Friday, April 8, 2016
Fright Night (1985)
Welcome to Fright Night...for real.
A teenager named Charlie Brewster just happens to pick up the binoculars and peep outside across to his new neighbor's house...owned by a handsome vampire! With a girlfriend concerned when he plans to battle the vampire and an outrageous friend who thinks he's bonkers, does Charlie have a prayer? Maybe a chiller theater host can come to the rescue!
"Fright Night" on cable or premium channels has given it a continued relevance to this day. I do groan as I approach 40, looking at my thirties slipping away and my twenties now distant. But I wouldn't ever say I regret not being an 80s kid. I was so fortunate to pop in a VHS or stay up (when able to get away with it) late when HBO was accessible to watch Fright Night. A kid introduced to boobs and seduction, it was a bit new (Risky Business ('83), around the same time did this significantly) to me. I liked the taste...and wanted more. This movie is perhaps looked on by the current generation as unworthy of its hype. I do kind of realize at 38 perhaps this is one of those modern 80s variations on the classic favorites from days gone by that is special to those of us who spent quite a bit of time with it as burgeoning horror fans. The Lost Boys and The Monster Squad were just right there at such an impressionable age for me. Sure, it'd be easy to surmise that too many of us my age look at these films perhaps through a different lens. Maybe they aren't as great as we make them out to be. To be honest, I'm just fine looking at them through the lens and enjoying what I see.
This movie really has a lot going for it. The special makeup effects by Edlund, for one thing, are even more amazing than I remembered last. Of course, there are the appropriate opticals to give the eyes that extra bit of menace, along with plenty of sharp teeth and long fingers. And, for us who love them, we get our monsters. We get a werewolf and a bat. The werewolf is even shown in half-creature/half-human form when movie host vampire hunter, Peter Vincent successfully stakes the vampire when it charges at him in the form of a wolf. You see a vampire deteriorate (melting effects, yay!) into mush, with just a skull left over, and you see a vampire burst into flames until he's nothing more. You get 80s new wave provided to the lead vampire as he seduces his teenage nemesis' girlfriend in a club called Club Radio. You get a chiller theater host shown using a stake backwards when killing a vampire from a past corny horror movie he once starred in during his younger days. Peter Vincent is his name, and for most of the running time, scared shitless is his game. Roddy McDowell received a bit of a career resurgence, starring in other horror films afterward (including a sequel to this film I personally think deserves a second look, particularly by those who are Fright Night fans), but he is so wonderfully expressive, especially when showing absolute terror. I giggle just thinking about how he reacts to Evil Ed and when he drops the mirror after *not* seeing Jerry Dandridge in his house. How he flees once he realizes that his faith in the crucifix to destroy Jerry is lacking, allowing the vampire to gain advantage allows Roddy to emote the fear and disappointment in himself. Just a rewarding presence in the movie; God, without him and Chris Sarandon I can't imagine how this film could have endured until today.
Sarandon deserves so much credit but so does young Ragsdale as the ultimate foil. This film adopts the Rear Window skeleton of this kid who, through his inquisitive curiosity, spies on his neighbor and realizes he's responsible for the slate of murders to a series of women (with heads gone)...not only that, he realizes that Jerry is a vampire! Getting anyone to believe that--including his girlfriend (played by Amanda Bearse, primarily recognized for her geeky neighbor to the Bundys in "Married with Children") or oddball pal (Evil Ed, played by Stephen Geoffreys, who would later show up in Robert Englund's 976-Evil)--will be a whole other matter entirely. He tries the police but an officer goes to the house and is persuaded by Jerry's "roommate" (subservient, intimidating slave played by Jonathan Stark) that his claims that the owner is the serial killer are malarkey. Peter Vincent is canned from the show he hosted because the content was considered old fashioned (it was time for "madmen with an ax chasing after virgins" mourns the host), so he was needing funds or else be evicted. When Ragsdale plans to combat the vampire on his own, his friends worry about his emotional decline, offering a 500 dollar trust fund to Vincent to humor their beloved and go to the Dandridge house. This is where Vincent realizes he is in deep shit...what Ragsdale was saying was true!
