Monday, October 31, 2011

Fright Night (1985)

Many many years ago, I caught a segment of a horror movie on television, that featured a transformation sequence so shockingly gruesome that it was etched into my memory. Yet, I hadn't the slightest idea what that film was (I guess I didn't have the foresight to check at the time), and I promptly pushed that memory towards the back of my mind. Until last month, during a discussion with a fellow horror fan at a local horror convention. He mentioned the movie Fright Night, and how it was known for having one of the best transformation sequences in horror film history. Could this be the film I remembered?

Indeed it was. Fright Night starts out favorably, planting itself as one of those fun horror movies that doesn't take itself too seriously. The characters are amusing, and the premise - a high school boy suspects his new next door neighbor is a vampire - is cozy. It was almost shocking for me to see Amanda Bearse, who plays Marcy on Married With Children, not only in a different role, but cast as the high school sweetheart. I thought some of the decorations in the lead protagonist's bedroom were amusing - like the neon beer sign (he's in high school, so it's pretty cheeky for him to advertise his appreciation for alcohol), and the "Girls' Locker Room" sign that I wouldn't mind having in my own room. ;-)

The "Fright Night" concept is itself perhaps the most clever element of this story. In the film, Fright Night is a horror franchise (probably not unlike Hammer Films) that hosts horror movies on television featuring a character named Peter Vincent, who plays a vampire killer in many of those [fictional] films (his favorite being "Orgy of the Damned" - mine too :p). So when Charley (aforementioned lead protagonist) suspects his neighbor is a vampire, he attempts to enlist Peter Vincent's help - giving him, reluctantly, a chance to be a real vampire killer like he is in the movies. The only thing that would make this premise more clever is if "Fright Night" was a real life franchise outside the film (which I began to suspect part way through the film) - like Creepshow or Tales From The Crypt or one of those titles.

Unfortunately, once the film starts to pick up momentum, it begins to drag, and - particularly in the night club scene - becomes far too entrenched in eighties culture, to its detriment. Watching that scene, I began to speculate - and that's all this is - that maybe the reason so many people dig the eighties is because, despite the horrendous fashions, everything was so safe during the eighties. Think about it. People in the sixties were waging a revolution, the seventies fostered the fallout of that revolution, and by the nineties, we've got the alternative culture picking up. The only thing safer than the eighties was the fifties, and I know some people who really dig on fifties revisionism, too. (And let's not talk about the hypocrisy of the oh-so-popular Victorian age).

Luckily, the movie picks up again in its last act. The creature effects in this movie are truly top notch. As mentioned, the transformations are amazing, and the death scenes for the monsters are particularly gruesome. The best one of all is the scene that I remember from years ago, which is incredibly intense, on both a visceral and an emotional level. It's really amazing, because this could be a scene from one of the greatest horror movies of all time - if only the rest of this movie were better than it is. It's a shame these creatures and effects weren't used in a more serious, more psychologically heavy film, because they could have been downright terrifying. Here, they're still impressive, but they're more of a cool effect to admire than something that adds to the atmosphere of the film.

Still, they're so good, it's worth seeing, even if the rest of the movie doesn't live up to their promise. And anyway, it's still a fun movie to watch. I'm just the type that prefers more serious movies. I'll leave you with what I thought was a funny quote given by Peter Vincent on being sacked due to the changing nature of horror fandom in the eighties. It really seems to capture the zeitgeist of the times (for better or worse - and I don't necessarily consider it a bad thing):

"Nobody wants to see vampire killers anymore, or vampires either. Apparently all they want are demented madmen running around in ski masks hacking up young virgins."

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