Fright Night bombed at the weekend box office, pulling returns lower than both Spy Kids: All the Time in the World and Conan the Barbarian, though the latter is the true tank of the weekend considering it cost a surprising $90 million versus Fright Night's $30 million. The critical reaction fared marginally better, but word of mouth is framing the film as a miserable impostor with zero of the original film's charisma. That's bunk. I understand people not turning up to theaters because of vampire fatigue, and I even understand fans preferring the original because, despite the films having identical plots, they're about two very different things. In fact, 2011's Fright Night isn't about vampires at all, which is precisely what makes it such a refreshing, worthwhile vampire movie.
So if Fright Night isn't about vampires, what is it about? Warning: some spoilers incoming, though if you’ve seen the original film, you already know what happens in the new one.
First, let's objectively look back to 1985. Tom Holland's Fright Night is about Charley Brewster, a horror movie-obsessed teenager, his geeky (and truly obnoxious) friend and bland girlfriend getting caught up with a next door neighbor named Jerry that Charley suspects is a vampire. They enlist the help of Peter Vincent, a late night horror host to prove that Jerry is indeed a creature of the night, and once that happens the fangs come out and Charley must take out Jerry and his familiar (a human assistant who does his bidding) or risk losing his girlfriend in a Dracula's bride scenario. It's a love letter to the often schlocky but wholly sincere vampire films of yesteryear told through the lens of an obsessed movie fan.
Craig Gillespi's Fright Night has that same general plot structure, but with a few crucial substitutions. Brewster (Anton Yelchin) isn't an obsessed movie fan, it's his geeky ex best friend (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) that suspects a vampire is in the neighborhood. Peter Vincent (David Tennant) is no longer a late night movie host (those are practically a culturally endangered species in the year 2011), but a Criss Angel-type illusionist with a widely known obsession with the occult. And while each of those changes does have a marked impact on the story as a whole, the biggest change here is with Jerry the vampire (Colin Farrell).
Jerry’s vampire lifestyle doesn’t bend to the traditional one we’ve seen countless times in countless films. He doesn’t have a Renfield-esque familiar that he exploits during the day time. He doesn’t represent the the allure of a life immortal. There’s nothing elegant or traditional about him. He’s a brute, plain and simple. And that’s what makes Fright Night so refreshing.
Marti Noxon’s script is clearly designed to subvert all of those overly familiar vampire tropes. There’s no attempt to romanticize Jerry, no desire to turn him into a suburban Dracula. He’s an alpha male. Noxon’s Fright Night isn’t a love letter to the vampire movies of yesteryear in any way. It’s a modern story about what it’s like to be a man today. You can remove every aspect of vampires from the script and still tell the exact same story:
Charley Brewster is a once geeky high schooler who is finally coming into good looks and earning the attention of a very attractive girl (Imogen Poots) who wants to take his virginity, which in turn causes him to turn his back on his best friend, Ed. Amidst this, Jerry, a handsome man’s man moves in next door. Brewster sees Jerry not as a physical threat, but a sexual one. He’s caught the eye of both his girlfriend and his single mother, though in a very welcome change of pace, Noxon doesn’t write Toni Collette as a desperate single mother who reverts into a willing school girl for Farrell; she’s an experienced, confident woman who sees him purely as a sexual object while recognizing that he’s just a womanizer not worth her time (I love that the movie even has fun with how pathetic the alpha male show is behind close doors by having Jerry take a bit to fully get his fangs up when going down on the neighboor dancer).
Meanwhile, Jerry convinces Ed to stop being such a pussy and be a man like him instead, causing Charley to seek help from Peter Vincent, an ironic sexual icon, only to realize that even the people who are supposed to be experts about this kind of stuff don’t know what they’re doing. Charley then ends up losing his girlfriend to alpha male Jerry at a night club. Knowing that Jerry will definitely give Amy what she’s been asking for and what he’s failed to deliver, Charley decides to finally man up and go to a party at Jerry’s house where, with the help of a newly humbled Peter, he’ll stand up to the alpha male and get his girlfriend back.
That’s right, Fright Night isn’t about a teenager who finds himself living in a horror movie. It’s about a teenager with no male role model trying to figure out how to be a man and finding the balls to compete with the alpha male every woman wants and that every other guy seems to think it's okay to be (as evidenced by the cops laughing at Jerry's joke about making women scream, and a douchebag night cluber giving props to Jerry as he literally carries a woman off the dance floor). I realize that’s not the movie fans of the original want Fright Night to be, but if you’re going to complain about how unoriginal remakes are in general, why can’t you get behind one that decides to stand out from the crowd? As much as Holland’s Fright Night was about being the product of pop culture in the ‘80s, Gillespi’s Fright Night is about fighting the pop culture of the ‘00s. It’s about being a man when everyone else is trying to be a bro.
I’ll concede that the 3D is a total waste and that it’s got too much CGI in its last half, but they’re as much a product of the times as the original Fright Night’s corny acting and less-than-impressive foam masks, which lovers of that film are willing to give a pass to under the guise that the imperfect nature of it all is part of the passion and charm. I’m not saying Fright Night is a flawless movie, but it’s a damned sight more interesting than the haters are making it out to be. I’m sorry that teenagers today talk like they're on Jersey Shore and I'm sorry that Marti Noxon’s script isn’t fanboy friendly the way Holland’s was, but I’d much rather see a horror movie in 2011 use vampires as a comment on manhood than yet another rehash of a world where vampires are all Dracula-esque creatures of the night who turn into bats and make humans do their bidding. If you want those cheesy supernatural elements, the politics of being a vampire and the oh-so-familiar lust for immortality, you’ve got plenty of outlets for those, but I for one am glad Fright Night doesn't bother with any of those played out tropes.