Christophobia Haunts Hollywood
Before I even saw the remake of the vampire flick Fright Night, I knew what scene was going to be missing. It's the scene where Peter Vincent finds his faith.
In a secular, post-Christian America, you can't have the main character in a Hollywood movie finding faith in Christ, even if such a scene would serve the story.
The original Fright Night, which came out in 1985, is one of my favorite movies. It's about a kid named Charlie Brewster who finds himself living next door to a vampire. What made the original Fright Night so great was its combination of humor and horror, particularly the brilliant performance of Chris Sarandon as Jerry the vampire. To help battle Jerry, Charlie goes to Peter Vincent, the horror host of a cheap local show called, yes, Fright Night. Vincent, played by Roddy McDowall, is a washed-up actor who has landed at the bottom of the celebrity food chain.
Vincent has also lost his faith. When Charlie convinces him to confront bloodsucker Jerry, Vincent pulls a crucifix out. Nothing happens. "You have to have faith for that to work," smirks Jerry, who then watches as Vincent flees.
As the film moves along, however, Peter Vincent begins to slowly finds his courage -- and his faith. In a climactic scene, Jerry approaches Peter with the intent to kill -- or at least turn him into a member of the undead. Peter hesitates, gathers himself together, and produces a crucifix. Jerry starts to smirk and bare his fangs, but then stops cold, repelled by the crucifix. Peter Vincent has found his faith.
Fright Night is not a heavily religious film; Vincent does not consult a priest or pray the rosary. But is a religious film in the way that so much of western culture was once informed by Christianity in subtle (and not so subtle) ways that made our art more powerful. In the Fright Night remake, Peter Vincent is no longer a TV personality, but an alcoholic illusionist. His own parents were murdered by a vampire, and Vincent's journey in the film is to acquire the courage to confront vampire Jerry (played very well by Colin Farrell). While the remake does have Jerry reminding Charlie that "you have to have faith for that to work" when Charlie produces a crucifix, that line is never repeated for the rest of the film. While Charlie and Peter find courage, there is no concomitant discovery of faith.
I have argued before that the Christophobia that now haunts the western world has not only made us spiritually poorer, but has made us poorer writers, journalists, directors and artists. As people have given up God, and the fruitful tension that comes from seriously confronting the question of God (Camus, Nietzsche), the air seems to go out of our artistic spirit.
It's not that people are declaring God dead; it's that they are doing it in such a weak, cowardly way.
They lack the brio of Nietzsche or the cutting humor of Woody Allen. They just kind of leave the entire question out of their books, TV shows and films. So in Fright Night, characters are confronted with a genuine demon. Charlie's lack of faith makes a crucifix powerless. So he loads himself up with gadgets, a crossbow, and a suit out of Mad Max, and that gets the job done. The fact that a crucial element of the battle is a stake blessed by St. Michael seems to have no relevance other than making a cool special effect.
In case I've given the impression that I didn't like Fright Night, I did. After the brooding Calvin Klein models who play bloodsuckers in the Twilight series, it was refreshing to watch Colin Farrell play one as an arrogant, and funny, jerk. The special effects are cool, and a scene where Jerry chases down Charlie on a desolate highway is smarty directed and genuinely frightening.
Yet it lacks the powerful story arc of the original Fright Night, which, in its small way, was about the ultimate question of a man finding his faith and thus his soul.