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Posts tagged “julie carmen

Fright Night, Part II (1989)

Sequels are a tricky business.  In horror, they tend to be rather formulaic.  However, there’s a big difference between a formulaic slasher film that follows a loose stalk and slash concept, and a sequel that just carbon copies every plot point and story turn from the first film.  If you’ve seen the original Fright Night, you’ve already seen a better version of this movie.

It’s a few years later, and Charley Brewster (William Ragsdale) has been in therapy, attempting to recover from the incidents of the original film.  Peter Vincent (Roddy McDowall) is still the host of “Fright Night”, and an adamant believer in the undead since the vanquishing of Jerry Dandridge.  Charley is attending college and has new girlfriend in the beautiful and attractive Alex (Tracy Lin).  Charley has attempted to put the events of four years ago far behind him, but the past has just caught up to our two heroes.  Meet Regine Dandridge (Julie Carmen).  Sexy, seductive, alluring, just like her brother Jerry.  Regine has come to avenge her brother’s death upon Charley and “the Great Vampire Killer”, Mr. Vincent.  Regine ensnares Charley with her blindingly seductive aura, and good old Charley can’t resist her mesmerizing beauty.  Brewster tries to deny what’s happening around him, but Regine wishes to make Charley into one of the undead to eternally torture him.

From here the movie takes beat-for-beat reprises from the first film.  Peter Vincent, despite his true believer status, is still somewhat cowardly and skeptical as to Charley’s eventual claims.  The tables turn quickly as Charley is truly dissuaded in those claims only for Mr. Vincent to peer into his pocket mirror once again to reveal the non-reflection of their vampiric adversaries.  Some things vary from the original’s plot path, but there are numerous parallels such as Peter Vincent getting fired as host of Fright Night.  Then, there’s essentially a replication of the first film’s climax.

Fright Night, Part II is directed and co-written by Tommy Lee Wallace.  I don’t believe he is a particularly bad director, but he hardly ever seems to get films that have good enough or original enough content to really breakout as anything special.  His scripts vary in originality.  With Halloween III: Season of the Witch, he did a fairly good job with the concept, but it lacked enough compelling content to maintain dramatic momentum.  With Vampires: Los Muertos, he has better luck with a more polished production and decent ideas, but with a direct-to-video budget and the cast to go with it, he just fell too short of reaching the quality of Carpenter’s 1998 original.  Fright Night, Part II simply has a severe lack of creativity as it more tries to remake the first film instead of attempting to be a smart, natural continuation of it.  It’s as if Wallace didn’t know what to do with the characters as they were left at the end of the first film, and just tries to reset everything so he can have them do it all again.

Visually, the movie certainly looks a great deal better if you can locate a widescreen version of it, but it’s not an easy find since the only North American DVD released for it is in pan-and-scan.  I’ve only seen a few clips from the widescreen version, and it was a vast improvement in appreciating the visual quality of the movie.  Regardless, this sequel focuses more on gore and being more outlandish in its concepts, which is a poor replacement for innovative creativity.

Regine Dandridge is joined by an extremely offbeat band of creatures of the night that are easily more badly comical than scary.  The male vampire seems more werewolf like, but it’s quite implied that he is a long-toothed bloodsucker.  There is another vampire who is portrayed by a man, and certainly looks like it, yet dresses in drag throughout the entire film, gliding around in roller-skates.  It’s utterly ridiculous and an ugly sight to behold.  Then, there’s Brian Thompson who is some bug eating brawn of the bunch.  He never happens to be anything of note as he hasn’t anything more to do than to say “You’re supposed to bite her on the neck,” and munch on an array of bugs.  This group never adds anything particularly positive to the movie.  There might be people who enjoy some of their humor, but it just left a terrible impression upon me rather quickly.  In the first film, Jerry Dandridge made every attempt to blend in, to be inconspicuous so to not attract undo attention to his horrific nocturnal activities.  This group does everything possible to attract as much attention to themselves as possible.  Not to mention, the film tries to feed us the weakest of excuses for Charley Brewster to dismiss the obvious truth about them.

Julie Carmen is quite beautiful and seductive.  She fills her part well, but doesn’t reach the levels of Chris Sarandon’s Jerry Dandridge.  Sarandon just oozed a sexy and seductive charisma, not to mention, a fine level of sophisticated charm.  Carmen doesn’t have a rich enough charisma or presence to rival him.  The dynamic between Regine and Charley also never really clicked for me.  Charley’s characteristically a little awkward and comical, and him being under her trance is played more silly than sensual.  Thankfully, both Ragsdale and the late Roddy McDowall maintain great consistency with their return performances.  They had their characters locked in for the first film, and four years later, they easily slipped right back into them.  It’s a fine thing to witness, but the level of fun cannot measure up to Tom Holland’s Fright Night.

