BECAUSE TIME IS OUT OF WHACK—Found-Again… Tuesday: Putting The Chris Sarandon In Christm… Valentine’s Day With Fright Night (1985)

Mom’s treatment is done! and I am finally back at the helm of the Omelet. I see somebody somewhere was actually reading the Highlander posts in my absence, which is thrilling for at least one of us!

But we have unfinished business: I promised you Sarandon. I promised you vampire(s). I promised you an outpouring of praise for what may be my all-time favorite horror film—and if I didn’t, brace yourselves. I wrote the first part of this before rewatching and before my schedule got rearranged, so with a few corrections, this should do just fine for a heart-based holiday:

And here we are. I can’t think of any better way to ring out this year celebrate Valentine’s Day than with Fright Night—one of my favorite vampire movies, one of my favorite horror movies, and one of my favorite movies full stop. I won’t pretend this one is really “found again.” It’s not even an every-other-year creepy pleasure like CandymanFright Night is, not to put too fine a pointy fang on it, The Good Stuff.

The Premise: Angsty, amiable teen doofus Charlie Brewster (William Ragsdale, who like one of last week the last review’s stars was in Herman’s Head) likes making out with his girlfriend Amy while the late-night horror show Fright Night plays in the background. His sexual frustration is the least of his troubles when he starts to suspect his new neighbor, Jerry Dandridge (Chris Sarandon, perfectly cast), might be a vampire.

When his weird friend Ed can’t provide enough protective vampire lore, Charlie seeks out the Fright Night show’s host, Peter Vincent. Instead of Van Helsing, however, Vincent is more Peter Cushing by way of Elvira, a washed-up actor annoyed by Charlie’s request for help and terrified when he realizes there really is a vampire. Once Jerry discovers they’re on to him, he begins to prey on Charlie’s friends, and Charlie and Peter must fight the vampire and save Amy from the extremely sexy clutches of a fiend.

I’m going to blow the “Verdict” section on this one. If you for some reason haven’t seen Fright Night, recently or ever, you should do that. Don’t even finish reading this. It’s that good. (And if you’re squeamish like me, it’s not even particularly gory until the end; I suspect a lot of the R rating was for boobs and swears.)

There is so much to like about this movie:

  • Fright Night is a crucial link between subgenres of vampire film, in that Jerry  is both a suave fanged seducer in the Christopher Lee mold and a gnarly* bat-monster in the style of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and other screen vamps who came after Fright Night’s 1985 release. (That the plot involves a Hammer-horror-style actor coming up against gritty reality indicates that this duality is intentional, making the whole thing even better.)
  • Similarly, the mortal characters are all recognizable ’80s stock movie people, but so well-realized they rise above it. Stereotypical “horny teen” Charlie ends up worrying more about his math grade—and, you know, the vampire—than he does about getting laid. Charlie’s mother is to some extent written as a typical checked-out working parent, but it’s not ennui: it’s that this single mother has just started working nights and isn’t at her best for the duration of the film. And the quirky friend, “Evil” Ed, gets the most wrenching scenes in the movie. Fright Night is a little like Pumpkinhead, I think; if you go a while between viewings, the genre starts to blot out how nuanced and generally good the characters are. (It’s also nice that they look and dress like real people—looking at you, enjoyable-but-not-at-this-level remake.)

  • The characters often act the way you’d expect real people to act in such a situation. One of the first things Charlie does when people start disappearing is what so many protagonists should do… call the cops. They (quite realistically) think Charlie is nuts–as do his friends, who stage an intervention when they’re afraid he might endanger someone. All of this gives the movie a nice grounding when the monsters really get going.
  • The vampire. I imagine it’s hard to be an iconic bloodsucker with a name like “Jerry Dandridge,” but my goodness does Chris Sarandon make it look easy. Anyone who’s spent more than a few minutes on this site knows I’m susceptible to what you might call “villain cute,” and you may never find a better example than some of the scenes in Fright Night.  Even so, Jerry is by no means a one-note baddie: by turns amused and frustrated by Charlie’s campaign against him, he also shows a certain amount of weariness with his immortality and need to prey on others that makes him almost a tragic figure. (Me being me, I sat in front of my screen thinking “Oh, yeah. This is what I’m supposed to feel about Connor’s situation in Highlander. ….Yep, still don’t.”)
Wears red, flies around, makes holes in people…what’s Cupid got that this guy doesn’t?

