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Script Review: Fright Night

Written by: Kristen Lopez, Editor in Chief

CC2K’s Kristen Lopez is dubious of the script for the remake of the 80s horror classic.

ImageThe original Fright Night was a loveable, 1980s vampire story that expertly blended comedy with horror. At times an out-and-out vampire film, at others a tribute to the old drive-in vampire stories of the 1950s, Fright Night wasn’t the best vampire film but has become an instant classic. With a pedigree like that, it’s obviously time for a remake, right? Well, Dreamworks agrees, having just cast David Tennant and Christopher Mintz-Plasse, but unfortunately, the script as it currently reads owes a little too much to Twilight and not enough to the original. If anything, the remake of Fright Night will be a newer version of Disturbia with fangs – and that just sucks!

The undated draft I read was reportedly written by Tom Holland. The story as told in the 1985 original follows average teenager Charlie Brewster who suspects that his new neighbor, Jerry Dandridge, is a vampire. When Jerry goes after Charlie and Charlie’s girlfriend Amy, the teens must seek the help of television host Peter Vincent to defeat the vampire. The original had a cast of mostly unknown teens playing the leads with a young Amanda Bearse as Amy (long before her role in Married with Children) and had Chris Sarandon as Jerry and acting legend Roddy McDowall as Peter Vincent. The new version retains the basic premise and so far touts a cast including Anton Yelchin as Charlie, Colin Farrell as Jerry Dandridge and Toni Collette as Charlie’s mother (in the original the character only made a few appearances so obviously they’ll be expanding).

If the plot sounds familiar it has been the fodder of Disney Channel Original Movies (the campy Mom’s Got a Date with a Vampire) and as mentioned above it sounds a lot like the Shia Labeouf film that itself was a take on Rear Window. The overriding theme is “kid thinks neighbor is a vampire and has to force others to believe him.” The fun of the original was how audiences were well aware Jerry was a vampire and the lengths Charlie goes to in order to get someone to believe him. The original had Sarandon playing the vampire as a suave, sophisticated nice guy who never came off menacing. For someone who had only ever seen him as Prince Humperdinck in The Princess Bride watching the original Fright Night made me re-evaluate who I wanted to win in that Rob Reiner classic. The 1985 film also reveled in poking fun at how ridiculous the vampire genre had become with the character of Peter Vincent. Vincent was the host of “movie of the week” type series that gives the film its title. When Charlie meets Vincent for the first time he’s forced to confront the man who supposedly has all the answers is a scared, old man who must force himself to believe in what he preaches. All of this makes Fright Night a fun film to watch even if it’s not Halloween.

That brings us to the script for the envisioned remake. Right off the bat this film tries to show how “cool” it is by moving the action from a small suburb to a small suburb in Las Vegas! Here the town is filled with houses for sale and abandoned and as Charlie in this version says it’s perfect for a vampire as it’s a transient town where people come and go at the drop of a hat. It’s little bright spots like this that make it seem that the remake is trying to carry over what made the movie special while transforming it to suit modern audiences. As things progress though it becomes brutally apparent that the film just wants to be cool with numerous references to Stephanie Meyers Twilight series, with the lone subversive character of Ed saying rather bluntly “it sucks,” to comments about “face booking” someone and using an iPhone to diagram “how to pick a lock!” All the 80’s charm and nostalgia for this move is removed in a means to make it culturally relevant unlike the script for the remake of Red Dawn that embraces its 1980s heritage. This need to impress the teens carries over into the character of Charlie Brewster himself. Here Brewster is a nerdy guy who has abandoned his friend Ed to date the popular Amy, becoming friends with football players and being a complete skeptic about vampires. If you didn’t know this was a film about a vampire the opening would leave you in the dark as quite a bit of time is spent with the typical jocks, popular girls, and a discussion about “the formal” (what are we living in 1952?).

The complete reinterpretation of Charlie’s character comes to a head when the script introduces “Evil” Ed telling Charlie about Jerry Dandridge being a vampire. The original had Charlie and Charlie alone believing his neighbor was evil but here it’s a character that is seen as “emo” and “weird!” In this interpretation it’s revealed that Ed and Charlie don’t even see each other anymore, a result of Charlie’s need to impress Amy whereas the 1985 film had Amy and Ed working together to cure Charlie of his ridiculous obsession. Ed becomes the typical “weird kid that knows everything” in these types of films and if you’ve seen the film you’ll realize that Ed is essentially the character of Charlie Brewster from the original film, therefore why make him second fiddle? Apparently teens won’t be able to connect with a kid who believes in vampires AND is dating a popular girl from the get-go? The relationship with Amy is also handled unevenly, with Charlie desperately trying to impress her and Amy being the quintessential high school hottie. Amy is described as nothing short of glamorous, a far cry from Bearse in the original who played the character as cute and normal. The first half of the movie plays as incredibly typical and boring; in fact Dandridge’s character doesn’t come in physically until about thirty pages in.