The script has some definite flaws in logic.  First off, there’s no way Regine could know who it was that killed her brother.  She wasn’t there when it happened, and there was no one left alive to tell her who did it.  A revenge plot certainly works fine, but this plot hole is never addressed.  Charley seeing a psychiatrist doesn’t make any rational sense, either.  He was perfectly fine at the end of the first film, and it was blatantly obvious that Jerry Dandridge was a vampire.  There is no disputing that, and there were eye witnesses in Peter Vincent and Charley’s now ex-girlfriend Amy to confirm that.  This idea seems to be in the film only for the filmmakers to reset everything so that they can retread the same plot progression as the first movie, which is lazy and sloppy screenwriting.  Also, Regine’s revenge plot doesn’t really sell.  She’s going to seduce Charley in order to turn him into a vampire – an immortal being of great supernatural power.  Revenge plots aren’t usually designed to make your adversary stronger and more capable of defeating you.  I get that it’s a turnaround from Jerry seducing and turning Amy in the first movie, but it’s not the most clever scheme for exacting revenge on the person who killed your brother.  It lacks innovation and smart screenwriting.

Again, the film doesn’t end in a much different way than the first.  In fact, the ending may leave you a bit unsatisfied.  It’s slightly clever, but doesn’t equal the dramatic build up in the basement of Jerry Dandridge’s house from the first film.  Director Tommy Lee Wallace just isn’t very innovative, and that becomes worse when he’s directing sequels to films helmed by great filmmakers.  The makeup effects certainly don’t rival those of the original’s.  They look rather hokey and lack either an artistic beauty or solid terrifying quality.  Fright Night, Part II only made a few small million at the box office in ’89, and it doesn’t surprise me at all given the time it was released and the quality of the film.  It provides some extra gore, but lacks in the fun factor that the original was so rich with.  Surely waiting four years to do a sequel didn’t help either.  Freddy Kruger, Jason Voorhees, and Michael Myers all suffered bad box office in this year with their respective critically panned sequels, and so, why should this late arriving sequel have been any different?

The film’s stars, McDowall & Ragsdale don’t lose anything from part one to part two, but everything else falls down, at least, big one notch.  The effects, the direction, the script, the fun / humor factor, and certainly the villains fall well below the quality of Tom Holland’s original Fright Night.  It is worth, at least, a rent, but the first Fright Night is where all the gold lies.  Part II simply isn’t as fun, fresh, or nearly as satisfying as its predecessor.  There’s far too much bizarre and corny quality throw into this one to really feel polished and smart.  Even if I judged this as a standalone film, I still wouldn’t like it based on those qualities alone.  I don’t know if I’ll ever fully watch the 2011 remake of Fright Night basically because I’ve already seen one grossly lacking and disappointing remake of the movie, and it was called Fright Night, Part II.  I don’t think I have the desire to see another one.


In The Mouth of Madness (1995)

What if you were nothing but a fictional character?  What if you were simply a figment of an author’s imagination?  What if reality, as you know it, ceased to exist?  What if you were the creation of horror writer Sutter Cane?  This is the premise for John Carpenter’s 1995 classic, In The Mouth of Madness.

Sam Neill stars as John Trent, a freelance insurance fraud investigator.  Trent is the best in the business, and has just debunked an insurance claim for his friend and colleague, Robbie (Bernie Casey).  After his job is done, Robbie wants Trent to investigate an insurance claim that has to do with the disappearance of best-selling horror novelist, Sutter Cane (Jürgen Prochnow).  Though, their meeting is cut short by an axe wielding maniac with a very bizarre look in his eyes.  This maniac nearly kills Trent, and he soon learns that this was Cane’s agent during a meeting with Jackson Harglow (Charlton Heston), the head man of the publishing company for Cane’s books.  Harglow introduces Trent to Cane’s editor, Linda Styles (Julie Carmen), who says that Cane’s writing tends to have a strange impact on its readers.  With the masses clamoring for Cane’s next novel, Harglow is desperate to find Cane, and more importantly, the complete manuscript for the novel, In The Mouth of Madness.  Grounded in reality, Trent believes this is all some elaborate publicity stunt by Harglow, and even concocts his own theory of it all.  Ultimately, he discovers a map built out of the Cane’s own book artwork that leads to the supposed fictional town of Hobb’s End, New Hampshire.  John is sent off with Linda to decipher this mystery, but slowly, reality begins to come undone as Sutter Cane starts to take control.  And no matter how much Styles tries to sway Trent’s perspective of everything that’s going on around them, he stands strong in what he believes to be real.  However, will this unraveling of reality around John Trent drive him straight into the mouth of madness?

Before I get into the meat of this film, I have to express my enjoyment of the film’s music.  As is well known, John Carpenter composes the music for his own films, and has a strong track record of excellent scores and main title themes.  Carpenter teams with Jim Lang to produce a fantastic score, and a very bluesy, yet extremely catchy main title theme.  If you like Carpenter’s score for Vampires, this theme will be right up there with it!  I have been a proud owner of the film’s original soundtrack album for many years, and that opening title theme is a true highlight for me.  Carpenter really kicks off this film right with this opening credits sequence, and really sets a great tone for the whole film.

