** spoiler alert **
Release in 1985, the original Fright Night proved to be quite a hit. It starred William Ragsdale as Charley Brewster, a fan of horror films, who discovers that his neighbor (Chris Sarandon) is an actual vampire. Naturally, no one believes him, not his mother, his best friend or his girlfriend. He finally seeks out Peter Vincent (Roddy McDowall), a washed up actor who plays a vampire hunter in horror movies and has his own local show hosting classic horror movies. Vincent doesn’t believe him either and thinks he’s a crazed fan. But Vincent soon discovers the truth and then he and Charlie set out to hunt down Sarandon and to free Charley’s girlfriend.
All in all, this film wasn’t great by any stretch of the imagination, but it was original and it was entertaining. It also became a surprise hit, out-earning every other horror film of that year. What made the film work was the characters. Charley was likable as the determined teen who intends to protect his family even if they can’t see the danger. Vincent was enjoyable as the washed up cynic, who rises to the challenge of a fight with something he never truly believed existed. And Chris Sarandon was smarmy, condescending and so unlikable that you really couldn’t wait to see him get his comeuppance. This drew you in and made you pull for the heroes to get their act together to take out the bad guy that you had personally come to despise.
What makes this worse is that the film lacks any sort of intermediate level of danger. In other words, throughout the original, there were many bad things which could happen at any moment, but the remake only offers two results: dead or survives. Thus, since you know the movie isn’t over, you know that Charlie will survive each scene to make it unscathed to the next, and that means there is no tension. By comparison, you were never sure what could happen in any scene in the original because there were so many more alternatives.
Beyond this, there is nothing you could call a twist or a new slant on the original. There is no unexpected revelation, no attempt to make the story bigger or take it in new directions, and nothing to give you a fresh look at the story.
In effect, this remake failed on all levels. It offered less story than the original, its effects were worse, it had no interesting take on the original, and its characters lost all the quirkiness which made the originals so interesting to watch. That’s why this bombed and why the original out-earned it domestically by about a third on a much smaller budget. The moral here is simple. Even if you’re going to remake a film, you still have to make a good film.