Then & Now: Fright Night

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Geoff Harris

Then:

Charlie Brewster has a new neighbor who’s a real pain in the neck, a girlfriend who’s “just not ready to go the next level”, and a best friend who’s an annoying ass. Two of these things are normal teenage problems. The third is an ancient horror that has moved into the house next door. Such is the plot of Fright Night.  At least once in our lives we have had a neighbor who’s just off.  Either a royal bastard or just weird. Growing up in the suburbs instills in the mind a kind of paranoia that festers well into adulthood. All the houses look the same. The streets twist and turn back on each other in a crazed dance with no end. Routine is the order of the day. Banality replaces diversity.  Hell is a calm and ordered place. A dream of conformity and inconstant. Where better for a vampire to live? Everyone keeps to their own counsel. No one will bother you. You can come and go at odd hours and people will just assume you work late hours. Nothing unusual about that is there?

Then the nosy brat next door starts playing “peeping tom” and catches you…feeding.  This one got to me on a gut level. Actions have consequences. Charlie Brewster tries to draw attention to his neighbor’s dark deeds and manages to pull down a world of shit instead. When the vampire, Jerry, pays our hero a visit in the middle of the night and shows just a small bit of what he’s capable of I would have apologized and developed instant amnesia. My knowledge of the occult was still growing at the time this came out. My sense of wonder, however, was in full swing. The idea, even in the slightest notion, of my neighbor being a supernatural creature caused many a sleepless night. Plus in many ways, this movie goes in the category called “Geek Training 101.” Menaced by a vampire? Well, contact a Vampire Hunter. (Terminex will tell you to go do bad things to yourself.) It’s logical, right? So, Charlie enlists Peter Vincent, former actor turned horror movie host for a Creature feature type show. Because, yeah. In Charlie’s defense, he’s seen Mr. Vincent in action multiple times and the guy really seems to know his stuff about the undead.

Needless to say, things go sideways. Geek Rule: don’t start nothing, won’t be nothing. The man said back off. You back off. Now your bestie gets turned, your girl gets snatched, and you’re a one armed man with no paddle going up a river of pain. Luckily, our heroes rise to the challenge and evil is vanquished. Happy ending all around, complete with a surprise twist. (The sequel is a total piece of crap which basically retells most of the plot elements from the first movie and a few “WTF” moments thrown in for no damn good reason.) All in all, I really liked this movie.

Now:

Fright Night is one of my go to rainy Sunday movies. I know the journey. I know the twists and turns but I always find myself riding along. It’s an old friend who’s company I enjoy keeping. It’s also one of those quotable movies you will occasionally hear people draw from at cons. These things stay in our heads. They become a part of us. We, in turn, make them a part of our culture. These are our modern myths. Vampires, especially, continue to draw attention. The idea of eternal life but having to feed off your fellow man is a concept which goes back centuries.  The apex predator walking among us. Removed and yet still very very close. Beautiful and ugly in equal measure. Burdened with a hunger that can never be sated. In many ways the vampire has represented passion, desire, greed, completion, damnation, the line between man and beast, and even paradox.

What makes horror work? Well, horror is at its best when ordinary people are faced with extraordinary circumstances beyond their ability to control. In this case, my neighbor is a blood drinking creature of legend. He looks normal. Acts normal. Is charming and quite amiable. I come off looking like the crazy one. What attracts me to this movie is how human the reactions are. One of my favorite scenes is after Peter Vincent indulges Charlie by visiting the neighbor and applying “tests” to see if Jerry is a real vampire. He fails, of course, and then notices as they are leaving that their target doesn’t cast a reflection in the silver mirror of his refrigerated case.  A wonderful “Oh shit!” moment. Then we find Mr. Vincent locked in his apartment surrounded by crucifixes as the reality sets in. He’s a believer. Everything you’ve ever known is false. Evil is real. Ironic that “Evil Ed” is the nickname of Charlie’s best friend who is sent after Peter Vincent. Ed’s encounter with the vampire still gets to me. He’s given the choice between being food or crossing over. Chilling. It makes me wonder if I would have done the same? I have my own inner demons so the never-ending hunger wouldn’t be that much of a stretch. Living as the foot soldier and toadie for a prissy uptight douche for all time? Fuck no. Then you’re stuck as you were when you crossed over. I’m almost three hundred pounds and have piss poor eyesight. Oh daddy, make me yours!

I’d rather play at being a vampire than actually becoming one. Charlie overcomes the vampire because he rises above his failings and finds a courage he didn’t know he had. I’ve had decades to get over my own bullshit. I’m not going to rabbit hole and start rambling about my personal life. I staked that monster a while back. Admittedly, when i met the woman of my dreams, she wasn’t a contrived collection of cliches strewn together to drive a thin as a cracker plot. I’m sorry to say, but Fright Night 2 just sucked so bad! I can’t stop thinking about how awful it was! Snooches!

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