Fright Night

Times have definitely changed.

The most recent vampire film to be released is a remake. Either the idea of finding another way to use the vampire as a metaphor is becoming less appealing, or Hollywood felt like trying out the formula of revamping (no pun intended…honestly!) what has become a classic 80s film. Remakes seem to be big business. Everyone wants a chance to tell a well known story in their own way, whether it is rewriting fairy tales or updating the reputation of a comic-book hero. Stories need to be refreshed, altered for their generation (much like Nina Auerbach states: “the vampire embodies the age it lives in”). But quite honestly, I quite wish they’d missed out this round.

Fright Night 3D came across like a mindless car-wreck of vampire cliches. It is obvious that many disparaging comparisons will be made with the original, but even so. 1985’s Fright Night was kitschy, goofy, yet still managed to hint at darker undertones of the teenage psyche. Charley Brewster lives next door to a vampire. In both films this goes through the stages of the supernatural: denial, spurious curiosity and acceptance. Both films run with the barely concealed metaphor of teenage sexual anxiety. There’s the Freudian protection of the mother, and the terror of the sexually repressed girlfriend. In the 2011 update however, Charley’s girlfriend is significantly more attractive (or is it just that our standards of attractiveness have changed?) and when turned into a vampire doesn’t look half as frightening as this:

Amanda Bearse’s Amy gave us a reason to fear female sexuality, with the facial manifestation of vagina dentata. Sexuality was a touchy subject in the original; as well as the fact there were implications that the vampires next door were homosexuals (see previous posts on links between AIDS and vampires), teen sex seemed far more taboo, with Amy making a point of rejecting Charley’s advances. By contrast, today’s offering simmers with sexual charge. For starters, there’s Colin Farrell looking like Edward for grown ups, and his sleazy bragging over the “handful” he’ll have coming over later. Unlike Chris Sarandon’s Jerry, Farrell keeps his victims alive in bright white rooms, prolonging the torture in sexual-fetish-y sense. This highlights the change between eras; living in a post-True Blood world, vampire practice now verges on porn, reveling in inhibition. One point I would make is how the sexual male differs in presentation in both films: 85’s Jerry seduced his women slowly, whereas Farrell exudes sexual aggression. This is unsurprising, in the culture of convenience that we currently live in: everything has to be hard and fast.

One thing that bothered me about the remake was the apparent need to turn it into a slasher-flick. I tend to think of vampires as slightly above mindless chasing and killing. They’re clever, calculating and cold. It was riddled with scenes where the victims predictably whimpered and made wrong turns. The opening scene itself was like something that belonging in a run of the mill teen horror. Fright Night (1985) was a comedy of sorts, sending up the Breakfast Club stereotypes; you’d still get the girl if you overcame the monsters first. The updated version also features gratuitous shots of Las Vegas – a seedy attempt perhaps to instill a sense of excitement to the locale, yet it appears merely as a consumerist fawning over the rituals of consumption (which vampirism displays to some extent in many texts).

Faith has a smaller part to play in both films. The conventions of vampire defence stipulate religious paraphernalia, such as crosses and holy water, both of which were used. Notably, in the original, Ed is actually effected by the brandishing of the cross:

Which leaves a mark on his forehead, a gory reminder of the underlying potency of faith. When Farrell is warded off with a cross, he merely laughs. “It only works if you believe, Charley!” There isn’t much of a response to this remark, instead showing us that is the shell of tradition that keeps faith alive in these films. Faith is used as and when it is required, rather than being a steady thread to hold on to. Interestingly, the Holy Water still has an effect on Farrell, twisting his face into a hideous parody of ‘vampire’. But the limited reference to faith shouldn’t be read as a symptom of our disbelief, but that other issues appear to be more pressing.

Of course, there’s the obligatory mention of Twilight, which every director feels the need to mention in derogatory tones. Many other cultural references pepper the dialogue, which leads the viewer to wonder if there’s actually anything original to say.

Tennant’s performance as Peter Vincent was perhaps the best thing about the film, even if it was heavily derived from an amalgamation of Russell Brand and Jack Sparrow (thanks for the observation, Justin). Instead of the paternalistic oldie in the original, Tennant offers us a physical exploration of the idea of the fraud: everything about him is fake (make up, tattoos, piercings, hair, bravado…). Ultimately though, the character comes through in the end.

Overall, the film was like most modern teen-flicks: empty and reliant on cultural talking points. It offered no furthering of the vampire genre, only serving to exacerbate the critic’s distaste for the endless slew of vampires. And, I think it goes without saying that no vampire need be in 3D.

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