Film Corner: Fright Night

Note: This post was previously posted on Patreon.


Today's Amazon Prime offering feels very appropriate for the Halloween season: "Meet the new neighbor, Jerry Dandridge. He's charming--and utterly lethal. That's because he happens to be a vampire." I've never seen the first Fright Night (1985, I believe) before but I have a vague awareness of it enough to know this is a sequel. I'm a big fan of modern reboots because they're interesting and sometimes great and sometimes terrible (and sometimes impossibly both at once), so I'm curious to see how this holds up.

The movie opens with some really terrific heavy music that is hella portentous and I'm here for it. We zoom over a middle-of-nowhere suburb where all the houses are cookie-cutter identical. A television plays a scary Vegas magician who looks like he's honing in on Criss Angel's territory before cutting to news that a woman in a grocery parking lot was accosted by a man who tried to bite her. Sounds like we might have a vampire problem!

A teenage boy barrels through the house in a panic, hiding under his parents' bed which also contains his parents' dead bodies. Ahhhhhh. We don't see the vampire who kills him but for a moment's glimpse, which is precisely how you want to do an opening like this. RIP, that kid. I do love that we're establishing vampires exist right upfront; I have a vague sense that maybe the first one had a bigger air of mystery about whether vampires were real and/or really in the suburbs? But you can do that with a remake, you can get down to brass tacks with the mystery twist because everyone already knows it. I approve.

We cut to a protagonist and his (single?) mother as they go about their day in a racially diverse suburbia setting. He has a girlfriend that he loves and Mom is also largely content with life at the moment save for being annoyed that the neighbor has one of those rent-a-dumpster things in his driveway and it's an eyesore. She's a realtor and trying to get people to move in rather than leave; people have been leaving the neighborhood a lot lately and she's not happy about the exodus.

More teens enter the film as Charley heads to school and MY GOD how old is this movie? I know these actors, they're too young, oh wow, 2011?? I am ash, I am ancient, I am older than a vampire. Charley continues to have a girlfriend who is waaaay out of his league but clearly in love with him, and the other boys tease him for being nerdy while the girls point out that he's confident enough to drink a mochaccino. Yes, good, push back on toxic masculinity.

Roll call! A lot of teens are missing from class. Ed, a nerdy friend who used to be besties with protagonist Charley before they grew apart (and Charley absorbed into a more cooler clique) tells him that a mutual friend Adam is missing, along with several others who haven't been attending school lately. Charley isn't too concerned; it's senior year and kids ditch, you know? Ed wants to investigate Adam's disappearance and blackmails Charley into cooperation: come help out or he'll release old embarrassing play videos.

Charley and Girlfriend Amy drive home to find Mom talking to the new neighbor with the dumpster and the mysterious concrete that isn't for a pool: he's one Colin Farrell being gorgeous and possibly ominous. Is this our friendly neighborhood vampire? He reveals that the concrete is for "foundation problems". He warms up to Charley and Amy, seeming far more interested in the young couple than in- no, wait, there's him eyeing up Mom and extending an olive branch for a date. Mom smoothly turns him down, reasoning that a man THAT charming and attractive has to be trouble if he's single. Charley heads off to help Ed and Neighbor Jerry bites forcefully into an apple.

"Oop! Oop! Evil apple! He's a vampire," Kissmate points out and this is the first time I've heard of apple-eating being a signifier of villainy in movies which leads down a fascinating Google chase involving theories about original sin and The Christian Apple (which, yeah, probably wasn't an apple in the first place, but try changing society's mind at this point, eh) and culminating in an interesting opinion piece about how apple-eating is aggressive and forceful in a way that banana- and grape-eating just can't compare, so if a character needs to be shown visually as GRR! and RAWR! one easy way is to have them really tear into a food with their teeth and, well, apples accommodate that need. You can't do it justice with a plate of spaghetti.


Ed and Charley break into Adam's house through the doggie door and Ed tells Charley without preamble that the new neighbor, Jerry, is a vampire. This house, if it is the house from the opening, is clean. No bodies, no blood, even the dog is gone. Ed talks about how Jerry's house has blacked out windows; Charley points out that Jerry works construction on the Las Vegas Strip at night and sleeps during the day. Nothing strange about that!

