Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Two Nights of Fright

This is a two-fer, and there will be a quiz at the end.

First up: Fright Night (1985), a horror comedy written and directed by Tom Holland. Young William Ragsdale is making out with his girlfriend Amanda Bearse while horror theater Fright Night plays in the background. But he keeps getting distracted by somebody moving into the old house next door - and moving a coffin into the basement.

The new neighbors are Jerry (Chris Sarandon) and his buddy (Jonathan Stark), two very handsome men who are supposed to be fixing up the house to resell. Dorothy Fielding, Ragsdale's single mom is even kind of taken by him (not picking up on the two-handsome-men-living-together-doing-interior-decorating thing). But Ragsdale knows he is a vampire.

Of course, no one believes him. His "friend" Evil Ed (Stephen Geoffreys) teases him and finally takes his money to provide advice on killing vampires culled from horror movies. I just want to pause here and say that Evil is my favorite character by far. He comes from the Corey Feldman school, but takes it way farther, with a grating way of needling with flowery eloquence, and nerdy jerkiness. I actually knew a guy a lot like him, and it's kind of magic.

Far later in the movie than you would expect, young Ragsdale calls in an expert: washed-up horror host of Fright Night, Roddy McDowall. His name, Peter Vincent comes from Peter Cushing and Vincent Price, but he isn't quite in their league. He also doesn't believe in vampires - he comes along only to help Bearse prove to her boyfriend that his neighbor isn't a vampire. You can guess how it turns out.

Skip ahead 26 years to Fright Night (2011). In this one, the kid is Anton Yelchin (more Odd Thomas than Ensign Chekov), his mother is Tony Collette, and Jerry the vampire is Colin Farrell. It is set in a new subdivision in the middle of the desert outside Las Vegas - where people come and go and aren't missed, and someone who only comes out at night isn't so strange.

Yelchin is an ex-nerd who now has a hot girlfriend, Imogen Poots and wants to forget his old friends - like Evil Ed. This Evil is played by Christopher Mintz-Plasse (or Munch-Pants, as Evil might say), more of an ordinary needy nerd, who blackmails Yelchin with iPhone movies of them playing superheroes. In this one, Evil is the one who figures out that Farrell is a vampire, and warns Yelchin not to invite him into the house.

This leads to some funny scenes where Farrell stands smoldering in the doorway, angling for an invite and not getting it. His vamp is a lot rougher than the suave Sarandon. I think he was having fun with it.

The Peter Vincent character isn't a horror host, but a Vegas magician, like maybe David Blaine, but looking more like Russell Brand - but it's not: it's David Tennant, the 10th incarnation of the Doctor. He is successful but discontented, quarreling with his lovely assistant in their penthouse. It turns out he has a hidden reason to refuse to help, and later, to save the day.

So, the quiz. Please go watch both of these movies (in chronological order, I think) and tell us which one you like better. The remake was very good. It had some high-powered actors, clearly having fun. It had a nice take on the mom, who trusted her son, even when he was acting weird, and it paid off. And we love Yelchin (RIP) as a young person in supernatural danger.

But the original is more - original. The romance felt more real to me, less WB - is that just because I'm old? I actually tasked a high-school aged relative to watch these and report back to me on that.

But in the end, Geoffreys' Evil Ed was such a work of manic genius that I have to award the trophy to the original. No offense, Mr. Munch-Pants.

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