23 September 2011

Guest Review - Ryan: Fright Night

To be asked to become the Edinburgh Horror Club’s first official guest was a real honour. The lads have been great when asked to help out on the Those Movie Guys podcast, which Clarky and I record each Monday night. Ally made an excellent guest appearance to review Stakeland and Fin is poised to bring his horror knowledge to a Hallowe’en special in the not too distant future. So I’m well aware of the extent of their collective horror knowledge – and the scrutiny with which a film is looked at on a Thursday night – so I was only too happy to step up to the plate and return the favour.

Both Clarky and Fin have already broken down the movie in their reviews – but crucially, there is an area where I have one up on them and will use it as a basis for my review.

When Fin whipped out the original Fright Night as the feature film of the evening I was immediately aware of its significance, despite never having seen it. Fright Night is universally acclaimed by fans and critics – it still boasts an incredible 93% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Perhaps it’s this popularity that encouraged the movie moguls to commission a remake, which hit British cinemas just a few weeks ago. A remake – that of the four of us – only I had seen.

So I’m going argue that the Fright Night - filmed in 1985 on a budget of around $9million with a bunch of (at the time) no-name actors - is superior in almost every way to its 2011 reincarnation, which starred Colin Farrell, Anton Yeltsin and David Tennant and came in with a price tag of more than $30million.

The most important and interesting point is that the newer version sticks very closely to the plot of the original. I was actually surprised by how similar the storylines were. The remake omits a character – Billy Cole, the mysterious roommate of vampire protagonist Jerry (who turns out to be a ghoul, which may explain the earlier questions raised by Clarky) – but everything else – even down to the nightclub scene - is essentially the same.

I saw the 2011 version first, just a few days before my Horror Club debut. It was far from the worst film I’ve seen this year, but I couldn’t help but feel underwhelmed. Whilst the story whipped along and featured semi-decent performances, it took itself far too seriously. I couldn’t help but shake the feeling that it was vehicle for the likes of Farrell and Tennant. It almost ceases to be a horror film.

In contrast, 1985 original is under no illusions of what it is. The tongue-in-cheek humour, over the top special effects (which aren’t bad, all things considered), schlocky dialogue and hammy performances are straight out of the B-Movie handbook. And therein lies the rub – this film is an unabashed B-Movie gem and it makes no attempt to hide it. By sticking to the plot, but throwing big name stars and modern special effects (including the utterly redundant 3D, but I’ll put that particular soapbox away for another day) the remake attempts to take away the elements that make the 1985 film work so well – the sense of self-deprecating humour and classic 80s charm.

The comparison of two characters perhaps best sums up the differences. Clarky and Fin have both highlighted the character of Peter Vincent, the crabby, aging, self-indulgent vampire hunter played by Roddy MacDowell (channelling his inner Peter Cushing). In the original he plays a crucial role, turning from fraud to reluctant hero and providing the film with its one almost poignant scene as he kills Evil Ed and watches him return to his human form. It’s a great wee moment amongst all the madness. You could almost argue the real story is really about Vincent’s redemption, as opposed to our young hero Charley Brewster saving his incredibly annoying girlfriend.

In the 2011 version, he plays almost exactly the same role, but is relegated slightly in importance as David Tennant attempts his best Russell Brand impression and misses the point of the role, almost becoming a sideshow with his leather trousers and mockney accent. With the loss of McDowall’s initial aloofness and world-weariness, eventually giving way to pity and finally self-belief, the plot is robbed of arguably its best character. Having seen both films, the remake is worse off without a more fleshed-out Peter Vincent.
The other important character is Evil Ed. In the original he’s played by Stephen Geoffreys, who turns in a performance that is hilarious and excruciating in equal measures, but nonetheless leaves an indelible mark on the movie. His grating voice, camp acting and oddball look serves as a constant reminder that this film is not taking itself too seriously and you cannot help but laugh at some of his lines.

In the remake, Evil Ed is played by Christopher Mintz-Plasse, who seems unable to shift the label of McLovin’ no matter how hard he tries. He attempts to get into the weird and wacky mindset needed for Evil Ed, but is barely in the same ballpark. He’s neither funny nor crazy and ends up forcing out a McLovin-lite effort, which is fine if you’re in Superbad but not here. It’s not hard to understand how playing a hugely popular character like McLovin’ can typecast an actor. Indeed, it appears Geoffreys suffered a similar fate. After starring a couple of other 80s horrors, he apparently turned down Fright Night 2 – presumably to avoid being typecast as Evil Ed. According to Wikipedia, he ended up doing gay porn for several years in the 90s – this is something of a career path I’m pretty sure Mintz-Plasse does not want to emulate.

Essentially, I got far more out of the original, as it was completely honest and happy about what it was, you can tell the film was being made for the right reasons, and you can’t help but be charmed by the undeniable cheesiness. McDowell even brings a bit of emotion to the movie. It could be very easy to turn your nose up at this film’s obvious B-movie stylings, but to me they’re the enjoyable parts. The bottom line is that it’s a fun watch.

By going for “star power” and special effects, the remake takes away all that’s fun and entertaining about the story and the facets of the characters are lost behind the reputations of the actors involved. Despite sticking almost completely to the same plot, the more expensive and eye-catching remake can’t decide what it is and serves up middle-of-the-road mediocrity.

Thanks again to the lads for having me round – I look forward to my next invite and continued education in the horror genre. I’m dying for the chance to bring a movie of my own to the table!


1 comment:

  1. Top notch review, Ryan. You are definitely welcome any time. Bringing your own choice sounds like a good idea as well. Fascinated to see what you bring to the table!


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