Sarandon's confidence, suave handling of threats to his welfare and long-term concealment of his true nature, and sexual power (when Bearse responds to him upon first sight, it isn't a reaction that seems unreasonable) just makes his vampire quite an 80s Lugosi truly walking, standing, acting, responding, and reacting without a sense of danger to himself: he was completely aware of the kid who would do whatever he could to kill him, but there was never a belief this could happen. Perhaps this belief (he had lived for quite sometime) is his ultimate undoing. Vincent's steady increase in courage and faith, along with the teenage nemesis' bravery, are soon Jerry's downfall.
The weapons of vampire destruction remain in place: director/writer Tom Holland couldn't help but keep the old tools in place so identifiable to the vampire and his defeat. Sunlight, wooden stakes, holy water, and the cross: the tools of the vampire threat are at the disposal of the heroes.
And my scene: Jerry seduces Amy (Bearse), first in the club and in a room at his home. Both show a woman unable (and perhaps somewhat voluntarily?) to resist the temptation encouraged by the will of Jerry. That Amy favored a former wife is yet another homage to so many Gothic horror of the past. Holland knows where to pull from and how to make the details so recognizable his own.
I had been hoping to keep this film in my hip pocket for a later Summer Friday. I had planned two years ago to devote several days to this film, but catching it tonight I'm glad I didn't wait any longer. A random Thursday night in April, but what a fun night for a Fright Night.
On Evil Ed. I couldn't leave him out, right? Jeffreys became a star to 80s kids for this unorthodox and rather unstable bullied "freak" who was "a little different". To the anti-social set (those who felt excluded, outsiders that were not "part of the status quo" in school), he was understood and pitied. So I think the character remains someone appealing to some while others might just find him obnoxious. His devious giggle, expanding hair, smallish frame, wicked sense of humor (which to some might be considered in bad taste), and jarring noise of speech make him quite the oddity that many might latch onto. His own seduction when Jerry offers him a "release" is fascinating. In many ways this was similar to what happens to Amy. Jerry emerges as a seductive figure to Ed and his accepts what is offered to him. Ed's fixation with Vincent is his ultimate defeat, too. The great scene where the crucifix burns a cross upon Ed's forehead is a key moment that emblazons the movie memorably. I think his demise, as the stairwell stake is stuck in his chest as he cries out in pain with a realization of his upcoming death, reaching out to Vincent (Roddy is a marvel, here, with aching and tears), I feel, watching it tonight, was a scene that should resonate to some on re-evaluation. It did to me.
I'd be remiss not to mention Brad Fiedel for his music as it provides some sensuality--think late night hot sex in the back of a room as the public is just out of reach, with the smell of smoke and booze filling the air--quite intricate to Sarandon's own seductive prowess. I would recommend listening to Brad's own "Come to me" sometime...its good stuff. And of course Bearse and that hair which seems to change just as Dandridge takes a shine to her. That she goes from whiny, nerdy teenage girl to a sultry looker is not small feat...
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Doctor Gogol: Did you ever hear of Galatea?
Lavin - Waxworks Proprietor: Gala - who? Not wanting a statue of him, are you?
Doctor Gogol: I don't want a statue of Galatea. You see, she was a statue herself. Pygmalion formed her. Out of marble, not wax. And then she came to life in his arms.
Lavin - Waxworks Proprietor: [calling to his assistant] Start the motor, Henry. There's queer people on the streets of Montmartre at this time of night.
Doctor Gogol: [handing him his card] Here, a hundred francs if you deliver the statue to my house.
Lavin - Waxworks Proprietor: [reading card] It's a go, Dr. Go... gol. First thing in the morning.