Terror Tuesday: FRIGHT NIGHT 3D Sucked… But It Didn’t Have To

Brian sifts through the dust of FRIGHT NIGHT 3D and explains how it could have been better.

Well, score one for creativity. Despite surprisingly solid reviews (not from me) and the fact that it’s about vampires, Fright Night 3D rightfully tanked over the weekend, coming in 5th behind movies that have been out for a couple weeks and barely rising above Final Destination 5, a superior film on every level (well, maybe Fright Night had a better soundtrack). Wait a minute, could this mean you guys were listening to me and checking it out? Literally, they were separated by less than 1,000 ticket sales, and FD5’s second weekend hold was actually pretty decent for a horror sequel (57%, most are closer to 70%).

But this isn’t about box office. Good movies tank, bad movies earn over 1 billion at the box office and prompt Jerry Bruckheimer to commission the baking of a very lame looking cake. Happens all the time, and means nothing in the long run. I just want to point out that the original Fright Night actually performed better on its first weekend and was the biggest draw of that weekend’s new releases (against Weird Science and Follow That Bird) back in 1985, whereas this one performed the weakest. Cue a hearty Nelson Muntz laugh and let’s move on.

What I really want to talk about is that, good or bad, it’s possible that no review could have legitimately have complained about the film’s lack of either creativity or living up to the original’s oft-celebrated standing as a charming and terrific homage to the style of the previous generation’s horror films and heroes. But let’s backtrack a bit. See, even the NAME Peter Vincent was a tribute - a combination of Peter Cushing and Vincent Price, icons of the genre that remain revered even by the newer generations. His character’s films were clearly inspired by the Hammer movies of the 50s and 60s, and giving his character (now a has-been) a chance to be a hero for real was just pure awesome, and (hopefully) reminded us that these “old timers” are the real deal and will forever be honored.

Well, this new one doesn’t bother with any of that. Rather than pay any tribute to any time or place or person in the history of horror, Peter Vincent has been turned into some douchey magician (as my friend Matt pointed out, why didn’t they change his name to Criss Copperfield?), with the sole reference to horror at all being a quick joke about Twilight, and that might be the most fallacious thing I’ve ever written. Hell, I could argue that the rampant (frequently lousy) CGI effects were, if anything, an outright mockery of the original and other films of its era, as if they were going out of their way to avoid acknowledging that any previous horror film or persona (i.e. the makeup greats of the 80s) was worth celebrating. Some have argued that the film shouldn’t constantly be compared to the original, and they have a point in general terms, but in this case it’s impossible to do so because they kept borrowing elements at random from the original without bothering to contextualize them properly within the modified script. I actually loved the Dawn of the Dead remake, but if I hated it, I could explain why without resorting once to “in the original…” based excuses, because love it or hate it, James Gunn’s script took the basic concept (“Zombies in a mall”) and nothing else, creating his own characters and own situations. Not so much here. The extent of this movie’s creativity was changing Charley’s mom’s name from Judy to Jane and setting it in Vegas (and then never using it in any meaningful way).

But it didn’t have to be that way, which just makes the film’s creative failures all the more insulting. Back in 2009, ShockTillYouDrop reported on one idea that was being tossed around, one I truly loved and probably should have known instantly that it would never happen. In this proposed idea (how far it made it into development, I do not know), the hero would not seek the help of anyone named Peter Vincent, but instead would look to actor Chris Sarandon to assist him in proving that his new neighbor was a vampire, as Sarandon would know better than anyone having been the star of the movie Fright Night. Yes, it would be a meta-remake, taking place in our world where Fright Night is a popular movie starring Chris Sarandon. The possibilities for fun are endless, as it could combine the obvious potential for humor with an almost insanely easy way to update it; as the original honored the 50s/60s films, this new one could honor the 80s. And it could be a nice tribute to Sarandon, an underrated genre vet, having appeared in both Fright Night as well as the hero of Child’s Play, in addition to several other great films (plus: he’s Prince Humperdinck!). The remake has him show up in a stupid cameo and dying instantly, without as much as an ugly sweater on display to honor his legacy or any sort of “passing of the torch” to Colin Farrell. As I noted in my review, the scene is so superfluous and witless, it could have been anyone playing the role, and it’s possibly only his importance to the name brand that the scene wasn’t cut from the final print.

