Scream and Fright Night are two of my favourite ever horror movies. They are actually fairly similar films overall. Both are set in then modern day, both feature teenagers who are fans of horror movies as the main characters who have to deal with a threat exactly like something in the movies they watch, both mix comedy with scenes of genuine horror and both also satirize the tropes and cliches of classic horror movies albeit in affectionate ways.
The key difference between them is that they satirize different types of horror movies. With Fright Night its obviously Vampire movies, specifically the old Hammer classics whilst with Scream its obviously slasher films.
In this article I am going to compare the films side by side to see which I find to be superior. I think that this is an interesting comparison only because I feel that you can explore a lot of the key differences between the two sub genres of horror that both Scream and Fright Night satirize. In many ways this article will be exploring what I prefer Vampire and monster films or Slasher movies as much as what I prefer between Scream and Fright Night.
As always all opinions are my own and let me know what you think in the comments below.
Overview of Both Films
Before we compare both films to one another I am first of all going to give a brief overview of both films just in case any of you reading are maybe unfamiliar with one of them.
Fright Night was released in 1985. It was both written and directed by Tom Holland.
Its plot sees a Vampire named Jerry Dandridge (Chris Sarandon) move next door to young horror movie fan Charley Brewster. (William Ragsdale) Brewster comes to suspect he is a Vampire and later tries to expose him unsuccessfully to the police. After this Jerry knowing Charley is on to him attacks Charley. He offers Charley a chance to forget about him, but Charley refuses knowing that Jerry would keep going on killing more young women.
After barely escaping Jerry one night Charley soon goes to Peter Vincent for help. Peter Vincent (Roddy McDowall) is an actor famous for having appeared in horror movies as a Vampire killer though he is now washed up and hosts a horror themed show called Fright Night.
Peter dismisses Charley as a lunatic and ignores him. Charley now without any options decides to face Jerry himself and begins to fashion stakes and crosses. His girlfriend Amy and friend “Evil” Ed begin to worry about him and bring in Peter Vincent (who only comes in after Amy pays him) to conduct a Vampire test on Jerry. Here Peter actually discovers that Jerry is a Vampire when he sees he has no reflection. Jerry knowing his cover is blown tracks down and makes Ed into a Vampire. He also captures Amy whom he falls in love with as she is seemingly the reincarnation of his long lost love. Peter though scared agrees to help Charley face the Vampire at his house. There they not only face Charley but also Ed and Amy both of whom he has turned into Vampires. Ultimately Peter and Charley manage to slay Jerry and Ed. Following Jerry’s death Amy returns to normal, though the ending hints that “Evil” Ed has survived.
Fright Night proved to be a surprise hit and it led to a small resurgence in Vampire movies. Near Dark and The Lost Boys followed in its wake and all three films would prove to be a big influence on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Fright Night has also been cited as an influence on My Name Is Bruce, with My Name Is Bruce also revolving around a washed up horror actor, a fictionalized version of Bruce Campbell helping a fan battle a real monster. Like Peter Vincent, Bruce chickens out at first before battling the monster in the end to help his fan.
Scream was a 1996 slasher film directed by the late great Wes Craven. It revolved around a serial killer who assumes the costumed identity of Ghostface. Ghostface after carrying out two gruesome murders targets a teenager named Sidney Prescott (Neve Campbell). Ghostface reveals that he has knowledge of her mothers murder from many years ago which was blamed on her boyfriend Cotton.
Many people are suspected of being Ghostface including Sidney’s own father as well as her boyfriend Billy (Skeet Ulrich). Eventually after more killings it is discovered that there are in fact two killers who are working together. One of them is Billy Loomis and the other is his friend Stu. Billy has been planning to kill Sidney because Billy’s father had had an affair with Sidney’s mother causing Billy’s mother to abandon him. It was Billy and Stu (Matthew Lilliard) that murdered Sidney’s mother and now plan to complete their revenge by murdering her. Ultimately however Sidney with the aid of reporter Gail Weathers (Courtney Cox) is able to turn the tables on and murder the two killers.
Scream proved to be a massive success and it would lead to a revival in the popularity of slasher films with the likes of I Know What You Did Last Summer following in its wake.
Both movies led to franchises. There were three sequels to Scream and a tv series whilst Fright Night had one sequel and two remakes.
Both movies maintain a loyal cult following and are highly respected to this day by fans of the genre. But which do I like better? Well lets find out by looking at the pro’s and cons of both movies and again by extension the horror subgenre’s they were meant to satirize
Scream is far more frightening
I think most women would rather be seduced by a young Chris Sarandon.
One thing I will say right away is that Scream is far more terrifying than Fright Night.
