Frightning Nights

Film Title: Fright Night
Starring: William Ragsdale as Charlie Brewster, Roddy McDowell as Peter Vincent, Chris Sarandon as Jerry Dandridge, Amanda Bearse as Amy Peterson, Stephen Geoffreys as Evil Ed Thompson, Jonathan Stark as Billy Cole and Dorothy Fielding as Judy Brewster
Written and Directed by: Tom Holland

Charlie Brewster (he’s so cool) is an all-American teenager. He has a cute girlfriend, a quirky best buddy and a loving mother. His biggest worry is how to convince his girlfriend that it’s well past time to have sex with him.

Charlie’s carefree life doesn’t last long, however. Just when his girlfriend, Amy, is about to give him what he wants, he spies his new next door neighbors lugging a huge coffin into their basement. Charlie’s curiosity in events outside his window douses Amy’s interest and starts a chain of events that will lead to death and destruction.

Unable to help himself, Charlie continues to spy on his neighbors. He hears screams in the night and witnesses beautiful women visiting the Dandridge house. His luck runs out, however, when Dandridge catches his peeping Tom of a neighbor just when he has finished with his evening meal – another beautiful woman.

Charlie, uncertain if he has really been seen, sneaks out and watches as Jerry Dandridge and his manservant Billy Cole dispose of the body. Dandridge lets Charlie know that he is very aware of his presence but Charlie makes it back to his house before any harm can come to him.

After the police dismiss Charlie’s concerns, Charlie goes to his friend ‘Evil’ Ed for some vampire advice. Although Ed doesn’t believe Charlie for even a second, he reminds his best friend that he’s in no danger since a vampire can’t come into his house without being invited. This relieves Charlie – for about thirty minutes. When he gets home that night, he finds the vampire chatting away with his mother. After a few not-so-subtle threats (that Mrs. Brewster is completely oblivious to) Dandridge leaves, but Charlie knows he’ll be back.

That very evening Dandridge pays a visit to Charlie, but fails to kill him due to bad timing and a pesky number two pencil. However, he vows that he will return to finish the job.

Desperate for help, Charlie visits the local television station’s horror host, Peter Vincent. Peter quickly dismisses him as a lunatic. However, when Charlie’s girlfriend and Ed talk to Mr. Vincent – and some money is waved in his direction – Peter agrees to help prove to Charlie that Dandridge is not a vampire.

After a faked ‘vampire test,’ everyone is set to leave Dandridge’s house but Peter happens to pull out his little prop mirror and realizes that Charlie is right – Jerry Dandridge does not cast a reflection.

From this point on, Charlie and his friends are on the run as Dandridge hunts them down one by one. Evil Ed succumbs first and helps Dandridge capture Amy.

Although reluctant at first, Peter Vincent joins Charlie to help save Amy. After a run-in with Evil Ed in Charlie’s house, he and Charlie vanquish Dandridge and his creepy manservant, thereby saving Amy from ‘life’ as a vampire.

There are many things that I like about Fright Night. First of all, in this day and age of heroic blood-suckers, it’s nice to watch a movie that remembers that vampires are supposed to be frightening. Chris Sarandon plays Jerry Dandridge with equal amounts of charm and menace and although he’s exceedingly handsome, you still don’t want him to actually win.

Before I was even aware of Peter Cushing or Vincent Price, I liked Peter Vincent. I grew up with Roddy McDowall, seeing him in many Disney films and the like. His cowardly hero was all the more convincing because he never completely ‘manned up’ and his fear is apparent all the way to the end. I always found him even more admirable because of this – he did what needed to be done even though he was terrified.

I’m not sure if I noticed it back in 1985 when this movie was released, but the sexual tension in this movie is palpable – and not completely straight. There’s a closeness between Dandridge and his servant Billy Cole that feels more than platonic. I don’t know if this was intentional but it’s there and adds a layer to the movie that makes it even more interesting. And of course there’s the whole thing between Dandrige and Amy.

I’m not a big fan of the makeup effects in this movie. I think Sarandon is scarier without the prosthetics and the only makeup effect that unnerves me at all is Vampire Amy – but I find exaggerated human features scary. By the end of the movie, Sarandon is covered with makeup and I honestly believe the whole thing would have been much more effective without it. Look at Billy Cole – he’s pretty damn creepy and he doesn’t require any kind of special effects until his very last scene. Sarandon was a good enough actor to pull that off.