Charley tells Ed he's been reading too much Twilight and Ed has a truly amazing speech which I have to reproduce here because it is epic: "That's fiction. Okay? This is real. He's a real monster and he's not broody or lovesick or noble. He's the fucking shark from Jaws. He kills, he feeds, and he doesn't stop until everybody around him is dead. And I seriously am so angry you think I read Twilight." I love this actor. I love his delivery. I love how well he sold that entire speech. I thought this movie was going to be campy?! What right does it have to suddenly be good?

The two boys bicker for a bit; Ed misses Charley's company but expresses it by being misogynistic about Amy. Oh, hon. Not a smart move. Ed leaves and ends up running headfirst into Colin Farrell's excellent abs. Panicking, Ed breaks into a nearby house and pants with relief. "Forget it, Jerry. No invitation; you can't get in." Brilliant! But in a tragic twist of fate, Ed has chosen one of the abandoned empty houses to break into, so the invitation rules don't apply.

Jerry reveals that while Ed has been watching him and studying his movements, Jerry has been watching him. My god, this is like a seduction attempt. Really well done, this is what classic vampires should be about. Jerry tells Ed that he'll never be able to be himself among these suburban normies and that he can offer him a special gift. Ed doesn't want this, but it soon becomes clear that what he wants doesn't matter. Shit. I hope he comes out of this okay but I think we all know he won't. god? I could just swear that the swelling music here is reminiscent of the really beautiful epic melodies in Bram Stoker's Dracula. The Keanu one, you know? Lovely music. I'm fascinated by the choice to reference it here? Like we're in a conversation with older vampire fiction and newer stuff.

Charley noticed Ed missing at school the next day and goes up to his room to snoop. No Ed, but the computer shows he's been checking out Peter Vincent (the Criss Angel magician and I swear he looks just like Jared Leto in Morbius, I really hope Jared isn't in this movie) and... oh dear. Video tape of Neighbor Jerry coming home, but his image doesn't appear on the video, because vampire. Charley is in shock.

He hurries home and is disconcerted to be cornered by Jerry. Jer says he has a girl coming over for a beer and he's all out of beer; can Charley lend him one. (Kissmate: "Oh god. He can't just buy a six-pack at a convenience store. Even if he somehow has a drivers license, they always have security mirrors over the door.") Jerry lingers at the threshold while Charley very carefully doesn't invite him in and oh god, it's so wonderfully awkward. This. This is why I would be vampire chow, I don't know how NOT to say "come on in, make yourself at home". Jerry is almost pacing outside. Charley reaches out the beer to him and pulls back at just the last second, forcing Jerry's hand to stop since he can't go over the threshold. OH MY GOD. Brilliant, but also you are playing with FIRE.

Jerry seems to make a decision. He starts talking, threatening him. Tells him that women are a handful, that guys are after Charley's mom and girlfriend, that it's on Charley to look after them as the sole man of the household. Is he up to that? Because there are a lot of bad guys out there, predators, and Charley needs to take care and watch out for the vulnerable women in his life. It's terrifying and, like, plausibly deniable in a deeply misogynistic way and I love-hate it. "Everyone's gotta look after his own business." Very much 'if you get in my way, I will fuck you and yours'.

Charley books it upstairs and finds Amy in his bed; he forgot they had a date tonight and she is a horny teenage girl who would really like to consummate this relationship. Charley would really like to, but he's very nervous about the vampire next door and the friendly girl-neighbor (Doris) who is apparently Jerry's date for the night. Amy leaves in frustration, not understanding why Charley prefers to spy on the neighbor rather than have a nice sexual interlude.

He falls asleep trying to keep watch, only to be awoken by Doris' screams. A quick call to 911 sends out two useless cops who congratulates Jerry for making his date scream (in a sexy way, supposedly). Jerry leaves in his truck (for his night job?) and Charley breaks into his house looking for Doris. It's funny, too: he googles "how to pick a lock" before realizing this isn't working and finds a hide-a-key that the previous owners left before Jerry presumably ate them. That's so many layers of comedy and horror? I am impressed.

In Jerry's bedroom Charley finds a strange... altar? coat of arms? that he takes a picture of. The closet has a dozen counterfeit (or stolen?) uniforms for when Jerry might want to cosplay as a cop or something else useful. Jerry returns (so... he didn't go out for work. what, then?) and Charley hides in the closet where he finds... oh no. There's a hidden hallway back here with rooms, and the rooms are small and bare and white. It looks like a little prison area. DORIS IS HERE, THIS IS NOT A DRILL.