Now, this final installment in John Carpenter’s “Apocalypse Trilogy” (which also consists of The Thing and Prince of Darkness) features a fantastic cast!  In addition to Sam Neill (Jurassic Park, Event Horizon), Jürgen Prochnow (Beverly Hills Cop II), and Charlton Heston (Planet of the Apes), you’ve got the great character actors in David Warner and one of my personal favorites, John Glover.  Warner starred in the late 80’s horror classic, Waxwork, has had several parts in the Star Trek film & television franchises, and worked previously with Carpenter on the anthology TV movie Body Bags.  John Glover you may know from the 1999 Mel Gibson revenge actioneer Payback, as the Devil on the short-lived FOX series Brimstone, from Gremlins 2, or more recently, his role as Lionel Luthor on Smallville.  Carpenter character actor regular Peter Jason also has an appearance early on in the film, and he brings out one of his best performances opposite Sam Neill as an insurance scammer.  It’s just a stellar cast that I think only Carpenter could’ve culled together.  Every single actor puts in a great performance, and Julie Carmen (Fright Night, Part II) is no exception either.

Most prominently, Sam Neill puts in a superb performance, as he always does, and grounds Trent well into the bounds of reality.  Even when a normal person would’ve given into some form of dementia or hysteria, Trent continues to weed out the con, and Neill makes it truly convincing.  He inhabits the character beautifully.  He richly knows the character.  He knows his reasoning, and understands how the character’s mind works.  He’s so dead set on finding some level of a con in all that’s going on around him that to give into the illusion Cane is creating is not a possibility.  Of course, when Trent eventually does go past the brink of sanity, Neill sells it well, but not by playing it as a crazy, but as a fearful prophet of doom.  He knows the inevitable truth, can do what he wants to stop it, but knows that it’s all a futile effort – the world is going mad, the end is near.  Overall, it’s an amazing and deeply fleshed out performance fueled by a wonderfully written character.

That being said, I cannot overlook Michael De Luca’s fantastic script, and I give him monstrous praise for the imagination it took to conjure together such a well-woven story of surrealism..  He forges a very intelligent piece of horror storytelling with a smart structure and strong, memorable characters.  It’s an entirely compelling premise that is frightening to contemplate, and is the core reason why this is my favorite horror film of all time.  It’s not just the idea of reality as we know it degenerating into a horrific nightmare, but how it is masterfully woven together through Trent’s eyes that makes this such a brilliant piece of cinematic awesomeness.  Of course, bringing it to John Carpenter was simply inspired and perfect.

Some say John Carpenter had lost his style and talent by the 90’s, and there ARE examples of that – Village of the Damned, Memoirs of an Invisible Man, and eventually, Ghosts of Mars in 2000 – but this is not one of them.  He directs and shoots this film as well as Escape From New York, The Thing, Christine, or even Halloween.  Carpenter really entrenches you in the world of Sutter Cane, and presents Cane as the imposing, frighteningly powerful figure he’s been built up to be.  The cinematography by Gary B. Kibbe is fantastic here, and it fits well with Carpenter’s style.  It allows for dramatic tension, a foreboding atmosphere, and it nicely conveys the entire ‘unraveling of reality’ element that builds throughout the entire film.  This is one of John Carpenter’s best films ever, and it’s only a shame that it doesn’t get as greatly noticed or appreciated as it deserves to be.

The only detractor I find in the entire film are the ‘unspeakable abominations’ that are unleashed from ‘the other side’ late in the film.  Not to say anything bad about the usually fantastic makeup and creature effects of KNB EFX Group, but it may have played a little better if we never actually saw these creatures.  Keep them hidden, and left in shadow.  I just think that unspeakable abominations are better left to the imagination of the audience.  They just don’t sell well with me here, but their sequence is a quiet brief and only in quick cuts.  So, it’s nothing to ruin the film for you.  This is far too exceptional and frightening of a film to have such a minor thing like that overshadow it.  There are intensely horrific images within this movie that will disturb you, make you cringe.  One of the main influences for much of the film were the works of H.P. Lovecraft.  I have read a good deal of The Shadow Over Innsmouth, and the imagery and feel of this film truly conveys much of what Lovecraft expressed in his work.  Thank KNB EFX Group for creating such dead-on creations that really hold to that influence.  They proved their cutting edge talent here with amazing and unsettling make-up effects which bring the horror to intense life.

In The Mouth of Madness is, without a doubt, a Carpenter classic, and is as deserving of all the praise as his other classics.  He takes De Luca’s superb screenplay, and realizes it with the skill of a master craftsman.  Every nuance in this subtle, intricate horror story is brilliantly executed with a dead-on perfect cast.  Carpenter and De Luca weave a chilling story that is strong, setting up characters, a reality, a plot, and then, slowly deconstructing it piece by piece.  What remains in the end is madness, and a thought-provoking, but still entertaining horror movie.  There is only one other thing to say here, and that is, you need to go watch this movie!