Monday, June 28, 2010

Teen Vamps

I'm sure teenage girls all over America are beside themselves with excitement as they count down the last few hours before the release of Twilight: Eclipse and the return of the sparkly vampires. I've only seen part of the first one while waiting in a doctor's office, and that was enough to tell me that these films were definitely not made for me. Hell, Kristen Stewart bites her lip more frequently than the vamps bite anything else!

But in the 80s, a pair of vampire movies featuring teenagers appeared on the screen, much like vampires themselves, as an unexpected and delightful surprise. And even though they had youthful casts, they were still rated R and delivered the nastiness and red stuff that one expects from a good post-Hammer vampire flick. They've also become generational classics.

NOTE: Spoilers follow, but if you haven't seen the films I'm about to talk about, where have you been?

In 1985, I read in the newspaper that a local theater was going to hold a Saturday night sneak preview of a new horror film, the legendary Fright Night (1985). It was such a simpler time. I knew nothing about it. There were no TV spots, no cast interviews on Good Morning America, no dedicated Web site...just an awesome poster that convinced me that I had to be there.

Arriving at the theater to catch the last 15 minutes of St. Elmo's Fire (which was enough), I spent the next couple of hours absolutely enthralled by what was happening on the screen. Fright Night seemed so unique—in one respect, it was a goofy teen movie, but on the other hand, it was a full-blooded horror film with surprising moments of darkness.

When we first meet high schooler Charley Brewster (William Ragsdale), we see a a typical teenage nerd. He loves horror movies; he has fumbling make-out sessions with his girlfriend, Amy (Amanda Bearse); and his only friend seems to be the uber-geek "Evil" Ed (Stephen Geoffreys). But when the omnivorous Jerry Dandridge (Chris Sarandon) moves in next door with his live-in male "companion", Charley discovers that he's a bloodsucker when he accidentally sees him feeding on a local prostitute. No one will believe him, of course, so he turns to local horror TV host Peter Vincent (Roddy McDowall) for help, believing that he's an authentic vampire hunter and is the only one who can save him.

Sarandon is great as Dandridge. Majestic, campy and scary when he needs to be, he manages to seduce the entire cast, except for the one he wants most to bring under his spell—and that's Charley. McDowall was born to play Vincent. His transformation from embittered, faded horror star to valiant vampire killer is master class, and he brings true pathos to Evil Ed's death scene.

Bearse looks too old for the part from the get-go, but her later sexing-up and vampire makeover make you realize they needed an actor with more maturity for these scenes. Ragsdale hits the right notes, and Geoffreys is alternatively grating and funny as the spastic Evil—although his seduction by Dandridge and subsequent staking by Vincent—are uniquely moving and add a welcome note of melancholy.

Fox Television must have said, "Hey! Let's get those kids from Fright Night!" because next thing you know, Bearse moved to the long-running "Married With Children" and Ragsdale starred in the shorter-lived "Herman's Head." Geoffreys went on to 976-EVIL, directed by the original Freddy Kreuger himself, Robert Englund, before setting off on a career in gay porn in the 1990s.

A 1988 sequel, with Ragsdale and McDowall reprising their roles, was not nearly as successful as the original. This time Charley is in college and finds himself seduced by Dandridge's sister, Regine (Julie Carmen), who wants revenge for her brother's death. There are a few unusual scenes in the film and Carmen is exotic, but it can't compare to the original. McDowall was nominated for an Academy Award this time around (to make up for the fact he wasn't nominated for the first one). I saw it at the drive-in during its brief theatrical run, and then it hit the video shelves.

1987 brought The Lost Boys, which introduced the formidable team of the two Coreys (Haim and Feldman). Dianne Wiest stars as Lucy (get it?), a recent divorcee who moves back home with her sons, Michael (Jason Patric) and Sam (Haim) to live with her cantankerous father (Barnard Hughes) in Santa Carla, a Santa Cruz-type coastal California town proclaimed by local residents to be the "murder capital of the world." Lucy begins dating the owner of the local video store while Michael falls in with a gang of motorcycle toughs, led by David (Keifer Sutherland).

It doesn't take long for David to reveal his gang's true nature to Michael—they're all vampires, and they want him to join in the bloody fun. At first Michael resists, but he is drawn to Star (Jami Gertz), a not fully transformed vamp they seem to be holding captive, and of course he starts making hormone-driven bad decisions. When he shows up floating outside Sam's bedroom window, the younger brother enlists the aid of a pair of strange locals, the Frog brothers (Feldman and Jamison Newlander) to help rescue him.

Sutherland brings a feral intensity to his performance, and Patric is channeling Jim Morrison big time. To reinforce the similarity, "People Are Strange" is used on the soundtrack at the beginning of the film and there's a Doors poster in the gang's underground lair. Wiest provides appropriate normalcy to the proceedings, and Hughes is pretty hilarious as the crotchety grandpa.

But what's the deal with Haim's character? Is he a queen in training? At one point, he's taking a bubble bath while singing the female part of a blues song in falsetto. You also see him wearing a T-shirt with the slogan "Born to Shop" imprinted on it. He has a sexy pin-up of Rob Lowe in his bedroom, and his fashion sense...well, let's just say he got into Jennifer Beals' Flashdance wardrobe.

Nevertheless, it's got effective humor, a good score, surprisingly nasty killings and a few nice twists to keep it moving. And the atmosphere is great. I love a boardwalk amusement park at night. It's unavoidably creepy. The film was a huge hit, and the Coreys had a career for the next decade or so.

At the 2008 Comic-Con in San Diego, the long-awaited sequel, Lost Boys: The Tribe was being heavily promoted. I was thrilled to see that there was going to be a special midnight screening of the film right after the Star Wars Fan Movie Challenge. Feldman, reprising his role from the first film, was on hand to provide an introduction, and I was all set to see the long-awaited sequel to a great film.

Boy, was I ever disappointed. Essentially replaying the plot from the first film, except replacing the two brothers with an orphaned brother and sister (complete with incestuous overtones), it was lackluster and dismally acted. Sutherland's half-brother, Angus, took the role of the head vampire, and he was just awful. I didn't even stay until the ending. Hell, I even got a vampire makeover at the Warner Home Video booth earlier in the day, providing them with a free moving billboard at the convention! Hmph!

Now the remake of Fright Night has been announced for 2011 in 3D. The cast certainly sounds promising: Colin Farrell as Dandridge, Anton Yelchin as Charley, Toni Collette as Mom and "Dr. Who" David Tennant as Vincent. Superbad's Christopher Mintz-Plasse, an acquired taste to be sure, is set to play Evil Ed. It's also going to be set in Las Vegas, so there may be some sparkly vampires around. Dreamworks in producing and Disney is releasing. All I can say is it better not be rated PG-13!

1 comment:

Russell Adams said...

I love both LOST BOYS and FRIGHT NIGHT, as they are of a time before teen vamps were sensitive, low-blood counts, like Pattinson and his fellow tween pin-up poster children. I, too, saw only a few minutes of ST. ELMO'S FIRE, and found that as frightening as any horror pic.


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