Jerry Dandridge is a character that needs to work or else the entire movie is doomed, in this interpretation he doesn’t work. There’s no doubt Farrell will be fantastic in this but his character is so paper-thin he doesn’t have the believability factor of Sarandon in the original. The new movie opens with the typical “this has happened before” aspect with another family being terrorized and that is what the audience is supposed to believe, that Jerry goes from town to town hunting families. At one point even the revamped Peter Vincent says “he hunts families.” In the original Dandridge preyed on young women but now he’s picking off families of four, wouldn’t his cover have been blown by now? The newer version does include a few rays of sunshine like making his character smart without coming across as evil, especially in a scene where Charlie is testing the rule about a vampire never being allowed into a house without an invitation. Jerry actually continues to talk to Charlie normally but “Leans against the door jamb–but does not cross the threshold.” He’s not overly aggressive or creepy, a great throwback to the original. A more successful way of the movie trying to stay relevant is by having Jerry own several different uniforms ranging from a cop, a gas man, and a UPS worker. It’s a subtle scene that actually makes Jerry more disturbing if anyone’s read stories of murderers and such who wield uniforms to get closer to their prey. Unfortunately towards the middle of the movie there’s a huge gap of no Jerry at all, preventing the audience from becoming lulled into any false sense of security before his vampire nature comes out. When Jerry realizes Charlie is on to him he tries to convince Charlie’s mom, in this version named Judy, to let him in to explain. Because Jerry has been practically non-existent Charlie’s mother instantly believes her son when he says the man’s a vampire! In the original so much time was spent with Jerry and all the characters that they had a hard time believing Charlie at all. By the end when Jerry becomes crazy and actually BLOWS UP the Brewster house to get in audiences will just see a crazy guy and nothing else, he doesn’t even need to be a vampire! In this morass of insanity I do have to think the writers for keeping the relationship with Amy, especially the nightclub scene as that is crucial to the story, but his relationship with the girl feels hollow as in the original Jerry genuinely wanted Amy for himself and here he just keeps her as another source of food.

The last character worthy of mention is Peter Vincent as he’s the only character where the writers are expertly able to update him. Here Vincent is described as a “rock and roll bad boy,” a Criss Angel wannabe who “isolates himself to the point that he actually welcomes a visitor.” There’s a genuine and rich back-story to this rather showier version of the television host (here he has his own Vegas stage show). When it’s revealed that Peter is afraid to fight the vampire you feel for his character. Sadly all this good will is ruined at the script’s climax when the requisite “connection” is revealed. Apparently Dandridge has this whole Mediterranean back-story involving vampires who turn a bunch of people to form a “tribe” and that Peter Vincent’s family was slaughtered by him. This remake is so afraid to just present people and the flaws they have that even an old man being genuinely afraid to fight a real vampire has to have a long-standing, historical connection?

For all the problems this script has, aside from those mentioned above there’s also a scene where Charlie needs to actually Google the “rules” of vampirism (honestly if any teenager doesn’t know that vampires can’t be in sunlight, they deserve to be fed on), there are a few shining moments. The gore in this should be fantastic if stuck to ranging from a severed arm, the transformation sequences, and a pretty gruesome scene with a head cut in half (keep in mind the person is still alive and talking) and Peter Vincent does have one of the only laugh out loud lines in the movie when he reveals a “Double-barreled shotgun with a cross mounted on the barrel” –

Charlie: Wooden bullets? Nice

Peter: No, you think I’m fucking MacGyver? Bullets, bullets

The movie does set itself up for a sequel and has a line directly taken from the movie to close but I was truly disappointed with this script. The direction is muddied and there’s hardly any time to enjoy Dandridge as a character. Based on how extensive this story is unless the writers do a complete rewrite I don’t think there’s any chance this will be anything more than a forgettable vampire film for teenagers, and really don’t we have enough of those?