No, no, no. Okay. Okay. SHIT. Jerry is coming back. Charley has no choice but to hide in one of the empty rooms and watch while Jerry feeds on Doris. This is properly horrifying; Charley wants to help his friend but he absolutely cannot stop a vampire in his own house, at night, with his bare hands. Doris raises a protective finger to her lips, warning Charley to be quiet, even as she fades.

Charley breaks open Doris' prison while Jerry watches television and the two of them creep downstairs. This is such incredibly good tension, I am seriously so nervous for them. There's a game of stealth while they circle the stairs and Jerry prowls the kitchen, then... lets them go? Whatever, fuck, I don't care, they're outside and it's dawn and they're SAFE and OH MY GOD NO. Doris gets a foot into the sun and instantly erupts into embers and ash. That is legitimately one of the scariest things I've ever seen.

Charley's stunned face is my face. Mom says he needs to go to school. Charley tells her that Jerry is dangerous and must never ever be invited into the house. "At night, please stay inside." Mom doesn't take him too seriously. At school he blows off class to research vampires and Peter Vincent (the magician) in the computer lab. Amy is worried but a tired Charley tries to reassure her that he's definitely just looking up porn. I love her? She's genuinely worried for him and trying to work out how much space to give him.

Heading to the Vegas Strip, Charley does some nice sleight-of-hand to lift a suit jacket and improvise a badge that looks like a press pass. He wants to talk to Vincent. Who really does look like Jared Leto, but... what. what. It is David Fucking Tennant. I couldn't be more delighted. The deliberate shift between his badass stage persona and his high-pitched voice and entitled fuckboy act is a DELIGHT.

I cannot describe this scene. I cannot summarize it. It is ART. It cannot be shared, it can only be experienced firsthand.

I'll try. I will. Vincent takes off bits and pieces of his mystique--his hair, his rings, his tats--strip away as Charley realizes that Vincent doesn't know more about vampires than he does. It's genuinely entertaining with David Tennant hamming it up in the best possible way, but also delightfully metaphorical? As Vincent's stage-persona comes off, it becomes more and more clear that he's both a ordinary guy in appearance and an ordinary guy in terms of actual vampire expertise. He's a fake in every sense of the word.

Charley, now quite desperate, confides that Jerry the Vampire has killed one or more of his friends. He has pictures from Jerry's house. But now Vincent is backing away and calling for Ginger to throw Charley out. She gently guides Charley out as he breaks down in quiet tears, insisting that he's not crazy, that he doesn't WANT to know this shit, that he came here because he needs HELP.

Back home, Charley watches the sun go down before hanging crucifixes and sharpening stakes. Amy drops by, the door being unlocked, and the two women confront Charley about how weird he's been acting. She insists that she cares about Charley and that he needs to communicate with her and confide in her. (I LOVE HER.) Jerry interrupts by knocking on the door and calling through the door that Charley has been harassing him. Charley begs her not to answer the door and not to listen to him. Delighting me, Mom tells Jerry to call the cops if he has to but she's not opening the door for him right now. I LOVE HER.

Smiling, Jerry walks away and returns with... a shovel? He seems really confident. He's walking into their back yard like he owns the place and the automatic lights don't phase him. That alone is creepy, that total confidence that he's in control and not worried even a little. Charley and the women watch him and Charley says they should be safe because he can't get inside without an invitation. "Like a vampire," Amy deadpans, having seen the crucifixes and stakes, and still very worried that Charley may be losing it.

Jerry starts digging up rocks and dirt faster than any human should be able to, then pulls up the GAS LINE and takes a circular saw to it. The house explodes and Jerry strolls up to the gaping hole in the side of the wall. "Don't need an invitation if there's no house." The three of them jump into Mom's minivan and we get this beautiful long shot without cuts, just sweeping around, as they drive away from Jerry as fast as they can. He tries to run them off the road with his truck, then gets in front of them and tries to block the road.

Colin Farrell stands menacingly in their headlights and it is terrifying. Charley grabs the wheel and tells Mom to hit him, then he's under the carriage and peeling his way in through the floor, and THERE'S THAT DRACULA MUSIC AGAIN I'M NOT IMAGINING IT. It's perfect and lovely and I don't know what it means but I love it because it's this weird conversation with the whole genre? Then Jerry crawls out from under the car and his vampire face is on and that's original because it's not just the two fangs but rather this entire SHARK MOUTH. Pretty sure that's a nod to the first movie, but it's GREAT. I love it.

