Monday, October 20, 2014

Unnecessary Sequels: Fright Night

Here comes Round 3, and boy is it a doozy...........hold onto your butts........

So, usually, I would take a movie that I like, that is somewhat obscure, like the one I'm about to talk about, and put it in the "Silver Screen Stories" series, because it really is a great little film that more people need to know about. However, I am unfortunately compelled to place it in this series instead, because it also suffered the wretched fate of Hollywood trying to unnecessarily cash in on it's modest success, with a super-craptacular sequel that in many ways almost ruins the first film. And with that, let's dive right in!

Film: Fright Night
Year: 1985
Director: Tom Holland
Unnecessary Sequel: Fright Night II (1988)

Fright Night was one of many films from the 80s that can absolutely be labeled as an "80s film", because not only did it come from the 80s, but it embodies the 80s and belongs to the 80s. It wasn't quite as successful nor quite as famous as it's "teen vampire movie" counterpart, Joel Schumacher's 1987 hit "The Lost Boys", but it certainly was a success in it's own right. And I must say, in several ways I would venture to state that it's a better film, though Lost Boys was certainly a good movie. I'll say right away, that like many other things, the 80s knew how to do "teen vampire movies" right, as Night and Boys were both filled with clever dialogue, tight writing, and human characters you actually cared about. Unlike, basically, Twilight, or pretty much any other modern take on vampire nonsense.

In the 80s, vampires wore awesome Cosby sweaters.

The set-up of the film, is that young teen geek Charley Brewster, is a huge fan of classic horror movies, especially the "gothic horror" vampire films starring his favorite actor, Peter Vincent (played by the amazing Roddy McDowall). In fact, the movie gets it's name from Charley's favorite TV show, "Fright Night", which is hosted by Mr. Vincent (who himself is send up to both Vincent Price and long-time Hammer Films horror star Peter Cushing). So one night, while getting friendly with his high school sweetheart, Amy, he notices that a neighbor has moved in next door, and he spies some people carrying what looks like a coffin into the basement of the house. Being the horror geek that he is, he automatically assumes something is up, and sets about spying on his neighbor over the course of the next couple days, eventually discovering to his horror that, not only is his neighbor a real live (metaphorically speaking) vampire, but he's also responsible for the murders that have been plaguing his town recently. Left with no other recourse (so he feels) after his neighbor Jerry Dandridge discovers that his secret is known, and the vampire makes it clear that Charley is on his shit list very soon, he decides to go and seek help from the only man he believes can solve his little problem.

There's no mistake, this man makes the movie.

So now we get down to it. Peter Vincent, the character who, played so brilliantly by the tragically under-recognized and under-appreciated Mr. McDowall, completely makes this movie on his own. Don't get me wrong, if his role had been played by someone else, it might have still been decent, and this film on it's own would have still been a fun, interesting slice of the 80s. But WITH McDowall, the movie becomes, at least in my mind, a classic. Not only is he great in this role, but I also love this movie for the fact that it is one solid (and sadly rare) instance I can point to and say to people who have no idea who Roddy is, "There, THAT guy!". See, the thing is, most people do know about Mr. McDowall's work, he's just one of those guys where they aren't totally aware of it. He was/is fairly infamous in the role of Dr. Cornelius in the "Planet of the Apes" movies, though he is behind make-up and ape-mask. Fans of the widely known 90s cartoon "Batman: The Animated Series" would also recognize him as the voice behind the brilliantly played "Mad Hatter" villain. But in both cases of course, he's known more for his voice, not his face. But this was one role in a fairly successful film where his face IS shown, and he's really allowed to shine.

To make a long story short, Charley confronts Mr. Vincent as he's leaving his film studio where the "Fright Night" show is shot, and he tries to convince him that his neighbor is a vampire, and that he needs his "expert" help, as a long-time slayer of film vampires, in killing the fiend, before he kills Charley instead. Peter of course thinks the kid is bonkers, and gets out of there as fast as he can. Later on, after Charley has announced his fate to his girl Amy, and his kinda-sorta-pal "Evil" Ed, that he is going to try and kill Jerry Dandrige all by himself, if he can, they approach Mr. Vincent themselves. Fearing for Charley's sanity (not to mention his future jail-time), they convince him (with money) to come with them and "prove" that the nice neighbor isn't really a vampire at all. Problem is, after the faux test of proof to show Charley that Mr. Dandridge is just a normal dude, Peter Vincent accidentally sees no reflection when looking at Jerry in a mirror. He realizes then and there that vampires are real.

