Saturday, July 23, 2011

Fright Night, for real

The above clip from "Fright Night" premiered at the San Diego Comic-Con Friday night. Introduced by David Tennant, the clip focuses on Tennant's Peter Vincent discussing how to kill vampires with Charlie Brewster (Anton Yelchin). Tennant (best know as the 10th Doctor Who and a small role in the Harry Potter series) seems to be pulling off some kind of Russell Brand look that could not be further from Roddy McDowall, the original Peter Vincent.

And that brings me to the original 1985 "Fright Night," which I'm watching right this minute. The movie is getting plenty of press leading up to the release of the remake, so I don't feel too bad about throwing my two cents in.

"Fright Night" is the total antithesis to the majority of horror films in the 1980s. As McDowall says, "Apparently your generation doesn't want to see vampire killers anymore, nor vampires either. All they want to see slashers running around in ski masks, hacking up young virgins."

Yet at the same time, "Fright Night" is a quintessential '80s flick. Late night horror hosts such as the Peter Vincent character were on the way out, dying at the hands of cable TV. As the vampire Jerry, Chris Sarandon is fashionable in his turtlenecks and sweaters. He's loved by women and adored by men, including his housemate. "Fright Night" follows the vampire lore stating that every vamp needs someone to watch over them during the day. But let's face it, the interaction between the two seems just a bit gay. It's subtle, but it's a great example of the cultural subtext of the film. Coincidentally, Stephen Geoffreys, who delightfully played Evil Ed, would go on to a, ahem, lengthy career in gay porn.

While Geoffreys went on to bat for the other team, leads William Ragsdale and Amanda Bearse moved to TV. Bearse played Marcy Rhoades Darcy for 10 years on "Married ... With Children," a role she started only two years after playing a high school virgin in "Fright Night." Ragsdale took the lead role in "Herman's Head," another FOX network show, but one that ran only a fraction of the length of "Married ... With Children."

Ragsdale and McDowall survived for "Fright Night II," a far inferior sequel. McDowall as the fake vampire killer, steals the original. He's channels name sake Peter Cushing and twists the character into a washed-up old man who cowers when finally confronted with the reality he spent so many years pretending was fake. His transformation from pompous ass to weakling to bad ass is one of the best in film.

Speaking of transformations, the make-up and puppetry effects used when Bearse as Amy changes from shy virgin to the devil's whore-beast are amazing, as is the shift of Evil Ed from wolf to man after getting staked by Vincent.

Writer/director Tom Holland crafted a fun horror movie and layered it with more subtext than one could have expected. In addition to perceived homosexuality, "Fright Night" addresses single parenthood, the usefulness of senior citizens, the constant dilemma of whether or not to have sex for the first time while still in high school, and the tragedy that can befall teenagers labeled "weird" or "evil" when they are simply misunderstood.

Naturally, there will be people claiming that I'm reading too much into a film that was meant to just be a good time. And that's fine. "Fright Night" is a good time. Thankfully, there was also more thought put into it. If there hadn't been, the movie would have faded from memory long ago and would not have been as likely to land big names such as Colin Farrell for a remake.

I'm betting the remake will be full of CGI instead of practical effects. That's the world we live in, folks. Nothing to stop us from watching the originals.

Threat level: ORANGE. You have until Aug. 19 to see the original "Fright Night" before the remake is released.
"Fright Night," rated R, starred William Ragsdale, Roddy McDowall, Chris Sarandon and Amanda Bearse and was released in 1985.

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