Grown Up Horror: Session 9

What I like about this film is how mature and intelligent it is–it assumes intelligence on the part of its audience, which is always refreshing–I think I lost 10 points off my IQ watching the reboot of Clash of the Titans.

It's a little dull, the cover. But the movie is awesome.

Session 9 is one of my favorite examples of a psychological, cerebral horror film.

It was written by Stephen Gevedon, best known as biker inmate Scotty Ross on HBO’s OZ series, and as a child molester Eliot Stabler has to travel to Prague to find on Law and Order: SVU.

I like Session 9 for how unique it is: in a genre glutted with gore and naked teenagers, Session 9 follows Gordon, a middle aged Scottish immigrant who runs an asbestos removal company.

With his company in trouble, Gordon makes a desperate bid for a job, and underestimates the time necessary to finish it for his 4-man crew. The job is to clear the asbestos from the abandoned Danvers State Mental Asylum, a gigantic facility with a troubled past closed down in the mid-80’s.

What I like about this film is how mature and intelligent it is–it assumes intelligence on the part of its audience, which is always refreshing–I think I lost 10 points off my IQ watching the reboot of Clash of the Titans.

Although the main conflict of the film is the ‘bewitching’ effect of the asylum on the five main characters, the characters’ own conflicts add layers to the story.

What does Gordon see? Is it you? Is it me?

Gordon, whose business is already struggling and who will lose it if he doesn’t deliver the goods on this job, is also dealing with the stress of being a new parent at an advanced age. He and his wife Wendy have been trying for years to have a baby, and now caring for little Emma while busting his ass at work has begun to take its toll: he’s tired, distracted, and the first to start feeling the effects of their surroundings.

Mike, played by writer Gevedon, is the blue-collar intellectual, a man who left law school and has been working in ‘fibers’ ever since. Mike, with his ‘book-learning,’ is seduced by the session tapes of a former inmate of the asylum named Mary. Mary suffered from disassociative personality disorder, and in her interviews with her doctor begins to manifest other personalities in response to his probing questions; she witnessed something awful during her childhood and has repressed it, and her doctor questions her mercilessly as to its nature. This is part of the troubled past of the asylum–inmates were given brutal punishments that caused more harm than good. Mike listens to these tapes with a mixture of fascination and horror–it’s a trainwreck, after all, and he can’t look away.

Jeff, Gordon’s nephew, is young and immature, but amiable enough when it comes to the job. A little dim, he suffers from nyctaphobia, and also the deplorable condition of a mullet. He functions for the most part as an opportunity for the audience to meet the other characters and hear a little of their backstories.

Hank (Josh Lucas) is a douchebag. From his sunglasses to his haircut to his facial hair to his weird vocal cadence, he’s a douchbag. But even so, he’s something of a sympathetic douchbag. He’s full of swagger and bravado, and his dream is to be rich enough to be a whale in a Vegas casino, but there’s a moment when you see Hank at home, being screamed at by his girlfriend, where you see how isolated and sad his life is.

Phil, played by David Caruso, is the ‘boss’ of the bunch, under Gordon. He wrangles the other three guys and seems to handle the day to day operations of the business. He is aware of the strain Gordon is under and frets about the job (and their bonuses) being lost.

The movie is also interesting to me because most often in atmospheric horror movies, it is women who ‘feel’ the effects of their surroundings, based on that Victorian ideal that  ‘chicks feel stuff more than dudes.’  Men, if we believe pop culture, are rational and less prone to being swayed by their emotions. This is bullshit, as anyone in the mental health field can tell you. Men are just as irrational as women are, but are usually trained from an early age that showing emotion is unmasculine and therefore unacceptable. Men have emotions, but they don’t often show or address them.  Men repress–and that is the meat of the story, repression.