Again I think this can be seen as a result of the subgenre of horror movies that they represent.
Slasher movies or indeed movies about evil human beings have always terrified me more than movies about monsters. Obviously when its a Vampire or a Demon or an Alien that does something horrible its completely divorced from reality. It almost feels safe in a way in that you know nothing like that could ever happen to anyone, being eaten by Zombies, abducted by aliens etc.
However when its a human being killing someone, its far more disturbing not only because the idea that an ordinary person could do something so evil is in itself disturbing, but also there is a certain real terror to it. People have actually died like Drew Barrymore’s character Casey.
Also I feel that the scenes of people being killed in Scream are more drawn out and protracted than in Fright Night. Really not counting the Vampires themselves only one main character is killed on screen in Fright Night, “Evil” Ed whose death is over in a second. Jerry’s other victims in the night club similarly are quickly dispatched. He just slashes their throats with his long nails and tosses them across the room and that’s that.
The only death that is drawn out in Fright Night is Amy’s when Jerry turns her into a Vampire, but that’s not exactly a horrific death.
Like a lot of classic monsters Jerry just wanted to be loved.
Ghostface on the other hand he’s just an asshole.
In Scream meanwhile we see people get tortured, struggle to get free, be brought to the very limit of their terror and get killed in some very creatively gruesome ways.
The opening scene of course features the most famous killing in the movie.
So much has been written about this scene over the years. Its arguably the most sensational opening to any horror film. Again what makes it so effective is how real it seems. We get to know Drew Barrymore’s character somewhat before she is slaughtered, she’s not just slasher victim 1. Also whilst her death is drawn out, its not just simply for the sake of it. There are so many moments where it looks as though she might escape right until the very end. The most effective moment for me is when she is a mere 6 feet away from her parents and tries to call for help, but can’t because she is so weak after having been stabbed and strangled.
Also this scene shows us the effect her death has on her parents which again makes it seem more than just a scene designed to shock. In some ways the parents reaction is actually the most horrifying moment for me. Imagine being in their position. You come home from a night out, see your daughter isn’t home, hear her scream for mercy and then see her hung from a tree. Losing a child is the most horrible thing that can happen to anyone but to lose them like that doesn’t even bare thinking about. Seeing some one go through that even in a film is just absolutely heart breaking.
Nothing in Fright Night even approaches this sequence alone in terms of sheer horror and again the fact that it is a Vampire that carries out the killings in Fright Night means that it never could for me even if its killings were more explicit like this. If it were a Vampire that bit Drew Barrymore just to feed then it would automatically be taken a level of fantasy that would make it seem somewhat more safe, more like a fairy tale for me. However the fact that it is just an ordinary human telling her that he wants “to see what your insides look like” just makes it immeasurably more disturbing for me personally.
Fright Night Has A Better Villain
On the flip side of things whilst Ghostface may be more terrifying in the way he or rather they butcher their victims ultimately I found Jerry to be the more compelling villain and character overall.
The thing about Jerry was we got to see more sides to his personality. At certain moments he seemed vicious and sadistic such as when he locks Charley in a room with a Vampirized Amy and even smiles when Charley cries at what has happened to her.
Still at the same time there are moments that portray him as a more conflicted character too. When he first confronts Charley he doesn’t kill him he actually offers to let him go provided he keeps quiet about what he is. He also expresses regret and even guilt over what he is telling Charley that he doesn’t have a choice but to kill.
Added to that he does genuinely love Amy too. The last thing he cries out before he perishes is her name.
All of these different sides to Jerry’s personality leave the viewer guessing what his true nature is. Is he a reluctant Vampire crying on the inside? Possibly. After all throughout the film most of the time he never kills unless he has too. He only kills those women so that he can survive and he gives Charley a choice to go and even later tells him that he was the one who started their fight. Also unlike the main villains in Scream Jerry only targets the main characters in this film to protect himself. Even then he decides to turn them into Vampires which is in his mind is a good thing. He tells Ed that he knows how he is a reject and picked on and he will finally give him somewhere he belongs and give him power so he’ll never have to suffer or feel lonely again.
Many fans see Jerry as a result of all this as a very sympathetic character, despite his status as a villain and again like in many great monster movies his death is even seen as a tear jerker by some viewers.
I personally however have a different interpretation of Jerry. I actually see him as a very unsympathetic character. I think that Jerry probably does feel some small measure of guilt over what he does but ultimately I don’t think he cares that much. Whilst its true that he may say he doesn’t have a choice at the end of the day he does. He could end his life if he really didn’t want to hurt anyone yet he has gone on killing people for 1000’s of years. Also its not like we see him constantly conflicted over his killings. Other than one line to Charley he seems quite chipper. He’s not skulking in the dark never meeting anyone feeling angsty. He lives in a big nice house, cracking jokes, laughing at people’s attempts to threaten him. Doesn’t seem like a guy who hates being a Vampire. He strikes me as the kind of guy that LOVES all the perks of being a Vampire, staying young and sexy forever, super powers, killing anyone that pisses you off etc.
