Ten years ago, I cautiously shuffled into the movie theater to watch Fright Night (2011). This was in my pre-horror days, where I was a certified scaredy cat. It took my friends a good week of convincing to get me to go with them, but I’d seen the trailer and knew a lot of the cast, so eventually I gave in.
It quickly became one of my go-to Halloween films. Fright Night is a film I watch every year, multiple times if I can manage it. (My Halloween movie marathons are pretty stacked at this point!) I quote it constantly with my friends and have half the soundtrack on my Halloween playlist.
Ten years ago, I was only vaguely aware that it was a remake. For a long time, I was nervous to watch the original. What if it wasn’t really all that good? What if I liked it a lot and found out that my favorite movie was really the bad one? (The horror!) I didn’t actually get around to watching Fright Night (1985) until a few years ago, and I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed it.
But that leads us to the inevitable question: which one is better? While there’s no definitive answer—I’ll respect your opinions, even if they’re wrong—let’s take a tour through the changes Fright Night (2011) makes and find out!
For the uninitiated, both versions of Fright Night center on teenager Charley Brewster and his battle against his neighbor, Jerry Dandridge, who is a vampire. Charley is a bit of a dorky, sweet, and very determined. While that doesn’t change in the remake, there’s quite a few things that do.
In Fright Night (1985), the very first scene shows Charley making out with his girlfriend Amy, and getting upset when she doesn’t want to sleep with him. Even though he immediately apologizes, maybe not the best character introduction. After that, his attention is quickly diverted to his neighbor’s yard, where they’re carrying a coffin into the basement. That’s all the character building we get before we’re plunged into the plot.
In the remake, the first time we see Charley, he’s cursing out his motorbike for refusing to work. He’s still a dork, but one that’s desperately trying to leave his nerdy past behind to be a cool kid. He’s a little bit of a poser. Again, maybe not likable in the way he’s ditched his friend Ed, but we can tell he’s trying. Also important to note that his girlfriend is the one pushing him to have sex, and he’s the one that’s nervous.
The main difference is that in the remake, it takes Charley a lot longer to come around to the idea of having a vampire for a neighbor. It’s not until after Ed disappears that he seriously begins considering it. That gives Charley a slightly more robust journey to go on over the film, as we watch him go from a skeptic, to a tentative believer, to a full-blown vampire hunter. The original Charley only ever has one objective: stop the vampire at all costs.
One other noticeable difference is brains. While both Charley’s are determined to stop the vampire, they go about it in different ways. The original Charley calls the cops, pleads with Peter Vincent, all while insisting that his neighbor is a vampire…which, of course, doesn’t go over well. The remake’s Charley is a little bit more covert. He calls in noise complaints and poses as a reporter doing an article on the vampire craze. It’s a subtle difference, but one I think really makes the newer Charley more appealing.
Overall, OG Charley gets a 7.5 and New Charley gets an 8.5.
Jerry’s actually one of the characters that’s most similar in the films. Both the charming new neighbor, good with the ladies, terrifying when transformed. The new Jerry even keeps some of the same mannerisms, like whistling during incredibly tense scenes or eating apples. (I could write a whole article on just that, but I will restrain my film-student-brain.)
It’s safe to say that New Jerry is a little hardier than the original one. He lifts cars, tears the ground apart, takes a stake through the chest and still gets up again. Meanwhile, a pencil through the hand stops the first Jerry in his tracks and means he needs to put off his murder-plans for another night. That has more to do with the advancement of technology and special effects than it does with writing.
However there is one super cool thing that the new Jerry can’t do—shapeshift. Shapeshifting is a big part of vampire lore in the original film, and we see Jerry turn into a bat-like creature more than once. The modern version is a little more grounded in “reality,” the way a lot of remakes are. The campy elements of shapeshifting are left behind to stay with the more reasonable idea that someone can be thousands of years old and drink blood.
Another thing that differs between them is their support squad. In the original, Jerry has his live-in roommate Billy. Billy isn’t a vampire, but he isn’t human either. The problem is, the original film never actually discloses what kind of creature he is. All we know is that he acts as Jerry’s assistant, can survive several bullets to the chest, but can be killed by a stake to the heart. When he dies, he turns into a pile of green goo and sand…whatever that means. Instead of trying to establish a second kind of creature in the film, the remake cuts Billy in favor of a few more vampires. On the whole, I think that makes it a lot cleaner.
Overall, OG Jerry gets a 9, and New Jerry gets a 9.5.
I’m gonna keep this one short and sweet. I will not be stowing my bias, and I will not be taking questions.
There’s no doubt that the original Peter Vincent is an awesome character. Roddy McDowell won a Saturn award for his portrayal of the actor-turned-real-hunter. In fact, Peter’s one of the only characters with a real character arc in the first film. His beliefs change. His motivations change. We actually know a lot about what drives him and the financial situation he’s in. He’s a bit of an indecisive character—going back and forth between wanting to help Charley and being too afraid to do so—but it’s a compelling development. Peter Vincent might have more substance to him than anyone else in the film.