In the scene mentioned above, where Hank is being yelled at by his girlfriend, we see something interesting: Hank is only dating Amy (who we never see) because he stole her away from Phil, a point Hank always brings up. But in the fight, he’s not even listening to her, he’s staring dead-eyed at the television while she storms in the background. Is this what he won? Is this his prize? It indicates to me that Phil’s anger is more precious to Hank than Amy’s happiness, and that’s a real tragedy when you think about.

There’s also something innately horrific about the setting: I believe on some primordial level, people are aware when their surroundings have had a traumatic past. I don’t believe in ghosts or ‘vibes’ or anything, but maybe something pheromonal–layers and layers of terrified, enraged sweat absorbed into the walls, floor and ceiling, or the evaporated exhalations of a thousand screams sunk into the plaster and wood.

Session 9 is a fascinating movie not just because it’s a great atmospheric horror film–it works on many layers, and it presents a revealing glimpse into the male psyche–the REAL male psyche. Not the bullshit Maxim or Cosmopolitan or any other magazine would have you believe, but instead the basic human thoughts and feelings that anyone -male or female- could experience. I think Session 9 is so successful because it shows that anyone would react to horrific stimulus the same way–regardless of what shape your genitals are.

For a good scare that doesn’t insult your intelligence or fall apart after the first act, you can’t beat Session 9. Its dilapidated imagery inspired much of the imagery of horror video games like Silent Hill and Resident Evil, as well as the recent trend of horror movies with that gritty, industrial feel. It’s not so over the top though–the setting feels real because it IS a real abandoned psychiatric facility.

Missing from Photo: Jeff's Mullet, and Gordon's Oreos

Session 9 was made in 2001 and is available on Instant Watch. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Horror Movies: I grew up, they didn’t.

I hear young filmmakers say things like ‘Why should I study someone that everyone else thinks is so great? I’m trying to do something new!’ Guess what, precious, people were doing this before you were born and some of them ACTUALLY knew what the hell they were doing. There is a wealth of human knowledge for the taking, all you have to do is want to learn.

In short, Welcome To Earth, it was here before you were born.

Of late, my love affair with horror movies has been on the rocks.

In the summer of 1998, I watched every horror movie I could get my hands on. I went through all the Friday the 13ths, all the Nightmare on Elm Streets, all the Halloweens. I saw Hills Have Eyes, The Shining, the Fright Nights, The Howlings, Whatever Happened to Baby Jane, Psycho, The Birds, The Amityville Horrors, the Exorcists, the Puppet Masters, the Subspecies, Castle Freak, and a LOT more I can’t even remember. I’m not telling you this for bragging rights, I’m telling you this because I want you to know HOW MUCH I love horror movies.

But recently, my love has soured.

Yes, I know I am not making movies and at least they tried. But did they? Really?

They just don’t please me anymore–I’ve grown up, matured, and see the world differently: political corruption, panpidemics, ecological disasters, economic hardship, the aging of my friends and family, all are things that affect me directly and indirectly. I don’t watch FOX News and shit my pants every time they use the scary voice, but there are bigger things in the world than me and I’m aware of it.  ‘Growing up,’ it’s called, and the darkness under the bed or in the closet isn’t scary anymore because there might be a monster in it, but because my fears have become larger, more abstract than just monsters. My fears have grown with me.

Horror movies, by and large, haven’t.

There’ve been a few in recent years that scare me, certainly. The Ring (US and Japanese version), a few Asian horror movies, El Orfanato, The Devil’s Backbone, The Audition, Pan’s Labyrinth (not overtly a horror movie but still has its moments) and a moment or two in the Silent Hill movie (which has nothing on the games for scares–or if you’re REALLY into frightening games, check out the Fatal Frame series, if you can find it), British submarine movie Below.

This is a Cheap Shot--I'm sure this is hilarious in the right context. But still, my point is valid.