To sum up: Fright Night is a literally great movie that is also very entertaining. (If you want more on this, there’s a documentary I haven’t seen yet, and the Faculty of Horror podcast did a very good episode on the film. That’s where I learned that Chris Sarandon actually researched bats for his role as Dandridge; I thought I couldn’t love Fright Night more, but that tidbit proved me wrong.

 

*It is my belief that there are actors you simply cannot make ugly (readers here can probably name most of them by now), but the filmmakers certainly have a good go at it near the end of this movie—which is only a spoiler if you’ve never seen a vampire movie before.

 

Next time: Music post for Friday because we haven’t had one in a very long time; Jonny Quest posting resumes on Monday. Against steep odds, let’s get normal!

 

 

Apropos Of Our Cynical Omelet: As Granny Weatherwax Used To Say, “I ATEN’T DEAD”

You wouldn’t think taking my mother to appointments would stop the site in its tracks, would you?

Yeah, I didn’t think so either, but here we are. I guess that hour out of my day is The Blogging Hour and I had no idea until now.

I haven’t forgotten my 1.4 readers, though: Fright Night review is going to happen! Now on Valentine’s Day, because I love it that much, and because I shouldn’t write about how awesome Donald O’Connor is in Singin’ In The Rain  two years in a row. See you next month!

The Quest For Monday! Part 54: What A Dive

(Episode: “Skull and Double Crossbones”)

Synopsis: The Quests are back on their home turf—the surf. What should be an episode of enviable underwater fun and education is ruined when Jonny finds a treasure and Team Quest is set upon by some very lazy pirates. Also, Bandit learns to dive.

This week brings another safety tip that can be applied outside the Jonny Quest universe!

Tip 54: It’s inadvisable to dive alone.

Usually, that’s for reasons of water safety. In this case, though?

Cue Spandau Ballet.

It’s because you might find pirate gold and draw the attention of the bad guys.

A chef and a spy. What a multitasker! (Not to mention whatever is going on with that headgear.)

 

Next time: We wrap up the theme month with Fright Night, a movie I frankly adore.

Next time on TQfM!: As the kid in The Princess Bride said, captured by pirates is good. Right?

 

Belated Found-Again Friday: Putting The Chris Sarandon In Christmas With The Resurrected (1991)

Why Found-Again? It’s only been a year or so since I watched this one, so it really never left. One thing about the fictional character Charles Dexter Ward: he gets portrayed by some very good-looking guys.

The Premise:  Wealthy, slightly dorky chemist Charles Dexter Ward (Sarandon) gets progressively weirder about his secret experiments, eventually leaving his wife Claire (Jane Sibbett) in the middle of a party. With the help of a mysterious associate, Charles takes his studies to a rural cottage, but things take a dark turn after a neighbor complains and human remains are discovered. More confused than ever, Claire hires private investigator John March, who soon realizes Charles has been replaced by his wizard ancestor and that people and things are being—surprise!—resurrected.

They’re pretty bloody and sticky about it, too.

The cast is very good: I’m both old enough and weird enough to geek out seeing Jane Sibbett in this movie because I loved her in an old Fox Network show called Herman’s Headof which I may have been the only loyal viewer.

She more than holds her own in a role original to the movie, as does John Terry as the PI who would really like not to believe in necromancy. But of course, it’s Sarandon who steals the show in his dual role as Ward and his revivified ancestor Joseph Curwen. (Curwen subsists on red meat and scenery, and I’m not complaining at all.)

A decidedly non-chronological before…
…and ancestor after.