Despite my misgivings about the makeup, I highly recommend this movie. The characters are likable, the villain menacing and it reminds us all that vampires are for frightening us – not for lovin’.

Rating: Nine Screaming Pumpkins out of Ten

More Bloodsuckers

Back in 1990 there was one-season television series titled simply ‘Dracula – The Series.’ I had never even heard of it until just a few years ago when my husband happened across a DVD in a bargain bin. He had seen a few episodes on television and was curious to see it again.

It’s a weird mix of Dracula (of course), The Monster Squad and your typical family sit-com.

Shot completely in Luxembourg, this show is about two boys, Max (Jacob Tierney) and Chris (Joe Roncetti), whose mother moves them out to Europe to live with their uncle Gustav Helsing (Bernard Behrens) and his attractive young ward, Sophie (Mia Kirshner). If moving halfway across the world wasn’t a big enough adjustment, they quickly learn that Dracula – THE Dracula – is a town resident and that Uncle Gustav is the descendant of the famous Van Helsing line.

This Dracula character is closer to the novel than most modern-day vampire characters. He can go out in the day – sunlight does not kill him – but he does not have ‘vampire powers’ until nightfall. However, he is not the type to sleep in during the day. He can’t – he runs a multi-million international business under the name of Alexander Lucard.

As with many early 90’s syndicated shows – and one aimed at families – the dialogue can often be silly and the plots a little ludicrous. Fortunately, this show does not take itself too seriously and it’s obvious that the actors and writers had fun with it without camping it up too much.

The stand-out performer of the program is Geordie Johnson, who plays the title character. I’ve never seen a blond Dracula before and I wouldn’t think it would be an appropriate look for him but Johnson plays it so well that it seems right for this portrayal. He has a nice, square jaw (all the better for making those fangs look even more menacing) and resembles Kyle MacLachlan, which is never a bad thing in my book.

Dracula can get a little campy – silly one-liners, over-dramatic entrances and exits – but he is played seriously enough that the line is never crossed into all-out camp. Even when Drac is popping off those groan-inspiring jokes, you never stop believing he’s a dangerous monster. Johnson plays the villain just right in that we don’t want him to win, but we don’t want him to die either.

The entire show was released on two DVDs, out of order, but this hardly matters because there isn’t much of an over-arcing story to this program like most modern-day shows. The prints are acceptable but not all that great. The show was shot on 16 millimeter film so the graininess should be expected.

If you do happen to pick these up, make sure you’re in a frame of mind to watch something fun, but not too deep but not too fluffy either.

Purchase Dracula: The Series (2-DVD Pack)

This show is also available to rent through Netflix.

To learn more about this show, visit Lucard’s Home Page, an in-depth fan site covering all aspects of the show.

The Second Round

So, I’ve made it two days in a row. Wonder how long I’ll be able to keep this up.

Tonight, another five horror flicks that I’ve enjoyed and that I think you might enjoy too.

Ringu (1998)

No, not the American remake, the original Japanese film directed by Hideo Nakata and written by Hiroshi Takahashi. This was my first foray into the world of Japanese horror – before I knew about the fear of long black hair and young girls prevalent in the genre.

The general premise, for those three of you who don’t know, is that after viewing a certain video tape, the viewer will die in seven days. This film follows the investigation of these deaths and the video itself by a young mother who’s son has watched the video.

This is one of those few movies that I mentioned a few posts ago about making me almost crawl over the back of the couch when ‘the scene’ happened.

If you’ve seen the American version and enjoyed it at all I urge you to see the original. It’s much scarier and doesn’t feel the need to spoon feed you the answer to every single, freaking piece of imagery in the cursed video tape. Also, the fact that the only special effect to make the ‘ghost’ move strangely was running the film backward makes it much scarier than the over-produced, computer-enhanced effects of the American film.

When will they ever get it? The more real a supernatural occurrence looks, the scarier it’s going to be? Seems like a no-brainer to me.

Purchase Ringu

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The Black Cat (1934)

A rather subversive and sometimes perverse film, this movie stars both Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff. Boris takes on the role of the bad guy in this film and has the widow’s peak to prove it. Both actors give it their all in this movie and it’s interesting to see Lugosi play the hero of the film. I haven’t seen all of Lugosi’s films, but this is the only one I’ve seen in which he plays this role. Most of the films I’ve seen of his he’s either trying to drain hapless victims or conduct experiments on…hapless victims. Oh, and bully Tor Johnson.