I think the fact that he demonstrates some self awareness makes him worse as it shows that he is aware of how evil he is and how wrong it is, but simply doesn’t care. He ultimately places his own life above those of his victims. Yes he may not go out of his way to torture and kill people but he has no quams about doing it either.
Of course that’s just my interpretation and I am sure plenty of people will disagree, but that’s further proof of what a great character Jerry is that people can have all of these different interpretations of what his true motives are.
For instance when he hunts Ed is he in his mind freeing a young, lonely, bullied boy from his life of torment and giving the gift of eternal life? Or is he just simply manipulating him, turning him into a Vampire so that he can use him to track down Peter and Charley and will discard him after he is done with him?
Sadly the main villains in Scream Billy Loomis and Stu Macher are simply not as interesting to me.
They’re not bad characters. Obviously they are terrifying and the actors who play them do a great job as you can see just from the picture above in really capturing the bitter, twisted almost childlike lunacy of the characters.
Still the thing about Billy and Stu that makes them less interesting than Jerry is that they are just psychopath’s. That’s it. There is really very little else about their characters. Billy’s motive “mommy issues” I always felt was a bit weak whilst Stu has no motive whatsoever. Thus where as with Jerry we have a character who can seem genuinely conflicted and openly sadistic and menacing, with these two villains we just have two psychopath’s and I don’t think anyone feels bad when either one of them suffers their violent and painful deaths.
In Vampire and monster movies the villains ironically tend to be more fleshed out and even more sympathetic. Look at the classic monster movies like the Karloff Frankenstein, the Karloff Mummy and The Wolf Man. The monsters in all of those films is someone we sympathize with even though they kill people. The Frankenstein monster murders an entire family yet audiences still cry when he dies or when he is with the blind old man the only person that could be his friend because he can’t see him.
Even monsters who aren’t sympathetic at all I still find often have a better motivation than the villains in slasher movies.
Take a look at Deacon Frost in the Blade film series. Frost is a vicious, sadistic monster who wants to destroy humanity, but you can still understand why he is doing what he is doing. He wants Vampires to rule the earth as he believes it is their right as they are higher up the food chain.
He thinks that if the Vampires continue to just simply blend in with humanity then eventually they will be found out and exterminated as they are predators of humans and thus the humans wouldn’t ever accept them. In a way you can understand where he is coming from.
The villains in slasher movies however like Freddy Krueger, Michael Myers, Jason Vorhee’s, Leatherface and the Fishermen are often just psychopath’s who kill people for seemingly no reason.
Nobody cries when the villain in a slasher movie dies. At the same time no one knows why these guys even do what they do. I suppose its ironic in a way as a lot of the time the villains in slashers movies are human. Some of them do have supernatural powers like Freddy and Jason and Michael, but most like the Fisherman, Ghostface and Leatherface are just ordinary people, whilst even Myers, Vorhees, and Kruger all start out as human beings too when they begin their murders.
In horror movies that if a villain is a monster then chances are they will be more three dimensional and perhaps sympathetic than if they are just an insane human being. I guess that old cliche of human beings are the greatest monsters is true after all.
With this in mind it makes sense that Jerry would be more fleshed out than either Billy or Stu. I will say that Ghostface is more iconic than Jerry. Pretty much everyone knows that iconic mask.
The mask is an absolute tour de force, but in all fairness I think this is more a case of the design being iconic than the character. Whilst everyone may recognize the mask I doubt anyone other than horror movie fans would remember the people underneath the mask. Jerry meanwhile I’d say is far more famous among horror movie fans than either Billy or Stu.
Overall I’d say that Jerry is stronger than any of the villains in any of the Scream films.
Scream Has Stronger Roles For Woman
Scream’s main protagonist is Sidney Prescott played by Neve Campbell. She is a strong, resourceful, brave intelligent character. Her backstory is fully fleshed out involving the death of her mother and as time goes on we see her develop into a very different character in both Scream and its sequels.
Sadly the main female character Amy in Fright Night is really nothing more than just a bland damsel. She really has no function except to get seduced and bitten by Jerry. Though she does get some good scenes when she becomes a Vampire later, by large she is really just the stereotypical wimpy girl that is helpless in the throes of the Vampire. She can’t possibly compare to Sidney.