A meta approach seemed to be on more than one mind. A few days ago, screenwriter Todd Farmer posted his pitch for the remake, which would have re-teamed Carpenter heroes Tom Atkins (the closest the 80s generation had to a Peter Cushing style hero) and Jamie Lee Curtis. In his idea, Atkins/Curtis were the stars of a series of increasingly bad remakes of the original Fright Night series that starred Roddy McDowall (making this a sort of remake/sequel hybrid), and were now making their living working the convention junket. It followed the original’s structure, but in situations and character dynamics that were much different (and more violent). And again, it was enjoyably honoring those who inspired us, as well as working in the current horror crowd (one scene would have Billy – Jerry’s “Renfield” assistant who wasn’t even in the remake – taking on Derek “Jason” Mears at a horror con). Plus, it would have been a fun, ballsy performance for Curtis, who was written as a bit of a money-hungry coward (whereas Atkins was just amused by Charley’s claims and played along because he had nothing better to do) – certainly a more fitting role for the biggest “scream queen” of all time than her recent spate of Disney movies and poop yogurt commercials.

Now, we can only guess why the Sarandon version was left in the dust, but it’s a safe bet it would be the same thing that Farmer says killed his (at Sony anyway, prior to the project switching over to Dreamworks): quite simply, the ideas were too smart. Clint Culpepper, the head exec at Screen Gems (the studio who gave us Prom Night and Stepfather) admitted after two minutes that he “didn’t get it”, even though it was well received by the others in the room, and thus it died. And Dreamworks apparently was afraid of doing a full blown horror film and toyed with it being “family friendly” (read: not particularly complicated) throughout the development process, which might explain why the film’s R rated material largely seems like an afterthought (the body count is very low, the blood almost entirely digital, etc). In other words, from the minute this thing was announced until the day the final shot was edited, no one making the calls was willing to be too daring or interesting; settling for safe, status quo faux horror, even though the name Fright Night doesn’t carry as much weight as Halloween or Friday the 13th and thus would have an easier time doing something kind of nutty.

You don’t even need to look at all of this “inside baseball” material to recognize the lack of any real thought behind the plotting process of Fright Night 3D; the movie itself does a fine job of spelling it out for you. For example, in this version, Charley seeks the help of Peter Vincent for NO REASON WHATSOEVER, unless you count the fact that he did so in the original movie and thus he probably should here so the fans don’t get mad at them (or whatever it is these remake goons use to justify their lazy storytelling). In the original, Charley was a fan of his. He tried the cops and fails, so he, a naïve, scared kid, sought the help of his hero, a guy who made his name fighting vampires in the movies and thus may have picked up a thing or two. It’s sweet, it’s fun, and yeah it’s a bit silly, but you can see the thought process from A to B to C. Here, it seems Marti Noxon and Craig Gillespie worked backwards halfway through production, working from the same ending as Tom Holland’s movie and then figuring out how to get Charley and Peter together in the first place despite the fact that this Charley doesn’t like horror movies (or anything, best we can tell – new Charley is an asshole, another major issue). He literally Googles Peter Vincent to even find out who he is, and then decides to visit him in Vegas, which is luckily a half hour away. And then they make it worse, trying to justify Vincent’s presence by (SPOILER) giving him a pre-existing relationship with Jerry, which is even stupider (again, my friend Matt pointed out the inane coincidence that these two old enemies would be living in the same small area of Nevada, when they lived elsewhere at the time that they first met). So congrats, Gillespie/Noxon, you took the script for a movie that was hardly all that complicated to begin with and managed to make it dumber.

So now what? The movie tanked, so don’t look for Fright Night 3D Part 2 to come along in 3 years and barely get released before finding some fan appreciation on video. Maybe in 15-20 years someone will try again, but doubtfully using any of the superior ideas mentioned above. Oh, and according to half of the horror sites, R rated horror is dead again, thanks to this and FD5 tanking, because it couldn’t possibly be the fact that people might just want to see something new instead of the next sequel/remake. And because the PG-13 Insidious was the year’s only big horror hit so far, it’s very likely that we will be once again inundated with watered down horror (the irony that Insidious came from the two guys who turned the tide AWAY from PG-13 with Saw will likely be lost on the Clint Culpepper’s of the world), because it’s a lot easier to assign a rating than support original ideas. And just think, had the studio had the stones to do something a little more outside the box, I could have been writing about something else today. Or, admittedly, I could just be writing the 2nd “Why Didn’t You Go See ____?” article in a row, but at least I’d be championing something instead of condemning it.