Starring Chris Sarandon,William Ragsdale, Amanda Bearse and Roddy McDowell
Directed by Tom Holland
Rated R: Violence, Brief Nudity
Typical teen Charley Brewster suspects that his new neighbor may be a vampire in disguise, but no one believes him. He goes to Peter Vincent, an aging actor who once played a famous vampire killer in a series of movies for help, but he doesn't Charley either until the truth is final revealed and together Charley and Peter fight in monster in a haunted house showdown.
The first act has an absolutely terrible set up, Charley ignores the cheesy horror movie on TV as well as his girlfriend who has just admitted to being ready to “put out”, in favor of watching a coffin being moved into the house next door, which is somehow more interesting to him. We follow that up with some clunky TV News exposition at a place that looks like its supposed to be teen hangout from “Happy Days” and get to meet Ed “Evil” Thompson, Charley’s high pitched and highly annoying “friend”. Charley engages in “Rear Window” antics, monitoring his neighbor’s activities for some unknown motivation, alienating those around him with his strange superstitions.
He calls the police, when he has little to no evidence to support his theory and plays the “vampire” card way to early so that absolutely no authority figure will believe, on top of that now the vampire knows you know about him. What an idiot. By this point my sympathy is with the vampire, because he shows just how clever he is, getting an invitation into Charley's house and sneaking around when Charley least expects it. However, when he tries to kill Charley, idiot it not, it crosses the line. Maybe if Charley were more charismatic I might have latched on to him more. The setting also love to remind us that he’s a teenager with the previously mentioned 1950s teen hangout, brief reference to school and studying, and the discarded Playboy pin ups alongside crushed Coke cans (I guess crumpled tissues would have been too racy) Speaking of sex, we’re also reminded that this is a teen movie in the eighties, as twenty minutes in we get a brief shot of bare breasts as an enticement to stay for the rest of the movie, a hallmark of a pre internet age of cinema.
Speaking of the internet, the exposition is handled rather clumsily. In an internet era I can either Google, Wikipedia or TV Tropes my way for a complete list of tell tale vampire signs, weaknesses and counter measures. Well, since Charley can’t do that, he relies on “Evil” to tell him about vampires, which is strange given that we see Charley watching movies about vampires on the Fright Night TV show that we see is on his TV every night. You’d think he’d be parked on his bed with one eye on screen taking notes while keeping one eye on the window.
It is a very “Eighties” movie. The dance club scene really doesn’t belong in any other era and feels crow barred into the end of the second act. Skipping ahead, Amy is kidnapped by Count Vampire because as per the law of Immortal Monsters be it Mummies, Vampires or Ghosts, their lost love is reincarnated into the next generation and looks exactly the same. This bit is never really explained though and the two of them have a Cinemax style love scene without any actual sex but plenty of over the top synthesized music.
The third act really does pick it up for me. The best scene for me is when Peter has his showdown with Evil, who is now a werewolf. Peter falls and fains over a broken railing so that Evil can do the “run and land on the impalement” trope, but the animatronics, makeup and most of all the acting, is what sell this scene as we see Evil recognizing his final death as he shifts from werewolf back to boy, his eye show remorse for his demise and convey thanks to Peter for releasing him as he slowly crumbles away, as Peter is petrified, his eyes welling with tears. Wow. Its a scene that I really wish had been in a better movie. If this footage this been used for the conclusion of "An American Werewolf in London", I would bumped my rating there to five stars easily.
Charley and Peter make their last stand in the biggest dry ice production plant ever, by flashing crosses to ward off evil, but it has to be backed by faith, which Charley has in spades, but for some reason Peter doesn’t even though he got the cross to work on Evil before, and now in the last stand Peter when does believe and for some reason it doesn’t work. Also Amy is now a vampire with a Chelsea smile and rows of impossibly sharp teeth that are absolutely freighting (out of context they might have been comical) and they have to kill the vampire before dawn in order to save her. I never really understood how that works. It’d be like if your friend was choking on an olive, and you try and help by destroying the jar of olives that it came from rather than working to remove the offending olive itself. Either way the kill the head vampire at daybreak so I don’t really know if that counts as "before dawn". Plus that’d be a great sequel hook if Amy started showing sign of vampirism, the two of them slowly realizing it but not knowing what to do about it.
The film pays homage to its processors, namely the Hammer Horror series, but seems to revel in its clichés with a lack of genre savvyness. Its most redeemable elements are the parts rather than the whole.
A remake is in development (no surprise), set for August 2011 and while Anton Yelcin as a teenager seems par for the course, but David Tennant as Peter Vincent makes this one a blip on my radar, an excellent actor returning as a returning action hero makes it all worth it.
"I'm going to be played by Doctor Who?"
2 ½ out of 5. Tolerable.