Friday, June 12, 2015

Monster Serial: FRIGHT NIGHT (2011)


So, I’m not sure if you remember this, but in 2008, the American economy ground to a halt. Things were crap, pretty much, with the bursting of the housing bubble sending shockwaves throughout the country, leading to foreclosures galore and the observation that, in its relentless drive to build more and more houses, the housing industry got down on all fours behind the average homeowner while the banking industry pushed them over. Then they walked away laughing like mad, because they’re both dicks.

That very brief social studies lesson in the middle of your vampire movie book helps set up FRIGHT NIGHT, a remake of a 1980’s movie that you can also read about in TASTE THE BLOOD OF MONSTER SERIAL, perhaps even before this one if the law of alphabetical order dares to exude its many charms.

The original FRIGHT NIGHT is about the encroaching horror of suburbia, that feeling of disconnect between neighbors who are strangers only a few feet away. From 1985 to 2011, however, suburbia had changed. Because of the housing crisis, acres of generic looking McMansions sprung up in around major cities, assembled quickly and cheaply in hopes of luring foolish homeowners into their maws.

But suburbia is a lie, an attempt to apply order to chaos. FRIGHT NIGHT, set on the outskirts of Las Vegas, one of the largest losers in the housing bubble, shows the houses for what they are. Layers of sod covering sand and gnarly rocks. Construction is poor. And with the economy rotting and the transient nature of work in Vegas, the only people there don’t seem to stick around very long.

Which, naturally, makes it a perfect place for a vampire to take root. That’d be Jerry, a muscular dude who wears a tanktop and claims to work construction at night. He lives next door to single mom Jane and teenager Charley. Charley’s life is full of its share of problems — after maturing into that ‘nerd chic’ we’ve all heard so much about, he lands beautiful girlfriend Amy and ends up estranging his old friends Adam and Ed.

Adam is killed by Jerry before the credits even get a chance to roll and Ed is next, but not before Ed tells Charley about what’s going on. Jerry is a vampire. Their empty neighborhood is only getting emptier.

In some ways, Jerry represents the inescapable history of mankind, the appealing bid to nihilism. But he’s another kind of threat to Charley —  Jerry’s nothing but pure masculinity, an angry force of violent, smug aggression that clearly threatens the women in Charley’s life. Colin Farrell’s twitchy, unhinged performance as a leering, arrogant bastard is phenomenal, and the actor’s ability to sneer like a champ has never been better utilized.

Charley’s own shaky grasp on sexuality is threatened by Jerry, with the homosexual vibes that Ed sends his way only making things more confusing. This is driven home when Jerry comes over to borrow a few beers and offers him some words of advice on women which can only be properly denoted as being ‘creepy as fuck’:

“Women who look a certain way, they... they need to be managed. It’s true. Your dad ducked out on you, huh? Your mom, she didn’t exactly say, but there’s a kind of ... neglect. Gives off a scent. You don’t mind my saying, you got a lot on your shoulders for a kid. The two of you, alone. And your girl ... Amy. She’s ripe. I bet there’s a line of guys dying to pluck that. Your mom, too. You don’t see it. Maybe you do, but she’s putting it out. It’s on you to look after them. You up for that, guy?”

My favorite part of that is his deliberate use of the word ‘pluck’ — the movie is rated R with blood spurts and swearing galore. But Jerry dropping the G-rated ‘pluck’ is playful, an insult directly acknowledging Charley’s youth and inexperience.

The movie has a lot of other nice touches like that, too. FRIGHT NIGHT can be quite fun, and, as is appropriate in a post-Scream world, it references a bevy of horror institutions, from Twilight to DARK SHADOWS. Jerry is even described, rightfully so, as, “the shark from Jaws.”

There’s also a lot more action than you’ll get in the older version of FRIGHT NIGHT, with a long sequence of Jerry chasing Charlie, Amy and Jane in a van contained in long tracking shots within the van to increase the tension. Director Craig Gillespie, otherwise best known for his offbeat indie comedy Lars and the Real Girl, frames much of the film in darkness. He also wisely frames the murders in front of video; in a world where stuff on television seems more real than reality, filming it this way is an excellent way to manipulate the audience’s connection to what’s happening on screen.

This essay is one of dozens featured in our new
book, "Taste the Blood of Monster Serial."
He also knows the right beats to get some laughs out of the movie, too. Many of the film’s funnier moments come from Peter Vincent, a performer on the Vegas strip who promises to be the world’s foremost expert on vampires while also often wearing leather pants and no shirt (let’s see Roddy McDowell do that). Beneath his bravado and excessive British vulgarity, he’s a coward, hiding in his panic room when vampirized Ed and Jerry come to call.

It’s not an easy journey to Charlie’s triumph, but the film’s ending has him finally plucking Amy. He’s gone from dweeb kid who’d lucked into a beautiful girl to a boy fully confident in his own manhood, slaying his own past and centuries of unyielding masculine domination to be able to finally be comfortable with who he is.

FRIGHT NIGHT takes the unapologetic bleakness of post-9/11 cinema and pokes it in the guts. In an era where grimness seemed to stretch from abroad to home, it takes an old story and updates it. It’s no longer just that the enemy is next door; he’s now the only other person left in the neighborhood.

DANNY REID lives outside Tokyo, Japan, with his lovely wife and two yappy dogs. He blogs bi-weekly at, a website dedicated to Hollywood films from 1930 to 1934.

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