The point is, there are still good horror movies being made, it’s just a slog to find them sometimes. Especially since I have such a weird viewpoint of what makes a horror movie good. I don’t expect filmmakers to please me–I’m just one internet critic with a lot of time and a lot of opinions. But instead of seeing films and bitching about them, I’ve made my own little list of what takes a horror movie from something that makes you wonder if it’s a money laundering operation for the mob to something watchable. It”s a somewhat subjective list since I am very snobby about the horror movies I watch, but at least I know what I like.

1. Likeable, or at least compelling characters

Recently, I started watching ‘Incident On and Off a Mountain Road,’ Don Coscarelli’s entry to Showtime’s Masters of Horror series. It opens on a woman driving on a secluded road, who crashes into another car. She gets out to check on the other person, and sees blood.  Then we flash back to a date the woman went on with a man. The man is talking about economic hardships faced by children in other countries, (I think it was Thailand or India). The woman responded ‘Do I look like the kind of girl who cares about kids in 3rd world countries?’

I turned it off.

Being an entitled bitch doesn’t make her an interesting character, and we still don’t know what kind of person she is, so this is her introduction, not the scene in the car. I read the summary of the rest of the movie, and she has a lot of horrible shit happen to her, which makes me suspect that the whole movie is just a punishment fantasy.

Even if your character isn’t likable, they can still be compelling. And even if not, then having bad stuff happen to them should be HARD for you to write.

2. Understand your Limitations

If you want to make a huge effects-driven film with lots of monsters and elaborate sets and production pieces and it needs to take place in a series of four-star hotels, and your budget is somewhere around that of a used Honda, then guess what kind of movie you probably aren’t making.

Can it be done? Most Certainly. Necessity is the mother of invention, and more has been achieved cinematically in the last 35 years with less. Some of the biggest, most evocative horror movies were shot on a fairly low budget. Being creative, and flexible, makes things happen. I like watching a movie that isn’t afraid to make do with what they’ve got–Gothic, the film about scary things happening the night Shelley, Byron, Polidori and Shelley got together to write their horror stories, got a RIDICULOUS amount of mileage out of a ghilly suit and a rubber mask. It Can Be Done.

3. Broaden Your Worldview

Challenging yourself makes you a better person, which makes you a better artist, which makes your art better. If you grew up in an upper-middle class white neighborhood, then do something outside of your comfort zone. Go to a shitty flea market in a rough part of town. Hang around an ER waiting room and watch the people going in. Read non-fiction books dealing with social and political upheaval that take place in a country you’ve never been to. See documentaries, talk to people you have nothing in common with.

The point to this exercise is learning that what scares you probably isn’t what scares other people. True, vampires might pale in comparison to genocide in Rwanda, but understand that in the right context, a good metaphor can scare the shit out of people. There’s a reason District 9 was so good–it was about something real. I like movies that take me not just out of my life, but puts me somewhere else that’s interesting, that I want to explore more. Session 9, a new horror cult classic followed a HAZMAT crew as they removed asbestos from a haunted insane asylum. No bullshit, just some blue collar guys doing their jobs.

4. Learn From Others

Study the Masters–not just people you admire, but EVERYONE. If someone is a great filmmaker, find out why.  Read books that AREN’T about film, see movies in languages you don’t speak.

I hear young filmmakers say things like ‘Why should I study someone that everyone else thinks is so great? I’m trying to do something new!’ Guess what, precious, people were doing this before you were born and some of them ACTUALLY knew what the hell they were doing. There is a wealth of human knowledge for the taking, all you have to do is want to learn.

In short, Welcome To Earth, it was here before you were born.

You’ll notice that nowhere in my list did I include guts, blood, torture porn, or teenagers in their underwear. That just isn’t what I’m looking for. Also, it’s stupid–horror movies in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s were known for also functioning as softcore porn delivery devices, since real porn was kind of hard to get hold of. In this day and age, when you can get porn on your phone, it seems quaint to include gratuitous sex in movies. It says of the filmmakers ‘God! These people are paying to see our movie instead of jerking off for free at home! We have to include lots of sex scenes otherwise we’re wasting valuable wank time!’  The logic is lost on me.

True horror is at best a suggestion rather than an insistance.

Anyhoodle, there’ve been a few horror movies in recent years that really caught my eye and I thought were worth mentioning. I’ll be doing reviews of them as I can, starting with Session 9.

Every time I see a good horror movie I want more, I want to overdose on them as I did that one glorious summer–alas, there’s only enough to go around for a really good hit now and then.

The Downward Spiral of the Predator

Consider the first act of Predator–an elite commando squad lands in the jungle and takes out a badass drug operation. Maybe not the most original set up, but it introduced you to these guys as they really are: supercompetent badasses who operate as a unit, and who literally laugh in the face of danger. This is the Schwarzeneggar of Commando, of the Terminator, of Conan. He wakes up to a big breakfast of explosions and fistfights, and sprinkles gratuitous violence into his coffee.

I haven’t seen the new Predator movie. I want to, and I might see it in the theater and I hope that it’s good, but today’s post is more about the Predator franchise in general, and what it means to me.

Here is a pic of the exact same poster I had on my wall when I was 13.

I want to believe some little boy out there had one of My Little Pony. Because we would be bestest friends EVAR.

Bitchin, eh?

In 5th grade, I had a few male friends who accepted and appreciated my status as tomboy.

In 6th grade, the game changed.

My middle school was  pretty crappy one, as schools went. Most of the kids were biding their time until they could drop out, and there were always stories on Monday morning about what illicit behavior people got up to over the weekend, especially stories about older brothers or sisters in gangs. I was one of few white kids, and what’s worse I was in regular classes because of my orchestra class. Yes, I played violin. I was just that cool.

I tried to make friends.  But the one nut I couldn’t crack was the Comic Book Kids. They were a group of kids who hung around at lunch talking comics, all attempting to recreate the drawings or make up their own characters. Because I could draw I would sit with them and just listen to their talk, but if I said anything I was immediately shut down for my lack of knowledge. Only one kid would talk to me, a kid named Jose who at age 13 made the work of Todd McFarlane look like the scrawlings of  a palsy victim. He was  a genius: his work had depth, he had an advanced knowledge of musculature, form, and he even knew how to block out a drawing before he started. Best of all, he was my friend and he’d actually talk to me about my drawings.

But he also started telling me about a movie one day, an incredibly awesome movie that he’d snuck into the theater with his brother to see: a movie called Predator.

I wasn’t about to tell him that I’d seen about .4 seconds of it, while I was walking through the living room and my parents were watching it, and I’d hurried to my room because they were watching a ‘grown-up’ movie. Or maybe I did tell him. However it happened, I wound up watching it one weekend, and absolutely fell in love.

When the second one came out in theaters I knew my parents wouldn’t let me go see it, so when I went up to visit my Aunt over the summer I totally rented that shit. It wasn’t quite as good as the first one–even at 13 I realized they had just amped everything up, and to see it now is to contain barely-restrained laughter at the profanity, the violence, everything. It’s so ludicrously over the top for an action movie it approached parody, even in the early 90’s.

I freaking love the first Predator, the second is like an alcoholic uncle I enjoy spending time with but ultimately wish I could save in some way, and the AVP movies are like cousins who should have been aborted in the womb and ruin every family gathering with their existence.

The first AVP was a decent effort, despite its PG-13 rating. I won’t lie, as a nerdy teenager it was my secret dream that a Predator would land and we would totally be BFF. He would teach me how to hunt and crush my enemies, and I would teach him how to play ‘Happy Birthday’ on the violin. It would have been a perfect life. So the whole woman working with a predator against the aliens was kind of neat.

AVP2 reminded me of an experience in real life I’d like to share. I went to the dentist after skipping cleanings for  few years, and learned something interesting: once you hit your late twenties, your gums recede away from the roots of your teeth, exposing more sensitive nerves. This explains why going regularly for cleanings is important–becuse when shit builts up at the base, on the roots,  scraping it off with a metal hook is incredibly painful. I almost blacked out the last time, and I have been a dental regular since. I remember my hands kept drifting up towards the woman’s arm and she had to push them back down, and it was NOT OF MY DOING. My body was rejecting the whole procedure and I wanted it to stop, but also knew it had to be done.

AVP2 was kind of like that. An experience that had once been familiar, even somewhat pleasant when I was younger, became an exercise in nightmare once I was an adult. I think I just demand too much–after all, the first Predator has a lot going for it for a ‘dumb action movie.’

Consider the first act of Predator–an elite commando squad lands in the jungle and takes out a badass drug operation. Maybe not the most original set up, but it introduced you to these guys as they really are: supercompetent badasses who operate as a unit, and who literally laugh in the face of danger.  This is the Schwarzeneggar of Commando, of the Terminator, of Conan. He wakes up to a big breakfast of explosions and fistfights, and sprinkles gratuitous violence into his coffee.

In the second act, when Shit Gets Weird, you see something that seems incredible: these men, these men torn from the thigh of Zeus and who came from On High to Beat Ass, are  . . . frightened.

Now, I am certainly not making the claim that the acting in Predator was unfairly snubbed when it came Oscar-Time. Lord no. But, when these men, these ridiculously overmuscled, walking testosterone doses of men act frightened, it feels earned. It feels like they have every goddamn right to be afraid–for one thing, they’re battling their worst enemy, a hunter stronger, faster, and more technologically advanced than they, who is doing this FOR FUN, and for another, they have been lied to by their government. This was a time in movies when that wasn’t taken for granted, when it wasn’t happening in every film that came out, so it doesn’t feel cheapened by oversaturation.

For another, you couldn’t have asked for better casting. You’ve got the big, muscular guys like Arnold, Carl Weathers (!!), Sonny Landham, and Bill Duke, who may lack bulk but makes up for it with one of the best death scenes in an action movie EVAR. Jesus, I almost forgot Jesse Ventura–there’s so much beefcake I FORGOT ONE. The concepts, like the biceps, are just too big.

Not Pictured: Estrogen

Then there are the littler guys, whose names escape me but who were awesome in their own right, with the jokes and the drama and whatnot.

My point with all this is that any Predator movie has some big goddamn shoes to fill.

It seems like in any pitch meeting for a Predator movie Jack Donaghy from 30Rock ought to pop in an ask ‘Are you ready to put on your Daddy’s shoes yet, boy?’ and any answer except ‘Yes sir, I wore them today, Sir’ will be met with bitter failure. So even though I don’t mean to, I have some pretty high expectations for any Predator movie.

AVP2 was such a bitter, bitter disappointment to me, and while I don’t read every Predator comic that comes out (I know their species name starts with  Y, but damned if I can remember it and I’m not looking it up) I do love the franchise and the world it inhabits. I don’t get why the movies are so lacking in quality lately, either; it’s not like the Predator is an actor who isn’t aging well and can’t do the stunts because of his bad back. IT’S A COSTUME. It requires a different actor each time! Although I do like the idea of a broken-down Predator with a potbelly and a 2k a day coke habit begging some studio exec for one more shot, one more bite at the apple. ‘Come on, Jimmy, you know I’m good for it, you know I can bring it! I’ll get clean, I’ll learn my lines, I’ll train with the same guy who brought Stallone back!’ George Burns was right, show business is  hideous bitch-goddess.

That said, the Predator itself is only the co-star of the movie. If the real stars of the movie don’t represent the humans and bring at least a little pathos to the table, then what the hell’s the point of rooting for them? Why did they bother in the first place?

Yes, we CAN all get long in the face of a hideous anthrophagic alien species! Why is this not on a poster in a classroom RIGHT NOW?