The Verdict: The Resurrected is a modernized, noir-ified version of the classic Lovecraft story, but the bones of the plot are largely the same: man dabbles in genealogy, discovers lookalike ancestor, dabbles in the occult, recovers lookalike ancestor, and lives to regret it but not much longer. The movie suffers from some of the common complaints of horror films—the effects can be a little goofy, the detective plot sometimes sits awkwardly over the source material, and I personally despise the set design for the PI’s office to an incredible degree—but it does a very good job as an adaptation, especially in the last half.

The mystery is compelling (assuming you haven’t read the story…or indeed this review), the villain is scary, and the creatures are downright chilling. This is probably the goriest thing in my DVD collection, and I regret nothing except the few seconds of eyeball violence.

Might go well with: The Haunted Palace, any of the other movies I’ve covered this month, and any vegetarian recipes you might have lying around.

 

Next time: We go from doubles to dubloons.

 

The Quest for Monday! Part 53: Shell Games

(Episode: “Skull and Double Crossbones”)

Synopsis: The Quests are back on their home turf—the surf. What should be an episode of enviable underwater fun and education is ruined when Jonny finds a treasure and Team Quest is set upon by some very lazy pirates. Also, Bandit learns to dive.

Tip 53: Competition can be healthy.

Bandit’s found a ringer for this race.

 

I kept trying to make a caption for this one that went “Tweenage [something] Surfing Turtles.”
But you shouldn’t let the desire to win warp your character.

Kids’ TV, folks.

 

Next time: I’m upping the “ew” factor and watching another Lovecraft adaptation with The Resurrected. People, never raise your lookalike ancestors from the dead if you can help it.

Next time on TQfM!: Treasure no-land.

Found-Again Friday: Putting The Chris Sarandon In Christmas With Child’s Play (1988)

Why Found-Again? The *mumblety* years since my last viewing of Child’s Play are a rare example of self-control. I find creepy dolls disturbing (especially Annabelle from The Conjuring and the horrible revenge doll from that Night Gallery episode), and for once this didn’t lead me to watch every Chucky movie in existence in an attempt to compensate for my wimpiness.

The Premise: Fatally wounded by the police who are hunting him, killer Charles Lee Ray (Brad Dourif, who deserves a theme month of his own sometime) sends his spirit into a Good Guy doll, which is a fictionalized one of these:

The possessed doll is purchased by a hapless mother and son, and the evil “Chucky” snarls, bashes and slashes his way to horror-icon status.

This is about as happy as it’s going to get, and we’ve already had one murder.

As for the subject of our December celebration, Sarandon plays Det. Mike Norris, who bookends the movie by shooting Charles Lee Ray in his various forms.

Sort of looks like he taught Dennis Miller that look from Bordello of Blood, doesn’t it?

A few assorted thoughts:

  • Instead of a gritty New York movie, we have a gritty Chicago movie this time! In fact, a case could be made that Child’s Play functions as a dark counterpart to that least gritty of Chicago movies, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off: a child running loose and being tempted into bad ideas while harried parents are off working. Norris’s partner even looks a tiny bit like Principal Rooney!
  • The murals in Charles Lee Ray’s apartment make me wonder if Child’s Play wasn’t also inspiration for some of the visuals in Candyman, my favorite movie I can barely stand to watch, also set in the Windy City.
  • Catherine Hicks, who went on to play the mother on Seventh Heaven, is one of the most put-upon screen moms of all time.
  • Perhaps I’ve just watched too much Criminal Minds—check that, I have definitely watched too much Criminal Minds—but I’m really at a loss why a strangling serial killer with voodoo murals and sorcerous abilities has a getaway driver in the first place. Why was the Eddie character even there?

The Verdict: Mixed, but in a good way. It turned out I remembered very little from my first viewing, and since “person is framed by own evil doppelganger” is a plot peeve of mine, the first half verged on excruciating. What saved it for me was my love of movie voodoo and the Law & Order: Demon Doll vibe of the second half, as well as the fact that Chucky really is simultaneously terrifying and entertaining. This one is definitely worth rewatching, especially for the scene in which Andy’s mom realizes the doll is alive.