She's a hell of a wicked kissah.

So without giving too much away, after a further series of events, Mr. Vincent finally becomes convinced to attempt to play the role of "vampire killer" in real life, and he and Charley team up to take on the vile menace and his disgusting disciples. All in all, like I said before, it's really a great little film. In fact, while Tom Holland would go on to direct other well known horror films like the original "Child's Play" and a 90s adaptation of the Stephen King story "Thinner", I think his first movie (this one), was his best.

Even the poster sucks.

To me personally at least, the wholly uncalled for, unasked for, and unnecessary sequel that Fright Night received, is easily one of the very worst examples I can think of. Yes, it's even up there with the Jaws and Neverending Story sequels. It's that bad. The short version goes, the film was directed by Tommy Lee Wallace, who had previously done another unnecessary sequel in the form of "Halloween III: Season of the Witch". So that's already a bad start. But while the movie does retain it's top two stars from before, Roddy McDowall and William Ragsdale (Charley), the entire thing just screams "Why did you make this?" from beginning to end. Much like the many other films I've already brought to your attention in this little series of mine, the original Fright Night, had a rather well put together ending, and it was a very nice, self-contained story. This film undoes just about all of that, either directly, or indirectly. For one thing, it pulls the frequent Hollywood trick of "we couldn't get that actor back so we wrote her out and gave him a new girlfriend". That's exactly what happens, as Charley is now in college and no longer with his cute high-school sweetheart, instead now with a new girl, for convenience's sake. Not only that, but the writing and dialogue aren't snappy and memorable as in the first film, the plot and characters are no longer interesting, and the new villain, a shitty, "euro-trash" type vampire (a prototype for the modern era maybe?), named Regine, and her trashy, hipster, "New York party scene" reject crew, are incredibly uncompelling and lame.

The movie sucks to a degree that not even the Peter Vincent character can save it. Everything that was cool about the first movie, pretty much sucks in the second. The plot is incoherent and uninteresting, the pace of the film (unlike the original), is plodding and honestly boring for much of the film, etc. It really is just one of the worst examples you could ask for in a sequel that just never should have happened, as it tarnishes (to some degree) the legacy of the original film. But if that weren't bad enough, it isn't just that Fright Night got fucked by a shitty sequel. Nay, more recently (2011 to be precise), it got fucked even further, with a brand spanking new remake/reboot treatment. The only thing in film that is honestly worse than an unnecessary sequel to a great or even just decent film, is an even more unnecessary remake. And, not surprisingly, like most modern horror (or sci fi, or fantasy) remakes, from what I understand, the new film, starring none other than Colin Ferrel as the vampire, really sucked. In fact it sucked so bad that it got a direct-to-video sequel that totally ignores it and re-remakes the original with an all-new cast. Yup.

Funny thing, Colin Ferrel, while a good actor, who has played a few pretty strong roles in his time, also around the same time-frame starred in yet another unnecessary (and from what I understand, shitty) remake, this time of Total Recall. But you know, as this series of mine points out, among other things, Hollywood just never seems to learn. They figure that if something made money in the past, it might make money again now, and hell, that's a lot more secure of a proposal than taking a risk (like Hollywood used to do all the time decades ago), on totally NEW properties. But especially with movies like this one, the problem with remaking something like Fright Night, is that, as I stated at the beginning of this article, it was a product of the 80s. It embodies the 80s, it is every bit an "80s movie", and that is part of what makes it so great.

Remaking Fright Night? That would be about as dumb as, I don't know, trying to remake Gremlins. Oh..................wait....................

Till next time, keep your windows locked, and don't invite any neighbors in the house. 

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