Purchase The Black Cat, part of The Bela Lugosi Collection

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The Evil Dead (1981), The Evil Dead II (1987) , Army of Darkness (1992)

(Yes, this is three movies, but I’m counting it as one for the purposes of this post.)

Poor Ashley. All he wanted was a quiet weekend in the woods with his friends, have some fun with his best girl, maybe get a little drunk. Instead, he got a sister molested by the local foliage, talking deer heads, possessed friends, medieval knights and he really lost control of that hand.

Now considered classics of the genre, The Evil Dead trilogy launched Bruce Campbell’s and Sam Raimi’s careers and gave us three of the most enjoyable gore-fests ever made. Often scary, sometimes funny and at times just downright silly, these movies show an ingenuity and wittiness on a shoe-string budget (Army of Darkness being the exception – it had an actual budget) that most horror movies can’t pull off even with millions being thrown at them.

Purchase The Evil Dead/Evil Dead 2 – Book Of The Dead Collection

Purchase Bruce Campbell vs. Army Of Darkness – The Director’s Cut (Official Bootleg Edition)

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A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

This is another of those movies that scared the poop out of me. Strange that I never had trouble sleeping afterward and I’ve only had three Freddy Krueger dreams in my life and that wasn’t until years later.

This movie just hit all the right notes to scare me – a monster that had the perfect hiding place where only his intended victims could see him, the fact that this monster was inside the mind and had access to those things that really scare you (although he didn’t really start doing that until the third movie in the series) and the scariest fact – there was no escaping him. Everyone has to sleep eventually.

I think if New Nightmare had come out shortly after the first movie, it would have damaged my psyche.

Purchase A Nightmare on Elm Street (Infinifilm Edition)

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Love at First Bite (1979)

This movie is probably the first vampire movie I ever saw. Therefore, I grew up thinking that to become a vampire, you had to be bitten three times. Period. No ifs, ands, or buts. The first time I saw anything with different rules I was taken aback. It just didn’t seem right.

Love at First Bite is a very silly movie. Dracula, tired of being alone, decides to visit the United States to find a new bride. He chooses the height of the ‘me’ decade, 1979, and falls for an extremely self-involved model who finally finds herself after receiving that fatal third bite.

I think what makes this movie work is how George Hamilton plays the part. He certainly plays it for laughs, but he never makes fun of his own character. Dracula is still ‘the man’ and never does he take a pratfall or make himself look like a fool (I’m looking at you, Mr. Nielsen). Even though he’s been dropped into the absurdity of the modern world, he never lets it ruffle his wing hair.

And damn! He’s the finest looking vampire I’ve ever seen.

Purchase Love at First Bite

Sundown: The Vampire in Retreat

Sundown: The Vampire in Retreat is one of those movies that you’ve never heard of and after seeing it you can’t really fathom why.

According to the few documentaries on the recently released DVD this film was shot in 1990 but never released theatrically. My husband – who is the consummate film buff – knew of it only because he is a fan of the director, Anthony Hickox, and several of the film’s stars including David Carradine, Bruce Campbell and Deborah Foreman.

Being a big Bruce Campbell fan myself, I had no objections to purchasing this dvd and we watched it last night.

The basic plot of this film is one of the most original I’ve seen in a vampire film. A vampire, Count Mardulak (David Carradine), has gathered the world’s vampires into a small town in the American west – Purgatory (nice and subtle, eh?). To assimilate into human culture they have taken to wearing sunglasses, sunblock, sleeping at night and drinking synthesized blood.

Another town leader (John Ireland) decides that he would rather stick to the old ways and war starts between the reformed vampires and those that prefer the real thing.

Bruce Campbell plays a descendant of the famous Van Helsings there to settle an old score with a certain vampire and Maxwell Caulfield camps it up as one of the ‘bad’ vampires who’s more concerned about his desire to steal back his old girlfriend than any blood feud.

Get it? – Blood feud.

Anyway, this movie was a lot of fun with some really great touches. Being vampires, these people originated from different time periods. This is reflected by the fact that they’re all dressed from various eras and locations. There are European dandies, hillbilly hicks, western cowboys, Edwardian businessmen, mod hippies and more. Then there’s Maxwell Caulfield’s birthday suit, which is one of the nicer costume designs, in my opinion.

If you like your horror movies with a unique flavor, humor and a wholly original plotline, this movie could be for you.

For details about the film, visit the IMDB entry.

To purchase this movie, visit Amazon.com

And finally, here’s a fan-made trailer: