Last week, director Tom Holland (Child’s Play, Fright Night, Cloak and Dagger) and Alvaro Rodriguez (Machete) took the stage inside the Alamo Drafthouse’s Ritz location. Their purpose? To present Holland’s cult-classic, Fright Night, just weeks before the Fright Night remake arrives in theaters. Now, admitting this will probably get my film-geek credentials revoked, but…until one night earlier this week, I’d never seen Holland’s infamous vampire flick. Aborted attempts were made to watch the film just a few months ago, but something always seemed to get in the way. And so, when the opportunity arose to see the film on the Drafthouse’s best screen–with the director conducting a post-show Q&A– I knew I needed to be there. So. Did the film live up its reputation? Did Holland have anything interesting to say about the making of the film? And just how does he feel about Fright Night being remade? Find out after the jump, folks….
The thing about vampire movies is, I’m sick of ‘em. Everyone I know is sick of ‘em. You’re probably sick of ‘em. And so, even when I’m told that there’s a really, really great vampire movie out there that I still haven’t seen– like Tom Holland’s Fright Night– I’m loathe to actually sit down and check it out. Over the years, I feel that I’ve seen vampires done in just about every way imaginable: I’ve seen the classic versions (Nosferatu, Dracula), the updated-classic version starring Keanu Reeves and a massive wig perched atop Gary Oldman’s head (Bram Stoker’s Dracula), and one of this generation’s sparkly vampires movies (Twilight: Sulk Harder). I’ve seen silly-ass vampires (Dracula: Dead and Loving It), somewhat-stupid vampire movies (30 Days of Night), and mind-blowingly stupid vampire movies (30 Days of Night 2). I’ve seen recent vampire movies that were pretty decent (Stake Land), somewhat older vampire movies that unexpectedly rocked (Innocent Blood), and vampire movies where Willem DaFoe plays Nosferatu (you know, that one movie). In short (too late), I feel that I’ve seen all the vampire genre has to offer.
But until this week, I still hadn’t seen Tom Holland’s Fright Night. And, because I’ve heard nothing but rave reviews for the film for the past two decades, I decided that I’d give this vampire movie a shot: it screened at the Alamo Drafthouse’s Ritz location, down on 6th, and would feature a Q&A with Holland and Alvaro Rodriguez (who had personally selected the film in conjunction with the Austin Film Festival) after the screening. As far as I was concerned, if I was going to expose myself to one more vampire movie, these were the best circumstances under which to do it. Turns out, I was right.
Holland’s Fright Night is an awesome little movie, one that manages to deliver all the tropes, trappings, and cliches of the vampire-genre in an affectionate, original, freaky, sometimes-hilarious way. It’s no wonder the film has maintained its own little cult over the years: there’s a lot to love about what Holland’s done here. Before we get into the Q&A, let’s talk about the film itself for those of you who– like me (well, me-until-this-week)– have still not seen the film.
Charlie (William Ragsdale, looking disconcertingly similar to Loverboy-era Patrick Dempsey) lives with his mom in the suburbs. He’s got a prudish girlfriend, Amy (Amanda Bearse), a love for old-school horror movies– the kind that they’d show late at night on public television, often with an equally old-school “host” offering commentary on the film between commercial breaks– and a dweeby friend named “Evil” Ed (Stephen Geoffreys, who has a couple untoward rumors circling his name these days). Basically, he’s the average, Anytown, USA teenager. In the film’s opening scene, though, it becomes apparent that Charlie’s a bit more interested in horror than he is the ladies: after finally convincing Amy to let him– in the parlance of our time– “hit that”, he jumps out of bed to observe the new neighbor moving into the house next door. The neighbor’s accompanied by a male friend, and they’re dragging a coffin into the basement. Charlie is entranced.
After some snooping around, Charlie discovers that his neighbor, Jerry Dandridge (Chris Sarandon), is actually a vampire. The coffin? Jerry’s sleeping in it. That male accomplice? Some sort of assistant. Their love of cable-knit sweaters, antiques, and fruit? Also suspicious, but in a different way. When Charlie tells “Evil” about his new neighbor, his friend’s first instinct is to laugh it off…as do the police, Amy, and Charlie’s mother. Despite mounting evidence (read: bodies), Charlie can’t seem to get anyone to believe that his neighbor’s a vampire. And that’s when he turns to the host of the local, late-night horror-show, Fright Night: Peter Vincent (Roddy McDowall). Vincent’s not really the vampire-hunter he claims to be on TV every night, but Charlie believes him when he says that he is. Charlie insists that Vincent accompany him to the Dandridge residence to get to the bottom of this whole “My neighbor’s a vampire” thing, and from there…well, saying anything more would spoil the fun. But trust me, there’s a lot of fun to be had.
The film’s well-acted, features some truly awesome special effects given the time period in which it was made, and walks the “Scary VS. Funny” tightrope with ease. It’s easy to see why the film has become so beloved over the years, as most horror films don’t have half the heart that Holland’s film does– this film is an homage to the Hammer films that Holland grew up on, and it’s obvious that he put a lot of love into the script. The characters are particularly great for an 80’s horror movie, as well: Charlie’s a likable dude, and McDowall’s Vincent is simply a great character. “Evil” Ed is by turns creepy, heartbreaking, and amusing, and Amy is genuinely sexy whenever Holland gussies her up a bit.
So, let’s say you still haven’t seen Fright Night. What can be done about that? Well, the film’s available on DVD, but still hasn’t been released on Blu-ray (total bummer). It’s available through Netflix, but not through Netflix Instant. In short, it’s out there, but you’re going to have to see it on a lesser format or through your local postman if you want to join the ever-growing Fright Night cult. Even if you’re like me and you don’t care if you never seen another goddamn vampire movie as long as you live, you’ll have a great time watching Fright Night.
After the screening, Rodriguez (in a Machete t-shirt) and Holland came out on-stage for a brief Q&A. I was able to get some video from the event on my iPad 2 (thanks, Steve Jobs), and you could see all of those glorious videos below…if I hadn’t been leaning on the mic while filming. Some of the videos don’t have complete audio, but we’ve been able to salvage two of the really good ones below. What can I say? I’m a jackass.
Here’s what you missed: Holland talked about his experience making the film and what his intentions were behind the production (amazingly, no one asked him about the gay undercurrent running through the whole film; it’s there, and it’s hard to miss). He talked about how great Chris Sarandon was as Jerry (apparently, the idea that Jerry would eat apples all the time– ostensibly for food, but really to “clean his fangs”– was Sarandon’s), and how the film had been inspired by all the Hammer films that Holland had grown up with as a kid. He talked about the “Fright Night”-style shows he watched on TV when he was little, and how that steady diet of horror films informed his work as a director later in life.
He also talked about how Columbia was utterly shocked when the film turned out to be as successful as it was: at the same time, the studio had been pouring a boat-load of money into a film called Perfect, starring Jamie Lee Curtis and John Travolta (note: I’d never even heard of this movie). That movie went on to bomb miserably (which is probably why we haven’t heard of it), but Fright Night earned– in his words– “a gazillion dollars at the box office, especially foreign”. Here’s him talking about that:
Eventually, someone asked him what he thought of the forthcoming remake, and here’s what he had to say:
So, it sounds like Holland’s got a pretty good attitude about the remake. This doesn’t mean that the remake’s going to be anywhere near as good as the original, of course, but if Holland’s willing to give it a chance, maybe we should, too (eh, well…)? Anyway, as most Alamo events are, the Fright Night screening made for a really great night (and, again, allow me to apologize for not having more videos worth sharing: lesson learned on the whole iPad 2’s mic-placement thing), and it was great to discover that a beloved cult classic is just as good as everyone’s been telling me it is for the past twenty years. If you’ve been putting off watching Holland’s film up to this point, I can’t recommend it enough. Besides, you wanna see the real-deal before the remake arrives, don’tcha?
Special thanks to the Austin Film Festival, the Alamo Drafthouse, Alvaro Rodriguez, and Tom Holland for delivering a great night.
Stay tuned for more dispatches from the Alamo Drafthouse trenches in the near future, my fellow film geeks.