young, edgy street magician in the vein (sorry) of Criss Angel. That’s a radical difference; but then it’s also culturally reflective, so it just might work.

Jerry Dandridge, vampire extraordinaire, will be played by Colin Farrell. I’m not a huge Farrell fan, and I worry that he won’t be able to communicate the charm of the original Jerry, or give the character the necessary sympathy-provoking nuances. By the looks of the trailer, Farrell is playing his Jerry straight villainous, which takes out some of the depth of the story. One-note villains are never a good thing.

Anton Yelchin will play Charlie, and I’m sure he can confidently play the distraught teenager as it’s a role we’ve seen him in before. Imogen Poots plays the girlfriend Amy, with Christopher Mintz-Plasse playing weird side-kick “Evil” Ed.

We’ll have to wait and see how the remake will come out, I am cautiously optimistic as of now, but Farrell’s take on the role of Jerry has me the most worried. Check back here for a full review of the film when it hits theaters on August 19th.