Charley tells Amy and Mom to take off while he holds off Jerry with a crucifix. ("Catch you later," Jerry yells amicably to the two women. HE IS SO SCARY. COLIN IS HAVING FUN WITH THIS ROLE.) Jerry is juuuust about to stake Charley when Realtor Mom stabs Jerry through the chest with one of those realtor signs that they stick in the ground. GO REALTOR MOM! She misses the chest and he's not dead but holy shit.

Back on the Vegas Strip, Vincent broods around his perfect penthouse before looking, really LOOKING, at Charley's pictures. He hurries past his millions of (probably fake) relics to open a little wall safe with what looks to be the real deal stuff he actually cares about. There's a sketch in there of the same altar Charley saw. Interesting. Amy and Charley sit in the hospital while Mom deals with a nonspecific fainting coma. Vincent calls them and tells them to come to him place immediately.

"I'll tell you what I know, but that's it." He doesn't want to become a professional vampire hunter, he doesn't want to be a part of this, he just... can't turn away. The insignia belongs to "a species that originated in the Mediterranean". They nest in the earth and kill slowly, snacking on their prey for days at a time--I presume this is why Jerry had the prison hallway for Doris. They aren't solo by nature, preferring to run in packs and Jerry is probably trying to replenish the ranks.

Vincent is interrupted by a phone call from the front desk saying that he has a package delivery. OH NO. The delivery boy is Ed, now freshly turned into a vampire. Vincent starts to take a stand but then panics and dives for a safe room while Charley and Amy are left to deal with Ed and Jerry. Charley and Ed end up going for each other while Jerry corners Amy and she's left to realize that silver bullets don't do much against vampires. (I always make that mistake!) That's fine; there's a goblet of holy water in here that works well!


Oh wow.

You know what drives me nuts about vampire movies? Destroying a vampire is supposed to be a gift of peace, a restoration of the soul. But half the time in movies when a vampire is staked or dusted their face looks agonized and anguished. Yet they didn't do that here! Charley is forced to stake Ed and his face... it changes. At the last second, the vampire is gone and the human is there and there's peace in his features. Yes. That's how you do a staking. Rest in peace, Ed.

Downstairs at a rave, Jerry captures and turns Amy and a security guard fails to help Charley.

Upstairs in the penthouse, Vincent is preparing to flee. "Don't you understand this yet? There will be no fighting. There will only be surviving." We learn that Vincent was a childhood survivor of a vampire attack and that it was easier for him to believe he made it all up. Oh. Oh no. Oh, hon. That's why he was so panicky when Charley started insisting that vampires were real. It's why he has a ridiculously high-tech safe room. He doesn't want to come with Charley but he has a gift: a blessed stake that, if used to kill a master vampire, will restore the souls of his turned vamplings. Amy has a chance!

Charley buys a useful pack of goods at the sporting supply store and it's again such a GREAT blend of comedy and tragedy because the store owner is looking very concerned? Like he's thinking 'is this some new style of school shooting that I haven't heard of before?' and then Charley tells him he's off to hunt a vampire and the guy just grimly smiles like 'oh, it's just another LARPer, that's fine' and rings him up.

At Jerry's house, Charley breaks in and makes short work of all the windows. I love him. Vincent catches up with him, having decided not to keep running. I love him. I'm going to cry. I'm crying. I could write so much about this man? He's spent his whole life using illusion to keep people at arms length. He's a fake on purpose, he KNOWS he's a fake, his illusions are so good he even tricked himself into not believing anymore. And even in the heart of all those lies, all spun to protect himself, he came back out into the truth because he couldn't live a comforting lie any longer. I LOVE HIM.

I also just plain love David Tennant? He wants to go down into the scary vampire tunnel first and Charley is all 'you sure?' because he went from coward to hunter very quickly after all, and Vincent just rattles off: "[I'm] a great date. You get me drunk, I'll try anything." Bless him. I love how effortlessly and confidently he brings Disaster Bisexuality to every role he plays.

Vincent and Charley creep around the scary basement that Jerry has dug out with his bare hands. Jerry pulls Vincent away to deal with him alone while Charley is confined with Amy. Jerry then reveals that he was the one who killed Vincent's parents. ("You've got your mother's eyes. And your father's aim.") Jer causes Vincent to bleed and then watches with delight as his children crawl out of the walls, hungry for blood. Meanwhile, Amy is of course a vampire now and Charley has to deal with, well, that.

Charley stakes Amy but, bless his heart, he missed her heart on purpose. I love him. He just needed a chance to get away from her and regroup with Vincent. Charley realizes that there are more vampires than bullets so their best chance is to shot the ceiling of the basement and carve out a little patch of sunlight to hide in.