80’s Vampire Spectacular: My Best Friend is a Vampire

That's just damned good poster design right there.

The next entry in our 80’s Vampire movie Spectacular is My Best Friend is a Vampire, starring  a pre-Dead Poets Robert Sean Leonard, Rene Auberjonois and David Warner. Although it came out after Fright Night, I saw it before FN because Best Friend is rated PG and I believe FN was R. Best Friend is also a little more campy and fun than FN, which made it great sleepover viewing.

Best Friend is about teenager Jeremy, who is nursing a crush on a band geek (who is somehow inexplicably able to blow him off with the same snottiness as if she were Queen of the Cheerleaders) and just trying to survive high school. One day, as he’s going about his job delivering groceries he encounters Nora, the kind of 80’s hot girl that pops up in these movies like high-tops–sultry, alluring, and for some reason interested in sweaty, inexperienced teenage boys. She turns him into a vampire, and wacky hijinks ensue as he tries to figure out exactly WTF is going on. Moments after Jeremy’s deed is done, David Warner enters the scene as psycho vampire killer Leopold, who kills Nora and chases Jeremy from the house.

Enter Rene Auberjonois as Modoc, a super-smooth vampire with a bitching BMW and a cup overflowething with awesome. He’s shown up to help show young Jeremy the ropes and keep him out of trouble. It’s kind of nice if you think about it–sure, it ensures the survival of the vampire species, but it’s also kind of nice to think of an older, experienced vampire out and about, on the prowl for some claret,  and suddenly slamming on the brakes and declaring ‘My NOOB-sense is tingling!’ Then making up a care package of pig’s blood, sunglasses and arty hats.

While Fright Night approached the gay thing obliquely, coding so hard you’d think it was 1990 and the film a LINUX enthusiast, Best Friend hits it head on–Jeremy’s parents observe him hanging around with an older, ‘European’ fellow, driving the fellow’s car with its suggestive ‘NITEMAN’ vanity plate, partying all night and sleeping through the day, and react accordingly for an 80’s parent: they begin reading books on how to talk to their gay son. The entire thing becomes a secondary-story joke, as Jeremy goes about his vampiric adventures battling the vampire killers his parents are often in the background trying to come to terms with the fact that their son probably won’t be producing grandchildren.

There are other literal gay winks, as well: Jeremy, in the throes of bloodlust, visits an all-night butcher and requests a pint of pig’s blood. When the butcher presents it, he winks at the young man and asks if it’s ‘his first time.’ I have no idea what this could be a double-entendre for, but the direct meaning is that the butcher knows all about vampires and is amused by this awkward young man.

Best Friend was also one of the first vampire movies I’d seen that posited that being a vampire wasn’t all that bad: sure, it’s a lifestyle change, but there’s a LOT of good stuff that goes into it. The eternity thing is tempered when Modoc tells Jeremy that for every decade he will age only a year, so there’s still the ‘you get to watch your loved ones grow old and die’ thing, but the rest of the package is awfully alluring. Plus its all a moot point since Jeremy can’t be changed back, unlike in other films where killing the head vampire cures all the ones he’s changed.

There’s a lot to like about Best Friend. Sure, the jokes are sometimes groan-worthy and its fashion hasn’t aged well, but at its heart it’s a story about accepting and even celebrating who you are, even if that is different from the norm. Even now, that’s an awfully positive message: how many films about gay men and women today have to explore their feelings rather than just accept that they are gay? When will we see a mainstream horror or action movie with a gay protagonist that isn’t an allegory or that offers some explanation for the character’s orientation?

Jeremy may hang around with vampires in the future, but he’ll still have time for his human friends. Cheesy? God yes, but cheese makes everything better, even salads.

Best Fiends Forever! Yay Vampires!

80’s Vampire Spectacular: Fright Night

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.

Someday the internet will be 3D, and this will be so much awesomer

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.