I actually really like the actress who plays Amy, Amanda Bearse. You should check her out in Married With Children as Marcy, a character who couldn’t be more different to Amy!
Still I think its safe to say that Sidney is just a better character and Neve Campbell was absolutely spectacular in the role.
Once again I think that this can be seen as reflective of the subgenres they parody.
In monster and Vampire films before Fright Night the female characters were often not quite as strong apart from a few exceptions such as the Alien film series. Look at the old Universal and Hammer movies are there any strong roles for women in them? I’m not knocking them. They’re of their time and also not having strong roles for women does NOT make something sexist by any stretch of the imagination. Still in Slasher movies not only were women giving much stronger roles, but in fact the main hero was often a woman.
In fact I honestly can’t think of a single classic slasher movie where a woman isn’t the main hero. Halloween, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th and I Know What you Did Last Summer, the last survivor who ultimately outwits and even dispatches the killer is a woman every time.
Many people criticise the slasher movie genre for being misogynistic because we often see women being killed, but I think that’s unfair as men get killed just as often women in these films. Drew Barrymore’s boyfriend for instance gets gutted just like she does.
Ultimately however a woman is always the last survivor and indeed as a boy when I used to watch slasher movies they were among the first places I ever got to see a female character save the day. It certainly wasn’t in the old Hammer movies or Universal flicks where women would cower at the sight of the monster and be victimized.
You can see the huge difference there.
Fright Night is More Fun
One thing that can be said for Fright Night is that it is much easier viewing than Scream.
As much as I like Scream I must admit I’d probably only watch it very occassionally because its pretty heavy viewing. The opening scene alone is pretty harrowing and intense.
Fright Night on the other hand I feel is more feel good escapism. If its been a long day at work and or I’m just in the mood for a fun, enjoyable horror flick well then its always going to be Fright Night I pop on before Scream. I really have to be in the mood for Scream.
Again I think this is reflective somewhat of the differences between monster and Slasher movies. Slasher movies like the Texas Chainsaw massacre are obviously much more brutal when compared to an old Hammer or Universal movie. Of course you might just say that’s because they are more tame, but I think its more than that. I think monster movies create their own unique world. A world where the most impossible creatures exist that’s completely divorced from reality. Slashers movies like Scream however that are just about psycho humans obviously don’t do that. If anything they just remind us of how crappy human beings and the world can be.
Thus once again I think that by the simple fact of being a monster movie Fright Night for me at least is more rewatchable.
In many ways Randy and Evil Ed are similar characters. Both horror movie fans who comment on the cliche’s of horror movies within the film. Both are not surprisingly very popular with fans as in many ways they represent us horror movie geeks. Too bad they both get horrribly killed. Though Randy at least survives the first film, whilst Evil at least becomes a Vampire.
In conclusion I can’t really say which I prefer. In some ways Scream is better, in some Fright Night is better. I think that both movies do a good job of summing up the sub genres of horror movies that they satirize. I will say one final thing I think Scream has over Fright Night is that Scream’s first sequel was better than Fright Night 2.
I do like Fright Night 2 and in yet a further similarity between the two franchises both of their sequels revolve around a relative of the villain from the first movie trying to kill the heroes to avenge their loved one.
In Jerry’s case it is Regina his sister, in Scream’s case it is Mrs Loomis, Billy’s mother. I will say Regina is much better than Mrs Loomis.
Also at least Fright Night 2 doesn’t kill off one of the first movies best characters. It sucks in Scream 2 when Randy who was arguably the most iconic character in the series gets killed. Ask anyone to name a quote from Scream and it will be one of Randy’s. He’s the one who helped make it a movie that could satirise horror flicks.
Fortunately Fright Night 2 didn’t do anything stupid like that and kill off say Peter Vincent.
Still Scream 2 I think is a better move overall. I also prefer Mickey the supporting antagonist in Scream 2 to either Regina or Ms Loomis. Even though he is her sidekick Mickey kills far more people than Mrs Loomis.
My favourite kill of his is when he murders Derek Sidney’s boyfriend. Derek is the cheesiest guy in any horror movie. To say he and Sidney are a schmoopie couple is an understatement.
What makes his death at Mickey’s hands all the more glorious is that Mickey dupes Sidney into thinking that Derek is his accomplice first. So Derek dies knowing that Sidney didn’t truly trust him after all.
Seriously Mickey could very well be my favourite killer for this scene alone. And he killed Buffy lets not forget that either!
Still looking at just the original films then I’d say it is a tie between Scream and Fright Night. Both not only satirized but in many ways helped to change the horror genre, paving the way for other classics that were to follow and I am in no doubt that they will always remain cult classics.