Sorry, can I just say that Colin Farrell is doing amazing? He's enjoying himself in the best of ways, hissing at the sunbeams like a little angry kitten. And Kissmate has IMDB up and is sharing that he calls this delightful little B-movie his "most successful role" because it lead to his mother finding and falling in love with her eventual second husband because he was a friend of the producer and she met him on-set. AND also Colin specifically asked if his character Jerry could possibly be less of a sexual predator because the rapeyness was a LOT and the director had to explain that, well, no, that was sort of the point of Jerry, he's supposed to be monstrous BECAUSE of the sexual predation, and Colin accepted that but found Jerry very hard to inhabit because he's just so vile. And I don't know Colin in real life but the internet says he seems to be a really great guy and I respect and appreciate just, like, all of that. Anyway. Sorry.

Vincent is starting to turn, smoking lightly in the sun. Amy comes down to kiss and feed on Jerry and there's the Dracula music again and it's SO APPROPRIATE because it reminds me of the scene when Mina feeds on Dracula in order to turn. Charley, remembering that hurt vampires make bad decisions, sets himself on fire and tackle-hugs Jerry. (Oh! I think he's wearing a fire suit from Vincent's stage show!) He ties Jerry to himself and Vincent uses the shotgun to bring more sun into play. Charley stakes Jerry in the heart with the blessed stake--the one that saves his victims--and oh! He... as he turns into ash, his human face reasserts himself and we see a single moment of peace on his face.

And then he explodes.

Charley is fine! Amy is fine! Vincent is fine! Mark-- Well, you don't know Mark, he wasn't terribly important to the movie so I didn't mention him before now, but rest assured that Mark is also fine! Charley and Amy have triumphant soft makeout kisses in Vincent's penthouse while Mom reveals that she too is fine! David Tennant crashes the scene for a few more memorable jokes that I can't even begin to do justice to. I love him.

That movie had no right to be so good?! That was easily one of my favorite vampire movies. I was expecting campy silliness, not actual real tension and pitch-perfect comedy with Crowley.

You know what else I really liked? Amy was gently and realistically teenage-girl horny at various points in the movie but wasn't a stereotype or punished for it. I mean, yeah, she ends up briefly a vampire but she's so clearly not into it when Jerry is turning her; we even see a single sorrowful tear roll down her face when he's feeding. (And it's sexual but not sex? They're in a crowded public place with clothes still on.) So her vampire-stint doesn't feel like a punishment and she's still just the same person, the same gentle horniness, later on in the penthouse finale.

And Charley was realistically nervous about first-time sex and not always into it but wasn't virgin-shamed or made out to be less-of-a-man for it. Like, yes, Amy was frustrated when he was more into spying on neighbors than having sex with her, but that was more of a "why aren't you paying attention to me?" moment and not a reflection on his masculinity or shaming him for not being up for sex. She even states at various points that it's okay to be nervous and shy his first time. In fact, she was so good about sex communication that I kinda think it was implied that she was NOT a virgin and that was okay too!

I just... I don't know how to word at this because it's midnight and I'm still super sick with a sinus infection but... Vampires have pretty much always been intertwined with sex and seduction and rape and then that sorta fantasy of... no-but-yes-but-no-but-yes-but-no. And Bram Stoker's Dracula (the movie) (but also the book) (but especially the movie) really captured that sense of longing and want and forbidden need. And then you have this movie enter the conversation and say hey, this isn't Twilight, he's the shark from Jaws (he even has a shark mouth!), he's a sexual predator, even the way he threatens Charley in the beginning is to pull out this GROSS toxic predator speech about how Charley's girlfriend is "ripe" and his mom is dangerously hot and Charley better be ready to "protect" them (supposedly from Bad Men, but implied is the clear threat that JERRY is the Bad Man) and I love that in the midst of ALL THAT SEXUAL PREDATION the movie took the time to say that it's okay if girls are horny and it's okay if boys are virgins and it's okay, really, to take it slow but it's also okay to Do It in a nice penthouse if you have the chance and want to.

And then Kissmate tells me that Marti Noxon, female writer from Buffy and Angel, was the creative mind behind this movie. Given that I've previously been told that everything even remotely good and feminist from those shows came from the women writers and not from Joss... well, that could explain a few things about why Marti might have opinions about vampires and horny teenagers. Goodnight!


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