Friday, June 18, 2010

Queer Cinema: Fright Night

Pride Month = Horror movies. Or something. Today: Big, gay vampires!

Charlie Brewster has a problem: A vampire has moved in next door. Rather than being neighborly, Charlie has started snooping on him. And the vampire, suave antiques dealer Jerry Dandridge, not being so neighborly himself, he has started killing prostitutes.

Charlie tries to convince the cops what's going on. Needless to say the police think he's perhaps a wee bit unstable. When talking to the cops fails, Charlie turns to late-night horror movie host Peter Vincent. Despite appearing in dozens of movies as the Great Vampire Killer, Vincent really isn't much more than a foppish, broken and broke old man on the verge of being evicted.

Of course, the vampire and his live-in handyman aren't too pleased with all Charlie's interference. When an attempt to kill Charlie is thwarted, the baddies enact another plan.

First they seduce his best friend Evil Ed to the dark side, though it didn't seem a very long trip. Then they abduct his girlfriend. As is common in vampire tales, she bears a striking resemblance to a long-dead love. Obviously it was someone Dandridge knew before he met his current handyman.

So, it's up to Charlie and Vincent to defeat the vampire and rescue the girl. All they've got as a box of old film props and the vague notion of what might kill a monster.

Now, horror-comedy is a phrase that rarely elicits much excitement from me. As a genre, it is woefully deficient. Most attempts to meld comedy into horror turn out largely unfunny and worse yet, not at all scary. Fright Night is a rare example of a successful take on that genre.

The film is smart enough to rely on good characterization and solid storytelling in favor of flashy special effects. That's not to say there is a shortage of monsters or blood in this. No, the creature effects are good, but they're not overbearing or obnoxious.

For example, the scene with the wolf creature is excellent, not only because the fine makeup work, but due largely to McDowell's performance. His fear quickly fades to pity and sorrow. He genuinely seems to understand that what can appear monstrous on the outside is underneath, more often than not, a human being, naked and suffering.

That of course brings us to the oft-discussed queer subtext of the film. It's an age-old plot construct that the chief villain has an assistant. But nowadays, when an antiques dealer and his "roommate" move into the neighborhood, there's little doubt what's really going on. Or, as Charlie's mother puts it "With my luck they're probably gay." Probably?

And is it any surprise that three of the leads are played by homosexuals, including some-time street hustler and gay porn star Stephen Geoffreys? When Dandridge puts out his hand and tells Ed he knows what it's like to be different, that no one will ever beat him up again, the subtext is pretty clear.

But no matter how you look at Fright Night, it is an enjoyable and highly memorable film.

Directed by Tom Holland • R • 1985 • 106 minutes

1 comment:

  1. Great film! I loved this when I was a teenager.