Might go well with: Some of the later Nightmare on Elm Street movies; Kolchak: The Night Stalker.

 

Next time: “What Jonny and Hadji do to these turtles will shock you!” How’s that for clickbait?

The Quest For Monday! Part 52: A Place In The Sunfish

(Episode: “Skull and Double Crossbones”)

Synopsis: The Quests are back on their home turf—the surf. What should be an episode of enviable underwater fun and education is ruined when Jonny finds a treasure and Team Quest is set upon by some very lazy pirates. Also, Bandit learns to dive.

Tip 52: The movie was right: things do get better down where it’s wetter!

That’s if you can breathe, of course.
Science! I’m assuming…
Have I mentioned my parents hated the water when I was growing up? Yes, I’m jealous of Jonny Quest.

Will this idyll last? Like hell it will.

 

Next time: The Christmas theme month continues with Child’s Play. I don’t think I’ve watched it since I was 17, so this should be interesting.

Next time on TQfM!: The idyll in fact lasts for one more Monday post.

 

Found-Again Friday: Putting The Chris Sarandon In Christmas With Tales From The Crypt: Bordello Of Blood (1996)

Why Found-Again? As a kid, I’d occasionally get overwhelmed by horror. My first Stephen King novel ended up in a faroff closet, only to be pulled out every other weekend. I did the same thing with the first two books of Anne Rice’s vampire series. And when I saw my very first Tales from the Crypt episode, “Lover Come Hack To Me,” I was both thoroughly freaked out and ready to watch some more. In fact, a creature from a Tales episode ranks with Pinhead and Samara Morgan among the few horror-movie things that have given me nightmares.

That’s one reason I ended up in the theater when Bordello of Blood came out. Others include an ill-advised crush on Dennis Miller and a thoroughly understandable crush on the subject of our theme month.

chrismas2016-week-2

The Premise:  Some leftover explorers from an unmade Indiana Jones movie find the mummified vampire Lilith (Angie Everhart) and restore her to bloodthirsty life, significantly shortening theirs.

Back in the US, the chaste Katherine (Erika Eleniak) has a fight with her loser brother (Corey Feldman), and he storms out of the house. When he doesn’t return, Katherine hires detective Rafe Guttman (Dennis Miller) to find him. The trail leads to a secret vampire brothel hidden beneath a mortuary. Lilith is an entrepreneur now! And brother Caleb has been good and chomped.

Like Dennis Miller, I made this face a lot during this movie.
Like Dennis Miller, I made this face a lot during this movie.

Rafe, Katherine, and Katherine’s boss JC (Sarandon as a televangelist with a guitar!) must band together to rout the fanged legions… with Super-Soakers full of holy water, among other things.

This picture may the the best thing about... well, this picture.
This picture may the the best thing about… well, this picture.

I’ve been watching a lot of Jason Statham movies this year–I didn’t write them up for the Omelet; you’re welcome–and the comparison that kept coming to mind was Crank and its sequel, the weird action movies that got so much easier to enjoy when I realized they were a kind of live-action Roadrunner cartoon. The kills and the big fight in Bordello of Blood have the same manic, unreal, goofy quality. And yet…

The Verdict: I tend to be optimistic about my Friday rewatches. Usually I rediscover what I liked about a film; at the least, I’ll make peace with not liking it or find something interesting there. Rarely does a movie I watch of my own free will seem worse with every viewing, but Bordello of Blood is that rare case. It has its moments, but the tone of the whole thing seems more like a Cryptkeeper monologue than a fully fleshed-out (sorry) episode of Tales from the Crypt.

To put it bluntly, I could not get over the stupid.

Unless you are a hitherto untapped Dennis Miller enthusiast, you’d be better off with the first Tales movie, Demon Knight.

Might go well with: Cherry Jell-O salad.