The remake takes Peter in a totally different direction. Instead of a washed-up TV host, he’s a jaded Vegas performer, played flawlessly by David Tennant. He’s rich and famous, and secretly, believes in vampires the entire time. Instead of being strapped for cash, the remake’s Peter is driven by revenge. His parents were killed by a vampire when he was a child—by Jerry, in fact, as it’s revealed later—and he spends most of the film working up the courage to face his trauma. I’ll admit, it’s an extremely contrived storyline that I could do without. Still, Peter’s mannerisms and quirky one-liners easily make him the most likable character in the movie.
Overall, OG Peter gets an 8, and New Peter gets a 9.5.
The two Amy’s are about as different as they can be while sharing the same role. Charley’s girlfriend gets offended by his fascination with his neighbor, and isn’t inclined to believe him when he insists that Jerry’s a vampire. Both of them show initiative and brains, but in different ways. The original Amy bribes Peter into helping them stage a “vampire test” to stop Charley from killing Jerry, prior to the reveal. The remake’s Amy gets in a few good shots as a fighter, using weapons around Peter’s apartment to fight off Ed and Jerry. Clearly, both girls can hold their own.
The biggest difference between them is the storyline they were given. Amy and Amy are both abducted and turned by Jerry. However, in the remake, it’s simply because she’s pretty, and being used as bait for Charley. In the original Fright Night, Jerry fixates on Amy because she bears a striking resemblance to one of his former lovers. It actually becomes a major plot point of the film, and there are a lot of scenes that linger on their sexual relationship.
Personally, I find the “doppelganger of my former lover” trope to be a little contrived. I like that the remake cut that aspect of the story and focused a bit more on Charley. Of course, they cut this bit of backstory just to cram in the unnecessary backstory that Jerry killed Peter’s parents, but you can’t have everything, I suppose.
Overall, OG Amy gets a 7, and New Amy gets a 7.
“Evil” Ed Thompson
Ed is probably the character that changes the most between the original and the remake. The original Ed (“Evil”) is shown to be one of Charley’s friends who’s a little seedy. He keeps up on the crime statistics and has an easily identifiable, obnoxious laugh. Even though he and Charley are friends, they have no problem pulling pranks on each other and laughing at the other’s expense. Evil doesn’t believe Charley’s vampire story at all, until he runs into Jerry for himself. He quickly agrees to take the bite, and acts as Jerry’s accomplice for the rest of the film. He does get a pretty sweet battle scene with Peter later, during which he turns into a wolf, but “dies” from a stake to the chest.
In the remake, Ed is the one driving the vampire storyline. He’s already done his investigating, he already believes that Jerry’s a vampire, and he’s already prepared to take him down. He’s also shown as an ex-friend of Charley, which paints him in a more sympathetic light. The audience knows he’s been wronged, knows that he’s right about Jerry, so we feel a little sadder when he dies. Even more importantly, it’s not Peter who kills Ed, but Charley. This makes the whole scene a lot more heartbreaking and effective. He can’t shapeshift, but he is played by Christopher Mintz-Plasse, also known as McLovin, which is a plus.
Overall, OG Ed get’s a 4, and New Ed gets a 9.
Fright Night vs Fright Night
Going by my score, that leaves Fright Night (1985) with 35.5 and Fright Night (2011) with 43.5. I’m sure that’s sacrilegious to some horror fans out there, and I get it. The question shouldn’t be “Which movie is better?” Really, all we can ask is, “Is Fright Night (2011) a solid adaptation?”
Watching the original again, it’s baffling to me just how many details are the same in both movies: Charley checking out one of Jerry’s victims on his way home, Amy storming out on Charley while he spies on Jerry, the club scene where Amy and Charley are pulled apart by the crowd, Peter’s last minute redemption. Even some of the lines are the same, like, “You’re so cool, Brewster!” and, “Welcome to Fright Night…for real.” A lot of the remake is either lifted from the original film, or pays tribute to it. Chris Sarandon (the OG Jerry) even makes a cameo in the remake as one of Jerry’s victims.
Because of the time difference, each film also has a different objective. In the eighties, special effects artists were making history with on-screen transformations and wild effects. The 1985 Fright Night reflects that with Evil’s painfully slow transformation from a wolf to a human, and Jerry’s drawn out death scene. It was a marvel of its time, and the highest-grossing horror film of the summer. By 2011, special effects were old news. They could do just about anything with computer graphics, so there was no need to try to impress the audience. Instead, the remake spends a little bit more time on characters, adding a few just to kill them off or else exploring their motivations.
I think the best representation of the films is Jerry’s iconic apple. He eats it in both, but the filmmakers of the remake pointedly use a green apple instead of a red one—the same, but different. I like Granny Smith apples more, personally, but that’s just me. End of the day, it’s safe to say the Fright Night (2011) is a solid adaptation that truly respects its predecessor.