Who doesn’t love the simplicity of 80’s vampire movies? With Fright Night 1 and My Best Friend is a Vampire available on Instant Watch, I decided to do a couple posts about this most joyous and fun of horror movies, 80’s Vampire movies. If only The Lost Boys, Fright Night 2, Vamp, or any of the others were on it, then we’d be cooking with canola.
Fright Night combined some of the best parts of the vampire genre with all the fun of the 80s– ludicrous outfits, unsubtle synth scores that practically screamed ‘FUCK YEAH VAMPIRES!!’, teenage angst, oblivious parents and authority figures– and dusted everything with a light tinge of homoeroticism.
To wit: Charlie Brewster is a young man frustrated with his girlfriend’s fear of Going All the Way. Remember when teenagers used to be afraid of that? I do, because I was one. And they still are, but films and TV would have you believe that every shy girl has either blown half the drama club or she’s saving herself for the magical day with her angsty vampire boyfriend finally is able to commit and murder her. Ahh, young love.
Brewster and his young lady are making out one night when some activity at the abandoned house next door distracts him from the activity almost going on in his pants, and he ruins the mood by watching two mysterious men carry a coffin into the basement next door. Enter Jerry Dandridge, played by smooth motherfucker Chris Sarandon (best known as Prince Humperdinck from The Princess Bride, and as the speaking voice of Jack Skellington in The Nightmare Before Christmas) and his ‘live-in carpenter,’ Billy, acting all suspicious in the mist and rocking some of the bossest Members-Only jackets since Scott Baio was in charge.
Until recently, I wasn’t able to put my finger on why I thought of Fright Night as ‘The Vampire Movie with All the Latent Homoeroticism’. Well, I’ve figured it out.
Roddy MacDowell is the first reason–an actor whose sexuality was long speculated upon and has still yet to have been confirmed. For some reason, he threw up the first rainbow flag, despite the fact that his character is NEVER alluded to as gay. He does have the confirmed bachelor thing going on, but it could also be that he is a failed actor too neurotic to have a relationship. Or the budget didn’t allow for him to have a wife–but his apartment, with all its relics of the horror movies he’d acted in, seems like the old man version of the nerdy teenager’s den festooned with posters and props.
The second is the complex interaction between Brewster and Dandridge. Brewster’s father is absent, so Dandridge could be filling that role as Charlie’s mother expresses an interest in the handsome fellow but speculates that with her luck, he’s probably gay. Dandridge comes across less as gay than as an ultimate Pansexual Alpha– women stream into his house (and are drained of blood) and men respond to his easygoing charm. Also, his live-in ‘carpenter’ is always on hand to protect him or toss him ‘fruit.’ This last is no euphemism, Dandridge is CONSTANTLY snacking on apples, peaches, all kinds of fruits. So, there’s that lack of subtlety. Sarandon plays Dandridge as incredibly affable and charismatic–he doesnt’ quite have perfect movie-star looks, but he’s good-looking and oozing with charm. He doesn’t exactly light up a room, but if you saw him hanging out in the corner of a bar you’d probably notice him, think he was out of your league, and when he ambled over and struck up a conversation you’d think ‘Oh wow! He’s talking to ME!’ He’s just that guy.
To be honest though, there are moments when he looks little amused or bored by the goings-on; in the big moment where he is about to seduce Amy, he crosses the room to her with the same look I get on my face when I’m approaching my shitty old lawn mower on a really hot day. But this look of ‘been there, done that four billion times’ is tempered by their actual make out scene, in which she is frightened and shy, and he gentle and assured. It’s one of the hotter scenes of its kind in memory, and not much in recent years is as provocative.
Another P-Flag moment is when Charlie’s friend Evil Ed is turned into a vampire by Dandridge. Ed is cowering in an alley, terrified and weeping as the vampire stands before him, and Jerry, as kind and affable as always, reaches out to Ed and tells him that he won’t have to be afraid anymore, that no one will ever beat him up again, that Jerry will look after him. Ed’s character is definitely the stereotypical horror nerd, with more knowledge of how to kill vampires than have a normal social interaction with his friends, but the promise of being the one with the power, and of being accepted, is too much for him and he takes Dandridge’s hand. The mentor/mentee relationship is not subtle either, and open to wide interpretation. Nowadays a person can build their confidence about their sexuality by interacting online with other people and create a support network, but in the 80’s coming out was a whole different banana. It was scary and confusing and not helped by the media painting gay men as potential kiddie-fiddlers and rapists, or the specter of AIDS–and it could be very, very lonely.
Also, the actor who played Evil Ed went on to act in several gay porn films, so perhaps that subconsciously informed my urge to go rainbow hunting where there were no rainbows, so to speak.
Anyhoodle, for me, much of Charlie’s struggle against the vampire is about his refusal to accept his own problems with sexuality; he whines in the beginning of the movie that he and Amy (Amanda Bearse, doing her best to be both prude and vamp and doing pretty well despite the orange hair) have been going together a year and still haven’t had sex, yet when she declares that she is ready he’s too busy peeping at the neighbors to take her up on it, and she storms out. Clearly, he’s not emotionally ready for sex, and when Dandridge begins seducing a chick in view of Charlie, the latter is only too ready to bust out the binoculars again. He might just be excited at the chance to watch, but perhaps he’s also excited to find out just how to get down at all.
Dandridge sets his sights on Amy because she bears a resemblance to some chick he knew in the past, and this is a story point that the film could have done without. I think it would have been much more interesting without that, if Amy had gone with him because she was tired of Charlie’s immaturity and wanted something with a little more grown-up styling. Dandridge is confident, mature (probably hundreds of years old), and experienced–everything Charlie isn’t. And since Jerry is out to screw Charlie for drawing attention to his vampiric nature in the first place, Amy is a natural target. So another friend betrays Charlie in favor of a stronger, more assured leader.
One of the more interesting points in the film is when Dandridge puts a huge amount of trust in Peter Vincent, MacDowell’s aged fake vampire killer. The friends conspire to prove to Charlie that Dandridge is not a vampire, and in order to do this have him drink ‘holy water’ in front of them. Dandridge does it, and if you think about it it’s a strangely trusting moment on his part–after all, he could just kill the three of them and go back to nailing prostitutes and hanging out with his houseboy. Why does he want their trust so badly? Does he really see feeble, paranoid and immature Charlie as a threat? Is it more important to him to be liked than to be feared?
Fright Night is a hoot. There’s something damned sexy about it even after all these years, after Buffy, Angel, Gary Oldman, the Anne Rice years, and Let the Right One In (I am NOT a Twilight fan). It’s fun to see vampires being scary and evil again, instead of pretty and conflicted. Half the reason they’re sexy to begin with IS that they are scary, that they offer something truly evil and selfish rather than just mediocre and whiny.