 

Next time: Jonny Quest isn’t Aquaman. Maybe that’s a good thing.

The Quest For Monday! Part 51: The Birdstrike(s Back?)

(Episode: “Shadow of the Condor”)

Synopsis: You know those horror movies with people stranded at the house of a madman and forced to compete in strange ways for survival? Well, here’s the Quest version:  Race Bannon is in the sights of Snoopy’s old foe, a WWI flying ace, and Bandit is in the sights of a horrific owl-eating condor. Not a Peanuts/JQ crossover, sadly, but there is a dachshund named Wili.

Even when you’re a fading imperialist unnaturally obsessed with your old war record, sometimes things just go right. A worthy opponent shows up, and you can pop him into an unarmed plane and some fetching leather togs and make one last shot at dogfighting glory faster than you can say “Where the heck is my lucky dachshund?” (only auf Deutsch). Things are looking decidedly…up?…but

Tip 51: Karma is indeed a bitch, or in this case a large raptor.

Live by the condor, maybe don't shoot at the condor, okay?
Live by the condor, maybe don’t shoot at the condor, okay?
Race has been trying to do that for almost five minutes of screentime art this point. Another win for mother nature.
Race has been trying to accomplish this for almost five minutes of screen time at this point. Another win for mother nature.

All’s well that ends in a fiery but deserved plane crash.

 

Next time: I love my readers so much I rewatched Bordello of Blood.

Next time on TQfM!: New episode! “Skull and Double Crossbones” will get the Quests back to the ocean, and just in time for pirates.

Found-Again Friday: Putting The Chris Sarandon In Christmas With The Sentinel (1977)

chrismas-2016-week-1

Why Found-Again? A few days ago I mentioned a theme month, and here we are! What I didn’t mention is that I’m going to be reviewing these in rising order of expectations. If it ticks you off that a horror classic like The Sentinel is at the bottom of my list, well, I totally sympathize. Maybe this viewing will be better.

The Premise: Alison (Cristina Raines) is a model, a bundle of nerves, and the girlfriend of a lawyer (Chris Sarandon in a terrible little mustache).

It takes a +20 Face of Handsomeness to defeat that facial hair.
It takes a +20 Face of Handsomeness to defeat that facial hair.

Once she gets an apartment of her own, she’s also the winner of the 1977 My Neighbors Are Super Weird Award—including a blind priest who inhabits the building’s top floor. When her orgy-loving, Jesus-hating father dies, Alison’s traumatic past returns to haunt her in lurid visions, and her health begins to suffer. Is she all there?

Indeed, is anybody?

Well, demons, it turns out. Guess who’s living on a hellmouth?

In a discussion about the best casts in movies, The Sentinel would be at the top of my list, and not just because it forms an important nexus in my Four Degrees of Jeff Goldblum game.

sentineljg
“I’m going to have a British phase?”

Visually (and ideologically, in its ironclad faith in Catholicism), the movie is a close cousin of those other classic dark-panelled 1970s horror films, Rosemary’s Baby and The Omen. The Sentinel is also an interesting confluence of subgenres: in addition to the church-versus-Satan plot, there are traces of zombies, haunted houses and a psychological thriller lurking here—even a touch of police procedural as Sarandon’s character is investigated for murder. It’s a very powerful film. However…

The Verdict: It’s a failing of mine that I can appreciate bleak movies in a lit-crit kind of way but rarely like them, and make no mistake, The Sentinel is bleak. It’s probably perfect for what it is, though: if someone tried to turn a Hieronymus Bosch painting into a 20th-century story, this is exactly what you’d get. All the glamor, the hopes, and the humanity of the characters gets burned away in a story of ecclesiastical good against evil. I have the same beef with mortal sin as a plot device here that I do when it turns up in Hamlet, and I can’t really get over it.

You can get me to admire The Sentinel—I was much more taken with it this time around— but you can’t quite get me to enjoy it.

Might go well with: Prince of Darkness, The Omen.